Hanoi, Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of east and west, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970’s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.
The city lies on the right bank of the Red River. Hanoi is 1,760 km (1,090 mi) north of Ho Chi Minh City and 120 km (75 mi) west of Hai Phong city.
In the past, water puppetry was the spirit of Vietnamese agricultural culture, popular in every corner of the countryside with locally traditional performance style. Nowadays, Vietnamese water puppetry which has still remained & developed in many localities is fond of by audience at home and abroad thanks to puppeteers’ skillful hands that manipulate puppets up & down as if dancing on the magic water stage as fanciful, glisten fairy world created by the reflection & flexibility of the water.
Water puppetry is an art unique to Vietnam. It started centuries ago, and was originally performed in actual ponds. Unlike its cultural equivalents in India and Indonesia — all-night marathons that recount the great Hindu epics — water puppetry has no narrative thread.
Hanoi features a warm humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cwa) with plentiful precipitation. The city experiences the typical climate of northern Vietnam, where summers are hot and humid, and winters are, by national standards, relatively cold and dry. Hanoi averages 1,680 millimetres (66.1 in) of rainfall per year, the majority falling from May to September. The city is usually cloudy and foggy in winter, averaging only 1.5 hours of sunshine per day in February.
Extreme temperatures have ranged from 2.7 °C (36.9 °F) to 42.0 °C (108 °F).
How to arrive in Hanoi
Most people arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport (IATA: HAN), 35km (45-60 min) north of the city. The airport might seem relatively small considering Hanoi’s importance to the country, but this might benefit travellers by making the airport easy to navigate and no need to arrive hours in advance (the limited waiting space is one reason why non-travellers are discouraged from entering the airport) to make sure there is plenty of room for those actually using and working in the airport. The airport is being overloaded, and a new terminal is being built.
Trains to Nanning, Beijing, China depart from Gia Lam Station (Latitude: 21.05213, Longitude: 105.87939), about 5km north-east of Hanoi Station. Tickets can be purchased from Hanoi Station, too. In Hanoi Station, international ticket booth clerk may go to work much later than other booths’, like 09:30 in the morning. A ticket for a soft sleeper compartment (4-berth compartment) costs 1.060,000 dong per person. Be cautious buying these tickets from hotels or travel agents in the Old Quarter, as they may quote prices substantially higher. If you are taking the evening train out of Nanning, you will arrive at Gia Lam very early in the morning. Be sure to change some of your money at the border so you can get a cab to take you to the city when you arrive in Gia Lam. Exchange the rest of your money for a better rate in the city the next day.
All other trains use the main. Hanoi train station for daily services from cities in the south including Hue and Nha Trang. The Reunification Express’ goes all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, although there is very little ‘express’ about it.
Public buses serving southern destinations (e.g. Ninh Binh, 2h – VND 80,000) leave from Giap Bat  bus station. To get from the Giap Bat bus station to the old quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, leave aside all the hassle of taxi and motorbike drivers and simply take public bus number 8 towards Long Bien (pay on the bus) – to find it head towards the main road inside Giap Bat station, you will see signs with numbers indicating the stops of different bus lines.
Most of the “open-tour” bus itineraries either begin or end in Hanoi, with Hue the next (or previous) stop (12-14h, USD13 – 18), and from there to Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities in Vietnam, depending on the bus company. Most seem to stop at their office which could be right next to the old district and most backpacker hotels. Check when booking your ticket.
Many of the same companies also sell tickets to Vientiane and Savannakhet in Laos (USD 16-18). Do some research before you buy a ticket as rattle-trap scam buses abound on this route.
Many people plan to move to Hanoi for a year to relax before “settling down”. This plan often falls apart at the job phase. Many people will find it difficult to get a suitable job, if they do not speak Vietnamese. However, hostels and hotels in Hanoi may need bar staff, night porters etc, who speak English and other languages. There are also specialist websites for English and non-Vietnamese speakers looking to work in Hanoi and they are a often a good place to start.
There are many flexible office solutions in Hanoi that enable you to rent office space for a short term or a long term. See for example Skyline Offices
Budget (room rates less than USD 20)
The Old Quarter is littered with guesthouses and hostels catering for budget travellers. A venue down an alley will not have the constant traffic noise, but check for construction work happening next door, it can wake you up just as early. If you leave food in your room keep it covered/sealed; poor hygiene in the neighbourhood can bring rodents through the smallest of holes in search of sustenance.
All pictures by the author
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