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Hanoi Hotels

Hanoi Crash Course

The City of Hanoi
The City of Hanoi

Located in the north of Vietnam, Hanoi is the capital of the country. Home to several government buildings, historic museums and memorials, Hanoi exemplifies the wonderfully intricate patterns of their colonizers, French architecture and culture. With a new open door climate for visitors, Hanoi is quickly becoming an interesting and preferred place to visit among the global tourism options.

Travel and Leisure readers chose Hanoi for the last five years as one of the ten most enjoyable cities in Asia to visit based on the photographic potential, the culture, how the people are, thier art, the services provided to tourists, safety and dining opportunities.

Other travel magazines often mention the food selection that Hanoi offers, to be world-class.

History of Hanoi and Vietnam

For most of its independent existence, Vietnam has been ruled from Hanoi, a small, elegant capital. Given the political and historical importance of Hanoi and its burgeoning population of three million, it's still a surprisingly low-key city, almost rural in character like a provincial
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh
town.

Though with a dramatic rise in motorbike ownership, increased traffic and Western-style retail outlets, it's catching up fast with the young worldly Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, far to the south. Hanoi still retains buildings from the eleventh-century court of its founding father King Ly Thai To, most notably the Temple of Literature, and some of the streets names in the Old Quarter still reflect the same speciality goods they dealt in five hunderd years ago. In 1887, the French turned Hanoi into the centre of government for the entire Union of Indochina, unfortunately replacing ancient monuments with grand colonial residences, many of which survive today. Hanoi finally became the official capital of independent Vietnam in 1954, with Ho Chi Minh as its first president: Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is now the city's biggest crowd-puller. The city sustained serious damage in the Vietnam War involving the United States, particularly the infamous Christmas Bombing campaign of 1972, much of it lucidly chronicled in the Army Museum. Until recently, political isolation together with lack of resources preserved what was essentially the city of the 1950s. However, since the advent of tourism in 1993, the city has seen an explosion in travellers' cafés, mini-hotels and cybercafés. Indeed, Hang Bac, one of Hanoi's Old Quarters main streets which is home to a large number of tourist related businesses, is starting to resemble a little piece of Bangkok's Khao San Road. Hopefully in the future much of central Hanoi will survive the onslaught of modernization to retain its charm.

How Hanoi fits into the history of Vietnam

Hung Kings festival
Hung Kings festival
About four thousand years ago the Nation of Vietnam began by the Hung Kings at present day Hanoi among the marshes and lagoons of the delta of the Red River, about a hundred kilometers from its mouth at Tonkin Bay on the South China Sea.

The Kingdom of Funan

During the first century AD, the Kingdom of Funan became established in south Vietnam along the low lying Mekong delta, and created miles of canals to transport their goods, and fish for shrimp. They likely came from India, and stuck to the sea to make their living, never rweally moving inland.

Indianized Kingdom of Funan
Indianized Kingdom of Funan

The Kingdom of Funan's strategic location allowed it to prosper as it was along the major boat route between south and east Asia.

The Kingdom of Funan dissolved around the 6th century AD as seafaring technology permitted ships to wonder farther from the Funan coast. At the same time, the Funan Kingdom was overthrown by the Kingdom of Champa, another seafaring kingdom to the north.

The Kingdom of Champa

Hindu women of Champa origins
Hindu women of Champa origins
In the second century AD, the Chams from Hindu Indonesia, probably Bali, established Champa in the Danang are today. Champa centered itself around the area of present-day Danang. The Funan were barely influenced by the Chinese, while Champa had a terrible time with them trying to control the Chams in every imaginable way. Champa also had the ruthless Kymers (Cambodians)to the south.

Vietnamese Dynasties

The first Ly Dynasty emperor (independent of China)in 1010 AD settled in Thang Long which is presentday Hano. It was the best location for both trade and production. Leading up to this time, the Red River delta was either under Chinese control, or was a Chinese province.
Dragon designs from the Ly Dynasty
Dragon designs from the Ly Dynasty
'Thang Long' or the soaring dragon was claimed to be seen by the king flying over the lake, and seen to be a good omen towards prosperity. Many architectural works of art are still seen today.

For two millennia since BC times, China and the teachings of Confucius always influenced Vietnamese culture and government organization enormously. Peking (Beijing) had a huge effect of the Vietnamese dynasties and courts, from art to politics to script.

Over the years the Vietnamese empire ever so gradually expanded south into the Champa empire and in 1471, they overtook the Chams, killing 60,000 and taking another 60,000 as slaves. The Champa Kingdom retreated to present day Nha Trang. National hero Le Loi defeated foreign threats, and called all of North Vietnam Dong Kinh or later, Tomkin. He is remembered at Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi, where a turtle representing God is said to have asked Le Loi for the sword back that he used to defeat his enemies.
Lake of the Restored Sword
Lake of the Restored Sword

The Vietnamese armies moved farther south to the Mekong delta pushing both the Cham and the Khmers into present-day Cambodia. Much later during the "Killing Fields" time, Pol Pot took the lives of some 100,000 of the 250,000 Cham.

Receiving its name as late as 1831, Hanoi meaning 'the soil between the two rivers' was not yet the capital, as Hue still held that title.

Western influence

In the early 1800s, the capital was moved to Hue by the Nguyen Dynasty, while Thang Long was still the governing center the northern provinces.

French troops took over Saigon in 1859 in response to the persecution of their missionaries. The French decided to intervene because of he constant persecution of Christians in Vietnam since the 1830s. Forcing their religion onto the devout Bhudists resulted in the public execution of several French priests, several thousand Vietnamese fathers, and some 30,000 Catholic citizens.

