Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital city. It’s the political hub of the country—and the cultural and historical centre, too. Founded more than 1,000 years ago, the city remains steeped in tradition. Hanoi was occupied by the Chinese for much of its early history, and later by the French. Both countries left a lasting cultural imprint. Centuries-old Buddhist temples are scattered throughout the city, often set alongside hundred-year-old French colonial mansions and an ever-increasing number of modern skyscrapers. It’s an eclectic mix of east and west, old and new.
Numerous parks and lakes provide shade and tranquillity to this otherwise bustling metropolis, as millions of motorbikes, cars, bicycles, buses and pedestrians all compete for space on roads that weren’t originally designed for motorised traffic. Cyclos (three-wheeled pedicabs) sedately ferry wide-eyed tourists through the atmospheric warren of ancient streets. Entire neighbourhoods are hidden in the interior of city blocks, accessed by narrow alleys designed for two-wheeled vehicles and foot traffic only.
Beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of central Hanoi. This peaceful oasis is surrounded by shady trees and flowers, views of ancient temples, colonial mansions and the ancient, bustling maze of little streets known as the Old Quarter. In the early morning hours, ladies practice tai-chi by the lake as the men huddle together playing Chinese chess and gossiping. In the evenings, the park comes alive with walkers, joggers and snuggling lovers.
The economic hard times, prevalent after the end of the war, are melting away. A rapidly growing middle-class is evident and signs of increasing wealth are everywhere, people spoiling purebred dogs and luxury cars cruising through the streets are signs that things here are on the up.
Hanoi has one of the lowest costs of living of any major city in Southeast Asia. A bag of fresh local vegetables and tropical fruit won’t cost more than a couple of dollars at one of the many traditional markets, and supermarkets offer wide selections of local and imported goods at reasonable prices.
There are at least two dozen specialty imported food stores in the city and an ever-expanding assortment of restaurants serving international fare—impressive strides for a city in which you couldn’t find a simple hamburger—at any price—just 10 years ago.
When it comes to transport, affordable taxis are everywhere and the buses will take you practically anywhere in the city for around a $1 fare. A couple can live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle in Hanoi on a budget of $1,350 per month or less.
Rentals, even in the most upscale parts of the city, are moderately priced and offer all the usual amenities. Many of Hanoi’s more than 10,000 expats live near one of the city’s many lakes; Hoan Kiem District attracts those who want to live in the heart of the city, while expats in Tay Ho (West Lake) are attracted by its upscale neighbourhoods, international flair and impressive views of Hanoi’s largest lake.
Hanoi has a temperate climate that suits many Westerners. Summers are hot and humid and winters can get quite cold. The weather is idyllic in the spring and fall, when the humidity is low and the temperatures are comfortable.
Medical care has improved greatly in recent years. Hanoi’s Vinmec Hospital is Vietnam’s first general hospital to attain international accreditation.
Hanoi is served by Noi Bai International Airport, with nonstop flights to many Asian and European cities. Trains are another excellent option for long-distance travel.
It’s a fascinating city, always changing and full of energy and optimism. It’s easy to get drawn into Hanoi’s unique culture.