The idea if Hanoi evokes images of a stern, austere bastion of Vietnamese communism, ravaged by war and closed to the world. Visitors to the capital, however, will be surprised to find themselves in one of Southeast Asia’s most charming cities. With its Chinese architecture, majestic French colonial buildings and tree-lined lanes, this ancient city of lakes extends a reserved but genuine friendliness – the essence of the North Vietnamese. Less cosmopolitan than Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is kinder and gentler than its southern rival. Fewer skyscrapers tower overhead and less traffic clogs the streets. However, the almost overnight transformation of the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison into Hanoi Tower Commercial Center is surely an omen for things to come. Hammers and sickles still adorn the cityscapes, but the Doi Moi “Renovation” policies are slowly taking effect.
Hanoi divides into seven districts: Hoàn Kiêm, Hai Bà Tru’ng to the south, Ba Dinh and Dong Da to the west, Cau Galy and Thanh Xuan to the far southwest, and Tay Ho to the North. Most streets in Vietnam are called “duong” though Hanoi still uses the wore “pho” and, in the Old Quarter, “hang.” Downtown Hanoi is small but disorganized; a good map is helpful. Large color maps are available from guest houses, bookstores, the international post packer’s heaven of shops, cafes and hotels, Hoan Kiem is the oldest and most interesting district. The one way Duong Le Duan leads south to Bay Mau Lake in more residential Hai Bai Trung district, and west to Dong Da’s pagodas and small lakes. Farther north, up Duong Hung Vuong, the Ba Dinh district hosts the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Temple of Literature.
Hang Be and Hang Bac streets are still the center of the backpacking universe in Hanoi, while the streets to the north and west offer better and quieter alternative.
Anh Dao Hotel, 37 Ma May, 31 spotless wooden rooms run by a professional team.
Green Hotel, 50 Quan Su. All rooms include breakfast and satellite TV. Clean and comfortable.
Van Xuan 11, 46 Luong Ngoc Quyen, 30 m from intersection
with Ta Hien. Cheap, quiet rooms. Restaurant serves cheap, tasty local cuisine.
Prince II Hotel, 24 Quan Su.
Thanh An Hotel, 46 Hang Ga. In the northwest part of the Old Quarter. Rooms are immaculate though the ones in the rear can be a bit dark.
Youth Hotel, 33 Luong Van Can, Centrally located; 50m to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Phu Hoa Hotel Guest House. 16 Luong Van Can, good budget
option in the center of town.
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