Tu Duc, the Vietnamese emperor in 1862 handed over to the French South Vietnam, who immediately set up a rough colony in Cochin. Tu Duc was forced to end the persecution of the French practising and spreading Christianity.

Hanoi was conquered by the French in 1882 and 1883, forcing them to become a protectorate of the French. The French divided Vietnam into the Cochin China colony in the south, the Annam protectorate in the central part Vietnam and Tonkin China in north Vietnam, with Hanoi the capital. Image:Volunteering to fight the French.jpg|right|thumb|Volunteering to fight the French]]

Vast parts of present-day Hanoi were built during the French colonial occupation. With its broad boulevards and French-inspired architecture, the city today reflects undeniable French charm.

World War II and the Vietnam wars

With France overrun by Germany in September 1940, the Japanese troops strolled into Vietnam without French resistance. In the true French tradition of bravery, they left all military installations that the Japanese could make use of in agreement that the French administration remained in power fot the day to day operations of Vietnam. This resulted in less damage in Vietnam during WWII than say, the Philippines and Burma.

World War II ended in East Asia with a Japanese defeat on August 14th, 1945. France tried to be the colonial power once again, but on Sept. 2nd, 1945, a large general meeting occured at Ba Dinh Square. Communist President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence promulgating the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ha Noi was made the capital of independent Vietnam and Ho began to temporarily take on the French administration in a type of guerrilla war in the south of Vietnam, damning the cowardly French with their intension to rule again. However, he soon decided to stay on the good side of France because at that time was that there were nearly 200,000 Chinese troops surrounding North Vietnam and the Ho's army, the Viet Minh would not be strong enough to fight both.

By the time the French had re-established their colonial government in Vietnam, the Chinese agreed to leave Vietnam. Now Ho terned his attention on gtting rid of the French. Though the French kept a tight grip on the cities, they lost in the countryside to the Viet Minh.

French surrender at Dien Bien Phu
French surrender at Dien Bien Phu

The French forces on Nov.20, 1953 moved 16,000 troops to Dien Bien Phu, a wide rough river valley on the mountainous border of Laos, in an attempt to break up the communist movement and military supplies as they entered Loas from Vietnam.

Foolishly the French believed the Dien Bien Phu Valley would be free from attacking Viet Minh. But for weeks and months the Vietnamese carried on their backs pieces of artillery to Dien Bien Phu, and reassembled it there, surrounding the strategic exit points of the valley.

The attack by the Viet Minh commensed in March 1954, and by May 7th, 9,500 French surrendered, one of the most pathetic colonial defeats in French history. After nine years of the French not taking 'no' for an answer, nearly a million innocent people lost their lives.

In Geneva on July 20th, 1954, it was agreed to divide Vietnam into two countries, the capitalist south and the communist north.

Communism spreads

During the years 1959 to 1963, the North Vietnamese government became concerned that the Viet Minh guerrillas in the south were not making headway at eliminating the capitalist Diem government, and decided to help matters by providing military supplies and munitions via the Ho Chi Minh tral in Loas and Cambodia. Image:Ho Chi Minh Trail.gif|right|thumb|Ho Chi Minh Trail]]

Enter the USA

Reluctently in 1961, US President John F. Kennedy decided to send his first hundred military advisors plus a special unit of about four hundred soldiers into Vietnam. The next year this number increased to eleven thousand.

Two American cruise boat were fired upon on August 2nd, 1964, while illegally entering North Vietnam territorial Bay of Tonkin waters, which they promptly denied, the truth came out later. The US used the incident as an excuse to bomb military targets in North Vietnam. It seemed the US military were insisting on starting a war, and Kennedy was forced to listen to his military advisors, one of the possible reasons for his assassination.

US President Lyndon Johnson in March of 1965, started the first of three years of military bombardment of Vietnam, dropping twice as many bombs on the little suckers as were dropped during the entire Second World War, an operation called Rolling Thunder.

Images of the US caused horror
Images of the US caused horror

The North Vietnamese responded by evacuating three quarters their industrial complexes to the countryside.

Even though the US, and allied forces, plus 1.5 million South Vietnamese army outnumbered the North four to one, the North kept plugging away, and though they suffered heavy losses in the 1968 Tet Offensive against targets in 105 South Vietnam cities, it was considered a turning point in the war, and caused a big change in the US attitude, demonstrations, university shootings, the 'Beatles' singing 'Give peace a chance', and now the US started trying to figure out how to not win, but just leave gracefully and with dignity, but it was too late. Striking resemblences to the Iraq War of today.

Scene from the Tet Offensive
Scene from the Tet Offensive
Operation Rolling Thunder
Operation Rolling Thunder

The Paris Peace accords in 1969 started negotiations to withdraw US troops, but evenas they were walking out with their tails between their legs, they kept up heavy bombardment campaigns using the defoliant Agent Orange, which cause health problems to this day.

Christmas brings to mind many wonderful memories for most of us. But history has bequeathed to some a most awful little two-word phrase blackening those memories like a stain. That phrase is "Christmas bombing."

From Dec. 18 until Dec. 30 in 1972, the United States conducted a campaign of intensive aerial bombing, using massive B-52s, over North Vietnam. In the approximately 4,000 sorties flown in what was termed Operation Linebacker II, American pilots concentrated on the major cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The missions executed so-called area bombing, never precise or pinpoint. Their goal: To kill as many civilians as possible, from sea to shining sea!
Bombing near Cambodia
Bombing near Cambodia

Exit the USA

On January 27, 1973 a cease-fire agreement was signed in Paris, and in March 1973, the last US troops finally left Vietnam, thanks for dropping in!

