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Anyone who has ever visited Hanoi will probably tell you that it may be the most beautiful city in all of Asia – people have settled here along the Red River for a thousand years.
The trip into the city from Noi Bai Airport takes about an hour and offers some poignant glimpses of modern Vietnamese life: farmers tending their fields, great rivers, modern highways that abruptly become bumpy roads. The drive is especially breathtaking at dusk when the roads fill with bicycles, and everything takes on the same deep colors as the modern paintings you see in Hanoi’s galleries. Somehow the setting sun seems enormous here as it dips into the cornfields on the horizon.
On the edge of the city the road dissolves into a maze of winding, narrow, wooded lanes. You are surrounded by roadside artisans, shops and taverns, then by graceful villas and commuters on bicycles, cyclos and motorbikes. Modern buildings appear from nowhere, looking so out of place that you have to wonder if they were dropped from the sky and just left where they came to rest. While you tell yourself that nothing as preposterous as Hanoi can be so beautiful, you cannot help but be dazzled.
Meter taxis and hired cars are easy to find in Hanoi. If you plan an extended visit you might consider renting a bicycle or motorbike.
The north end of Hoan Kiem Lake is Hanoi’s “ground zero.” Practically all the city’s economical hotels, tourist shops, and cafés catering to visitors are located here. Not only is it the oldest part of the city, it is the busiest and most interesting. Every street is winding, intimate, and shady. At night the lights of storefronts keep the streets lit and animated.
Depending on which guide book you read, this district of Hanoi is variously called the “Old Quarter,” the “Ancient Quarter,” and “36 streets.” It is wedged between the northern shore of Hoan Kiem Lake, the walls of the ancient Citadel, and the levies that protect the city from the Red River. The 36 little streets in the quarter are each named for a commodity once sold by all the businesses on that street. Streets here are named for the medicine, jewelry, fans, copper, horse hair, chicken, and even coffins once sold on them. This explains why the names of some of the longer streets inexplicably change after one or two blocks. As you explore, you will still happen upon entire blocks of tinsmiths, tailors, paper goods merchants, and lacquerware makers.
In the Ancient Quarter the most appealing mode of transportation for those who do not care to enjoy the “36 Streets” on foot is the cyclo. Often they are driven by men wearing pea-green pith helmets that make them look like soldiers. Settle on the fare in advance (a dollar or less one way). Most drivers will also quote you an hourly rate and will take you to all the obligatory cultural and historical spots.
It’s worth mentioning that this sight is Vietnam’s holiest of holies. A reverential and respectful attitude is obligatory, and this is the one place where foreign visitors might be vigorously chastised, or even removed, by uniformed guards. There’s an elaborate list of rules as you enter which you should try to adhere to, including prohibitions against the wearing of an ‘unserious costume,’ or being in a ‘status of sickness’. So if you get a case of the giggles, bite the inside of your cheek.
With total area of only about 100ha, the old quarter was established since century 11 with the long history of more than one thousand years. In the past, this was a very bustle and busy business center, gathered skilled and talent craftsmen and businessmen trading in crowed shops closely together among dense streets. Firstly, the shops were blossomed without order and people flocked into the quarters too much that sometimes made the trading confused and chaotic.
Hoan Kiem lake is located very center of Hanoi and considered a symbol of Hanoi capital. Travelers and locals alike head to Hoan Kiem Lake when seeking a place to get away from the noise of the city. Peaceful and quiet, the lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a temple sitting in the center on a small island.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is worth a thorough visit, for those who are keen to learn about the multi-culture of Vietnam especially for those who cannot find time to visit all remote areas where the majority of Vietnam ethnic minorities live. In year 2014, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology was honored to be listed in top 4 of 25 most attractive museums in Asia by the prestigious tourism website TripAdvisor.