Hanoi is a favourite traveller’s destination due to its charming culture, its proximity to many of Vietnam’s most impressive tourist spots, and its low cost of living. There’s unique architecture, fascinating historical sites and a vibrant, traditional city centre. Its glistening lakes, lush parks and tree-lined boulevards are oases of calm in this burgeoning, bustling city. The hot summers, chilly winters and near-perfect spring and autumn weather are also attractive to many overseas visitors.
Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital and the second largest city, celebrated its 1,000-year anniversary in 2010. Hanoi has retained many of its ancient traditions, while offering all the modern amenities expats desire.
It isn’t hard to imagine the Hanoi of times past while walking in the warren of small streets and tiny alleyways that make up the Old Quarter. Tiny, family-run stores and a never-ending procession of street vendors sell everything from fruits and vegetables to shoes, flowers and brooms. Enterprising ladies set up portable kitchens and tiny plastic chairs along the sidewalks, treating diners to fresh, inexpensive meals, using family recipes that have been handed down for generations.
Step back in time to Paris in the early 20th century while exploring the French Quarter. Grand French colonial mansions house government buildings, museums, embassies, upscale hotels and fancy restaurants. Numerous parks and shade trees provide pleasant respite near trendy bistros selling fresh pastries, cakes and strong coffee.
Central to both the Old Quarter and the French Quarter is peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake, the spiritual heart of Hanoi. Many foreigners have chosen to live in this vibrant part of the city, which is within walking distance of many of Hanoi’s finest restaurants, an active nightlife scene and many of the city’s top attractions.
Tay Ho (West Lake) is the largest lake in Hanoi and Tay Ho District is one of the most popular areas for expats. Restaurants in Tay Ho offer a wide variety of cuisines, ranging from American to Ukrainian and everything in between. Many shops here sell imported foods and products. Tay Ho is a popular area for expat get-togethers, as only a few tourists venture into this part of the city.
Tay Ho is the most expensive district in Hanoi. Many homes are on quiet streets with small yards, and families with children will be close to several well-regarded international schools. The better apartments offer spectacular views overlooking the lake and the city skyline. Retirees who want to live in luxury will often find themselves settling here, though it’s possible to find more affordable housing in this area, too.
Ba Dinh District is not far from either West Lake or Hoan Kiem Lake, and is the home of many of Hanoi’s embassies and administrative buildings. Some of Hanoi’s most elegant mansions are located here. Ba Dinh is convenient to both Hoan Kiem and Tay Ho, yet it has a local feel. Foreigners who like the idea of integrating into Vietnamese culture will enjoy living in this part of the city.
There are several large, modern supermarkets, department stores and shopping centres located in Hanoi. The traditional markets, where fruit, vegetables and meat are sold, often offer fresher and less expensive fare than what is found in the supermarkets.
Hanoi’s JCI accredited Vinmec International Hospital offers comprehensive medical services at reasonable prices. A visit to an English-speaking specialist costs about $40. Several other international hospitals and clinics provide good care to foreigners, though they will cost more.
Many of Vietnam’s top attractions are located within a few hours of Hanoi, including nearby Ba Vi National Park, Cuc Phuong National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay, the exotic Perfume Pagoda and the rivers, caves and mountains in Ninh Binh Province.