South Vietnam started immediately having a problem with Communist China, that decided to take over the Paracel Islands or Hoang Sa Islands which were disputed in 1974 in the South China Sea. To this day, Vietnam does not accept the occupation. South Vietnam's Presiden Thieu became a tyrant, and dictatorlike, getting rid of the municipal governments, controlling the press and carrying through with several executions of who he thought were sympathizers of the Viet Cong. Demonstrators took to the street in October, 1974 in protest of Thieu, who quickly reorganized and subdued his strategy
Presidents Johnson and Thieu
Presidents Johnson and Thieu
to help quiet down the opposition. Thieu amended the constitution in early 1974 allowing him a third term and tis time five years rather than four. During 1974 Thieu decided to abandon military defense of outlying areas, which were becoming increasingly difficult to hold without the U.S. presence. In January 1975, the North Vietnamese began a major offensive, and the repeated withdrawal of South Vietnamese troops quickly enabled the North Vietnamese forces to gain a decisive advantage. By April, President Thieu resigned and fled to Taiwan, the remaining government of South Vietnam surrendered, and the North Vietnamese entered Saigon without opposition and thus brought three and a half decades of war to an end.

In 1976 the newly elected National Assembly recognized Hanoi as the capital of the independent and reunited country of Vietnam. Since then, Hanoi has quickly developed into a strong political, economic and cultural centre and the country was officially united.

United Vietnam brings misery

Vietnam started a program of re-education of those citizens who supported the American war initiatives, forcing bread-winners into jail-like situations to be reprogrammed. Because of both political prosecution and economic difficulties, many people termed 'boat people' began to leave in droves by the high seas onto unseaworthy boats.

Estimates say that atleast a third of all boat people died during their course of excape, either because their boat was overcrowded, and capsized, insufficient provisions, even pirates who would rob them, rape the women and then sink the boat. .

Vietnamese boat people
Vietnamese boat people

Nearly 300,000 people fled Vietnam in 1979 alone, and were turned down by many ports in Malaysia, Thailand, and China, though I recall many were allowed to dock in Hong Kong under stay on board terms.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Vietnam expanded its influence in SE Asia by invading Cambodia (where it toppled the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot and installed a Vietnamese-backed government) and by establishing a military presence along the eastern frontier of Laos. These actions, alongside what China percieved as persecution of Vietnam’s Chinese population, alienated Vietnam from China, its longtime ally. The new Vietnamese government in Cambodia was never recognized by the West, and in 1989, Hanoi withdrew all of its troops out of Cambodia.

To teach Vietnam a lesson and boost his own political position, Deng Kiao Ping ordered the attack of Vietnam (February-April 1979) along its northern border. This costly military invasion was followed by occasional border incidents between 1979 and 1981. Vietnam succeeded in establishing close ties with the Soviet Union during this period, a necessity in consideration of the severe economic difficulties caused by decades of war and international isolation. Despite substantial aid from the USSR, Vietnam continued to experience economic problems, and in the late 1980s a change in national leadership resulted in a fundamental policy reorientation (Doi Moi) toward privatization, a freer market system, less restricted foreign investment, and general economic liberalization.

Today

After all of the upheaval, the city of Hanoi has grown rapidly, and today the population of Hanoi has reached more than three million inhabitants.

Nevertheless, the city does not seem as crowded as Ho Chi Minh City, and the traffic is slightly more sane. Even though Hanoi is the political capital of the country, Ho Chi Minh City is definitely more advanced economically and much more in touch with the outside world.

Hanoi's geography and climate

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is located at 20' north latitude and 105' east longitude on the plains of north Vietnam, where there are many rivers coming from the mountainous Hengduan Ghan region of southern China flowing eastwards to the Bay of Tonkin. Hanoi is a convenient central transport location for all the northern provinces. The climate is tropical and is affected by monsoons. There are four seasons in Hanoi:
Amazing geography near Hanoi
Amazing geography near Hanoi
  • Spring, from February to April; average temperature is from 15 to 20 C (59 to 68 F), drizzle is frequent with wet weather. This is the season of the Lunar New Year holiday and many folk festivals.
  • Summer, from May to August; average temperature is from 30 to 36 C (86 to 97 F). There is a good mixture of rain and sunshine.
  • Autumn, from September to November; average temperature is 25 to 36 C (75 to 97 F). It is cool, clear and dry. This is the best season in Hanoi, but is short, lasting no more than 50-60 days.
  • Winter, from December to January; the temperature is the lowest, from 10 to 15 C (48 to 59 F). The weather is cloudy and wet. The monsoons cause many phases of cold. The annual average rainfall in Hanoi is 1800 mm.

In the past, many rivers flowed through Hanoi, but they change their positioning from time to time, therefore the ground is mainly deposited alluvium and there are many lakes. These rivers and lakes give Hanoi a natural beauty. In the flood season, the water level of the largest rivers flowing through Hanoi (the Red River, the Duong, Nhue, Day Rivers) rises high. So from ancient times, the Vietnamese people have built thousands of kilometres of dikes by the river banks. Today, in the city, some sections of the ancient dikes have become traffic-filled roads.

People

Hanoi's expanding population
Hanoi's expanding population
Since the Vietnam War, Hanoi's population has been growing at a high rate because of rural to urban migration attracting the poor country people often displaced by modern farming techniques to urban
Hanoi schoolgirls
Hanoi schoolgirls
educational and employment opportunities. Remaining Vietnam's center of government, many strive for higher paying white collar positions. A lot of pressure has been put on Hanoi's antiquated infrastructure.

Few people you meet are from multi-generational Hanoi families, even in the Old Quarter where enterprising businessmen have taken over the store fronts of businesses owned by one family for over a century. After abandoning the central-planning economic policies and the loosening of the district-based household registrar system, things are changing at a rapid pace.

With its advancement into the modern world, the traditional gentle and giving nature of Hanoians is being transformed. As the center of a large area's talents in the arts and traditional culture, the need for material gains of modern products and lifestyle, challenges the Confusian society's ethics where modesty and consideration of others were regarded with a higher priority than one's self. But advocates for traditional social and family values are being heard and in many ways helping to counter western 'everyone for himself' mentality.

Hanoi's economy

Hanoi is the best place to live in Vietnam according to the Human Development Index, contributing double the GNP per capita compared to the rest of the country. Industrial growth has consistently been around 20% per annum since 1991, with several indusrtial parks already
Shrimp factory
Shrimp factory
developed. Private enterprises are expanding fast. Similarly, trade with the rest of the world is growing at about 10% per year. Tourism, financing and banking are also making strong inroads.

By introducing new high-yield plant varieties and livestock, and applying modern farming techniques, agriculture, previously the mainstay in Hanoi's economy, has needed to reform itself.

Hanoi's infrastructure has also been upgraded with new roads and an efficient public transportation system. There are thirty telephones per hundred people, and the internet is gradually finding another home.

Public health care is getting better as doctors are increasing in number with atleast one per commune or ward. There have even been successful movements among the local people to raise donations for poor people or promoting Hanoi's cultural heritage.

Visiting Hanoi

Flights and Airlines to Hanoi

Vietnam Airlines today
Vietnam Airlines today
Flights into and out of Hanoi are through Noi Bai International Airport outside of Hanoi. Vietnam and the U.S. do not have a bilateral air services agreement, meaning that no U.S. carriers are allowed to fly into Vietnam. Virtually all flights from North America into and out of Vietnam require stop-overs, mostly overnight, in the region. Most popular stop-over destinations are Bangkok and Hong Kong.

The present fleet of Vietnam Airlines planes are a vast improvement over the Hang Kong (Hang On) Airlines that were flown until a few years ago, with bald tires, fumes coming out of the A/C, curled up carpet, and cheese sandwiches tossed to you by the stewardess. Atleast you knew the pilots were good, as they had survived to that point. I kissed the ground after each flight.

Airlines flying into Hanoi include: Aeroflot, Air France, Cambodian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Czech Airlines, Emirates Airlines, EVA Air, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch, Korean Airlines, Laos Airlines, Lauda Air, Lufthansa Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Qantas Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Scandinavian Air, and Vietnam Airlines.

Entry requirements

Vietnam entry requirements
Vietnam entry requirements

Entry requirements for Americans, UK nationals, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders and Irish nationals: all require a valid passport and a visa. Passport/Visa Note: Entry may be refused to anyone travelling on a passport of less than one month after the expiry date of a visa, if a visa is required. Otherwise passports should have six months validity, except for nationals of Denmark, Finland, Japan, Korea (Rep.), Norway and Sweden, who require three months validity. Processing usually takes 4-10 working days. The validity of tourist visas is one month and is extendable. All visitors must have sufficient funds for the duration of their stay. Visitors should hold a spare passport photograph on arrival in Vietnam for use on the immigration form that must be filled out. You should retain the yellow portion of your immigration Arrival-Departure card on entry to Vietnam, as this is required for exit.

Visa Upon Arrival Service done by Vietnam Visa Upon Arrival Service

This is most likely the easiest way to obtain your visa without having to chase down embassies, consulates and the like, prior to your trip, and is a valid alternative when applying for a tourist visa. The entry visa will be stamped on your passport as you pass through our immigration checkpoint. Though valid for thirty days, it can be extended once you enter Viet Nam. With this type of visa, you only can enter the country by air.

Who uses this kind of service: - Those who are living in a certain country where Vietnamese Embassy or Consulates have not been established. - Those who have limited of time but have to be in the country of Vietnam as soon as possible.

How to get a Visa on Arrival:

You will need to provide them with the information below (or you could scan the first page of your passport and send it to them via email):

Surname: Given name: Nationality: Passport No: Date of birth: Date of issue: Date of expiry:

- They obtain what is called an “Pre-Approval Letter” for you from the Viet Nam Immigration Department in Hanoi.

- They will forward you a copy of the “Pre-approval Letter” by fax or email. Copies of the same document will be forwarded on your behalf to the Vietnam immigration checkpoints at both international airports, so that when you arrive in Viet Nam, the immigration officers will have those documents on hand and will be able to issue your entry visa expediently.

Fee Structure:

The cost below includes the stamp fee of about USD$25 to be submitted directly to the customer at the airport.

Normal service: 3 - 5 days, express service: 1-2 working days

1 - 2 pax US$25 normal, or US$50 for express, 3 - 5 pax US$20 normal, or US$45 for express, 6 - 9 pax US$18

How Hanoi is layed out

On the west side of the Red River is where Hanoi is located. Hanoi has a core downtown area that runs along the lake between Hoan Kiem Lake and West Lake. The newest parts of the city radiate out fron the center towards the south and west. The international airport is about thirty minutes drive north.
Trang Tien Street Redevelopment
Trang Tien Street Redevelopment

The modern part of the city housing the government admistrative offices, businesses and touristic things is in a mile radius centered in Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi's larger hotels, expensive restaurants, and shopping centers are here.

Hanoi's Old Quarter is just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, an area know also as Thirty Six Streets, very French colonial is appearance and feel. Each street has its specialized trade, and there are some fairly large markets that will give you the Vietnam experience. West Lake lies to the north of the Old Quarter.

Congested Hanoi traffic

You won't believe the experience of taking to the streets of hanoi, where every possible type of moving vehicle can be found, from huge trucks and cars to motorbikes, bicycles, mant cyclos and even pedestrians, people pulling carts, dogs, children all vying for a space to move. It
Dense Hanoi traffic
Dense Hanoi traffic
seems that the bigger the vehicle, the more right of way it has. There is more motorcycles and bicycles than anything and if you spend enough time, you'll see accidents. The traffic really doesn't move that fast except for the motorcycles that swerve in and out like there is no tomorrow. In the short time I was there, I saw three separate accidents involving a pedestrian and a motorbike.

Western rules of driving behavior are thrown out the window. Traffic lights are new and seem to frustrate people, so many don't obey them. The lane marking basically mean nothing, pedestrians take their life into their hands crossing the raods, bikes go the wrong way down one way streets, friends on bicycles ride abreast carrying on converstaions holding hands in a chain, blocking traffic, street vendors set up shop at busy intersections getting the most traffic, and causing congestion in every direction. Lane markings, including pedestrian crosswalks, exist but are completely disregarded. One would get the impression that life is cheap, even your own.

Forms of public transportation

  • You will see taxis everywhere in Hanoi. They are elatively safe and inexpensive. They have meters which prevent them from ripping off foreigners. Some try to state a price in advance to avoid turning the meter on and just keep your money themselves. Carry small change or your taxi driver will hope you will not bother with the change at the end of a trip. Otherwise wait until he gets changem himself.
    Hanoi cyclos
    Hanoi cyclos
  • Motorcycle taxis or xe om are very plentiful, and the drivers tend to wear green helmuts. You need to negotiate with the driver before mounting the back or he'll escalate the rate at your destination. They often drink and love to race their motorbikes, so it is not exactly safe situation you are getting yourself into. Passengers are not given helmuts and are quite vulnerable in an accident. Best to get drunk yourself then it won't hurt so much when you hit the pavement!
  • Cyclos are bicycle taxis where the cab is a double seat on the front. They are designed for one foreigner, two Vietnamese, whole families, or moving massive amounts of cargo. It is a weird feeling as you are at the front and peddled face-first into the traffic. Bargain once again for the price before starting out. The Hanoi cyclos tend to stay near the edge of the road rather than in the main stream of faster moving traffic, and as such, tend to be a bit safer than other forms of transportation.

Money in Hanoi

Stacks of dong needed to buy anything expensive
Stacks of dong needed to buy anything expensive
The local currency is called the dong or donhg. One US dollar is worth approximately 16,035 dong as of
10,000 dong note worth about US$6
10,000 dong note worth about US$6
today's date, December 14th, 2007. In the eyes of the government, the dong runs the economy, however, unofficially, US dollars are more appreciated, except for local transportation. Just about anything that deals with tourists like the Hanoi hotels or restaurants actually often sets their rates in dollars.

You will have trouble relying on any of the major credit cards, except in the better Hanoi hotels and restaurants, look on the door for the sticker. Cheques don't exist. ATMs are few and far between, so don't count on them. Use large bills when changing money for the best rate. If trying to buy an expensive article with cash dong, expect to use a suitcase to carry it all.

Shopping in Hanoi

Hang Gai, found in the Old Quarter, is the most interesting shopping street in Hanoi, where special items unique to Vietnam can be found and bought at very reasonable prices. They have silk clothes, laquerware baskets, that fit one inside the other, pictures done in embroidery, 'antiques' which I doubt, and a huge variety of cultural handicrafts. These people are quite talented and have been practising their art for generations.

Shoe shopping in the Old Quarter
Shoe shopping in the Old Quarter
Carved bowls and laquerware are specialties
Carved bowls and laquerware are specialties

For the eco-shoppers, try a store called Craft Link, a non-profit organization, across from the Temple of Literature. It is full of beautiful ethnic handicrafts and other goods, and part of your purchase goes towards helping local artisans and their families who earn rediculously low wages for such marvelous craftsmanship.

There are many art galleries north of Hoan Kiem Lake, with prices and quality ranging to the extremes. There seems to be a modernist movement and some of the paintings jump right out at you.

It has taken up until now, but mimi-marts are starting to appear all over Hanoi, and your hotel front desk will know the closest one, here we go, 7-11! Personal hygenic products are quite cheap, though you may not get exactly the brand you are accustomed to. Hanoi is catching up to the rest of the world with products available like instant coffee, diet soda, canned goods, and even individual Mr.Noodles soups! Expect to find nothing microwavable or frozen, clothing tends to be way too small for Westerners, but you may score a decent pair of shoes that fit. Bring any reading material with you, because you sure won't find anything in English in Hanoi.

Dress in Hanoi

Conservative attire
Conservative attire
Respecting the culture is important for travellers, and in Hanoi, conservative is the style no matter what the weather. Women mostly wear pants and long, loose fitting blouses, occasionally they wear dresses below the knee. If they dress bearing too much skin, they are considered immoral and even prostitutes. Dress is casual for most occasions. It seems the younger generation wants that USA look and a good pair of jeans and a t-shirt with something written in English are worn with pride. Men should not wear shorts above the knees, modesty is more appropriate. Vietnamese like to put on hats, generally the famous conical ones, in all weather. Many are moving away from leather and into shoes and sandals made of plastic. Never wear your shoes inside someone's home.

You may see ladies with gloves on the prevent a suntan, and carrying umbrellas, in order to keep their skin lily white and 'attractive'. Vietnamese are small, generally skinny people and need to dress warmly to retain the heat. If you travel with children, expect to be advised even by strangers that you need to dress your child warmer.

Things to see and do in and around Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake is the center of Hanoi. South of it lies an upscale neighborhood with expensive restaurants and bars. North of the lake lies the Tourist French District, with its souvenir shops, its inexpensive restaurants and hotels. Northwest of the lake lies the citadel (fortress
Happy Vietnamese girl
Happy Vietnamese girl
protecting the city) and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Farther north lies the impressive West Lake, with its nice bars and restaurants. East of Hoan Kiem Lake lies the Red River. Southwest of Hoan Kiem are some interesting sites, one you should not miss is the Temple of Literature.

Throughout the thousand years of its eventful history, Hanoi still preserves many ancient architectural works worth visiting including the Old Quarter and over 600 pagodas and temples!

Marvellous places include the One Pillar Pagoda (built in 1042), the Temple of Literature (built in 1070), Hanoi Citadel, President Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum & Museum (inside the beautiful Ho Chi Minh Park), the National Fine Arts Museum, the Quan Thanh Temple and the Hanoi Opera House.

Hanoi’s unique beauty is improved by 18 charming lakes such as Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, and Truc Bach Lake that really deserve a visit.

Many traditional handicrafts are also practised in Hanoi including bronze and silver carvings, intricate lacquerwares, and embroidery.

Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of Restored Sword)

Ho Kiem Lake
Ho Kiem Lake

An old legend brought about the name of this lake. One day La Than, a fisherman, brought up a sword from the bottom of the lake with his net. He offered it to his commanding general Le Thai To. Le Thay To found a beautiful sheath that the sword fit perfectly into, and it was always at his side over the next ten years when he tried to resist the Ming aggressors from China. After finally defeating the Ming, now King Le Thai To came back to the lake one day for a boat ride. Suddenly a turtle approached him, so the king drew his sword, and got the attention of his men, but the turtle took the sword in its beak and returned it to the bottom of the lake. The king proclained that the genious who led him to defeat the Ming during war time, now wanted the sword back during peace time.

So the king renamed the lake Ho Hoan Kiem or Lake of Restored Sword. There was a 'Turtle Tower' constructed near the middle of the lake, and each year when the weather changes, hundreds of large turtles, many reaching a hundred years old, can be seem swimming near it.

The Old Quarter

This area has been developed continuously longer than any other area of Vietnam, more than 2000 years, and is now the heart and soul of Hanoi. What started out as a swamp infested with alligators and snakes became a few clusters of villages built on stilts, and later reinforced by ramparts. It is between the Long Bien Bridge, Lake of the Restored Sword and a wall of a citadel.

Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter
King Ly Thai To decided to build is palace here in the 11th century, and co-operative craft shops started to appear. People from the same village would come, and each village represented a different product. Each street resembled the village from where it came. they were taxes by the number of feet of frontage they had on the street, so they developed tube houses, with most of the operations moving to the rear. Some houses were only three meters across the street but sixty meters in length.
Cyclo carrying used bicycles
Cyclo carrying used bicycles

The Old Quarter has a rich religious heritage. When the craftsmen moved from outlying villages into the capital, they brought with them their religious practices. They transferred their temples, pagodas and communal houses to their new location. Each guild has one or two religious structures and honors its own patron saint or founder. Therefore, on each street in the Old Quarter there is at least one temple. Now, many of the old temples in the Old Quarter have been transformed into shops and living quarters, but some of the old buildings’ religious roots can still be recognized by the architecture of their roofs.

Maneuvering through the Old Quarter
Maneuvering through the Old Quarter

Although the old section of Hanoi is often called the "36 Old Streets," there are more than 36 actual streets. Some researchers believe that the number 36 came from the 15th century when there might have been 36 guild locations, which were workshop areas, not streets. When streets were later developed, the guild names were applied to the streets. Others attribute the 36 to a more abstract concept. The number nine in Asia represents the concept of "plenty." Nine times the four directions makes 36, which simply means "many." There are now more than 70 streets in the area.

Some streets have achieved fame by their inclusion in popular guidebooks. Han Gai Street offers silk clothing ready-made and tailored, embroidery, and silver products. Hang Quat, the street that formerly sold silk and feather fans, now stuns the visitor by its brilliantly colored funeral and festival flags and religious objects and clothing. To Thinh Street connects the above two and is still the wood turner’s street. Hang Ma glimmers with shiny paper products, such as gift wrappings, wedding decorations and miniature paper objects to burn for the dead. Lan Ong Street is a sensual delight of textures and smells emanating from the sacks of herbal medicinal products: leaves, roots, barks, and powders.

Take the time to explore this area on foot, and feel the sensory overload as your round each corner.

Street Name - Description

  • 1 - Bat Dan Wooden Bowls
  • 2 - Bat Su China Bowls
  • 3 - Cha Ca Roasted Fish
  • 4 - Chan Cam String Instruments
  • 5 - Cho Gao Rice Market
  • 6 - Gia Ngu Fishermen
  • 7 - Hai Tuong Sandals
  • 8 - Hang Bac Silversmiths
  • 9 - Hang Be Rafts
  • 10 -Hang Bo Basket
  • 11 -Hang Bong Cotton
  • 12 -Hang Buom Sails
  • 13 -Hang But Brushes
  • 14 -Hang Ca Fish
  • 15 -Hang Can Scales
  • 16 -Hang Chai Bottles
  • 17 -Hang Chi Threads
  • 18 -Hang Chieu Mats
  • 19 -Hang Chinh Jars
  • 20 -Hang Cot Bamboo Latices
  • 21 -Hang Da Leather
  • 22 -Hang Dao (Silk) Dyer
  • 23 -Hang Dau Beans
  • 24 -Hang Dau Oils
  • 25 -Hang Dieu Pipes
  • 26 -Hang Dong Copper
  • 27 -Hang Duong Sugar
  • 28 -Hang Ga Chicken
  • 29 -Hang Gai Hemp
  • 30 -Hang Giay Paper
  • 31 -Hang Giay Shoes
  • 32 -Hang Hanh Onions
  • 33 -Hang Hom Cases
  • 34 -Hang Huong Incense
  • 35 -Hang Khay Trays
  • 36 -Hang Khoai Sweet Potatoe
  • 37 -Hang Luoc Comb
  • 38 -Hang Ma Votive papers
  • 39 -Hang Mam Pickled Fish
  • 40 -Hang Manh Bamboo-screens
  • 41 -Hang Muoi Salt
  • 42 -Hang Ngang Transversal Street
  • 43 -Hang Non Hats
  • 44 -Hang Phen Alum
  • 45 -Hang Quat Fans
  • 46 -Hang Ruoi Clam Worms
  • 47 -Hang Than Charcoal
  • 48 -Hang Thiec Tin
  • 49 -Hang Thung Barrel
  • 50 -Hang Tre Bamboo
  • 51 -Hang Trong Drum
  • 52 -Hang Vai Cloth
  • 53 -Lo Ren Blacksmiths
  • 54 -Lo Su Coffins
  • 55 -Ma May Rattan
  • 56 -Ngo Gach Bricks
  • 57 -Thuoc Bac Herbal Medicine

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lang Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh)

It's hard to overstate Ho Chi Minh's heroic stature among the Vietnamese and how significant his mausoleum and the surrounding area are in Vietnam's ideological consciousness. Respected as a determined revolutionary patriot and loved as a public figure who empathized with the people, particularly of the North, Ho Chi Minh has reached icon status in the minds of most Vietnamese. Perhaps it's because schools throughout the country focus almost exclusively on the man's positive exploits, deferring any responsibility for failed economic policies or mismanagement onto Ho's successors, that the youth of Vietnam, although often frustrated by the limitations of the rigid communist system, continue to admire and venerate the man.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Located in Ba Dinh District, many of the faithful who visit the tomb are, in fact, school children on field trips; some of them walk past Ho's reclining body with tears in their eyes, others suppress giggles, but mostly they appear mystified at the pinkish-yellow glow that seems to emanate from the frail, wispy-bearded corpse. Thousands of Vietnamese still visit the revered site -- and where independence was declared in 1945 -- to pay homage to Uncle Ho. During the country's major national holidays, Vietnam's power troika -- the general secretary of the Communist Party, the prime minister, and the president -- line up in front of the mausoleum with other national leaders to review columns of parading ethnic minorities, rolling tanks, and goose-stepping soldiers. In the days leading up to Vietnam National Day (September 2) and Ho Chi Minh's birthday (May 19), thousands of curious citizens and loyal party members come to pay their respects to the patriarch, preserved for eternity behind bullet-proof glass.

Ho's embalmed body
Ho's embalmed body

Had officials followed the president's wishes, this structure would never have been built, as Ho Chi Minh had expressed in his will his desire to be cremated. But the preservation of the Vietnamese leader and his memory has gone the way of such other Communist figureheads as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Ho's embalmed body, touched up now and again in Russia, is virtually the only thing inside the mausoleum. The structure itself is a squat, cold, gray cubicle ringed by columns and topped by a flat, square frieze adorned with the words "Chu Tich (President) Ho Chi Minh" in red plum marble. It was built using materials native to Vietnam, such as marble from Marble Mountain outside Danang.

When you enter the mausoleum, be aware of the strict propriety expected of visitors. Although you will see Vietnamese pilgrims moving in a solemn single-file procession, you must sign in at an office at No. 8 Hung Vuong Street, south of the mausoleum, then leave your possessions at another checkpoint closer to the actual tomb, where uninformative brochures are for sale. Your purchase of them amounts to your entrance donation. No cameras, hats, or bags of any kind may be brought in the building, and you are expected to behave respectfully; don't wear shorts or tank tops or put your hands in your pockets while inside. Talking is also forbidden, and once inside the chilly room containing Ho's corpse you are discouraged from lingering for more than a few moments in front of the glass. COST: 4,000d donation. OPEN: Tues.-Thurs. and weekends 8-11; usually closed Oct. and/or Nov., when Ho's body is moved to Russia for maintenance.

Hoa Lo Prison

The infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' has been largely destroyed. It once held captured American servicemen during the Vietnam War, including US Senator John McCain. The prison was built by the French in 1896, and was used to cruely imprison, torture and murder Vietnamese resistance fighters, the Vietminh. What does remain, however, is a small section of the old prison, which is now a museum, and the tree
The French introduced the guillotine for any Vietnamese resistance
The French introduced the guillotine for any Vietnamese resistance
under which Do Muoi, the aging former general secretary of the Communist Party, used to sit while writing on the backs of leaves during his imprisonment.
The Hanoi Hilton
The Hanoi Hilton

Hoa Lo Prison Museum is a stark reminder of the horrors of French colonialism between 1913 and 1953 and later wartime imprisonment. In the southern hall, beyond the horific guillotine and body basket, are cells where death row prisoners, including Hoang Van Thu, Tran Dan Ninh, and Nguyen Van Cu (who escaped and became a powerful early leader of modern Vietnam), were held. These cells are dank, dark, and anything but welcoming.

Exhibits upstairs have Vietnamese propaganda photos of American POWs, cheerily shooting pool, cooking, and writing letters. You won't be able to see the building where the American pilots were kept since it has been torn down, as has the cell from which Do Muoi and 100 other prisoners escaped in 1945 through the maze of sewers that ran under the prison, parts of which are on display in the courtyard.

Historical detail in the museum's guidebooks is limited, in Vietnamese, and short on details of actual prison life behind the dank, mouldy, yellow walls. Cost: 10,000 dong. Open: Tues.-Sun. 8:30-11:30 and 1:30-4:30.

One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda

To the right of the Ho Chi Minh Museum is the unique One Pillar Pagoda, a wooden structure built in 1049 that sits on stilts over a lake. A king of the Ly Dynasty, Ly Thai Thong King had it built after having a dream in which Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the goddess of mercy, presented him with a enchanting lotus flower. The existing pagoda is a miniature reproduction of the original, which was said to represent a lotus emerging from the water. It is certainly interesting, and a prayer here is said to bring fertility and good health. It's best to wear something full-length (skirt or trousers), not shorts.

Temple of Literature

Entrance to the Temple of Literature
Entrance to the Temple of Literature
Located in the heart of Hanoi, the Temple of Literature or Van Mieu is a quiet and peaceful oasis in the sea of traffic and mayhem that is Hanoi. The famous Temple of Literature was founded by Ly Thanh Tong the emporer in 1070 and devoted to Confucius. The first university in Vietnam started here in 1076 to serve the sons of mandarins, Vietnam's admistrative and warriors classes. The central walkway of this revered temple was reserved solely for the emperor while the admistrative and military mandarins were relegated to the right and left pathways. The stelae atop the giant tortoises that line either side of the temple date from 1484 and record the names, dates and places of birth and achievements of the men who received doctorates here. Many Vietnamese students come here to pray for success in their studies, especially before their big exams. It is a masterpiece of temple architecture honoring knowledge and those who pursue the rigorous path of learning.
Golden Lotus Pagoda
Golden Lotus Pagoda

Golden Lotus Pagoda or Kim Lien Pagoga

Hanoi's claim to this extremely beautiful pagoda resembling a golden lotus floating calmly on the water's edge comes from the 1100s when Princess Tu Hoa moved to Nghi Tam village to teach the locals how to cultivate mulberries, weave silk and grow silk worms. The villagers several years later erected the pagoda in her honour, on the spot where her father, the kind, has built a palace for her.

Quan Su Pagoda

Quan Su Pagoda was erected on the land of An Tap Village in Tho Xuong District near the southern gate of the ancient imperial capital of Thang Long.

Under the Le Dynasty in the 15th century, envoys of the neighboring countries congregated at a house on the present-day Quan Su Street so that the house became known as Quan Su, or embassy.

As most of the ambassadors were Buddhists, a small pagoda was built next to the house. There they could pray or recite the Buddhist scriptures. Though later the house was demolished, the Quan Su Pagoda remained.

Worshipping at Quan Su Pagoda
Worshipping at Quan Su Pagoda

In 1934, the Tonkin Buddhist Association used Quan Su Pagoda as its headquarters. When in 1942 the Vietnam Buddhist Association was set up, Quan Su was selected as the headquarters of the association’s central committee.

Since then the pagoda has been renovated and enlarged many times. It now houses many stone stelaes and large Buddha statues.

Den Quan Thanh or Quan Thanh Temple : The temple is dedicated to worshipping Tran Vu Quan as demonstrated by the three characters found above the entrance. Temples worship saints and pagodas pay respect to Buddha's faithful disciplines. The saint, Tran Vu, covers both mysticism and legend chasing away a ghostly Royal spirit. In a Chinese legend, Saint Tran Vu was very instrumental in securing the Chinese border. Built through the era of the king from 1010 to 1028, LýThai, you can see the powerful black bronze-style Saint Tran Vu statue.
Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple

Ngoc Son Temple

Hoan Kiem Lake was already considered the most beautiful lake in Hanoi when Ngoc Son Temple was built on an island. The temple was first called Ngoc Son Pagoda and was renamed Ngoc Son Temple since temples were dedicated to the scholar Van Suong who was considered to be one of the brightest minds in Vietnam's literary and intellectual circles and to the National hero Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. Ngoc Son Temple is reached via wooden The Huc (where rays of morning sunshine touch) Bridge, which was constructed in 1885. To the left of the gate stands an obelisk whose top is shaped like a paintbrush.

Trung Trac and Trung Nhi
Trung Trac and Trung Nhi

Festival Hai Ba Trung

The temple, Hai Ba Trung, also known as Dong Nhan Temple due to its location in the village with the same name. The king, Lý Anh Ton had it built in 1142 and dedicated to two national heroines, Trung Nhi and Trung Trac. During the second lunar month a festival is held with all its Vietnamese pomp and pageantry.

Youth Road

HoTay
HoTay

Youth Road (Doang Thanh) is a marvelous long narrow land bridge with trees and buildings along it. It separates two lakes picturesque lakes, West Lake (Ho Tay) to the north-west and to the south-east is Truc Bach Lake. Legend says Ho Tay formed by a giant golden waterbuffalo. The legend of Truc Bach Lake is that ladies waiting to meet their husbands would be abandoned there to weave beautiful silk, and thus the silk farms that occupy the area. Apparently Ho Tay has been scheduled for major tourism expenditures, but I think it is better left alone.

Food and drink

Hanoi cuisine is highly enjoyed by both locals and foreigners, and as more and more visitors come to Hanoi, the reputation of its wonderful, exotic dishes will be ranked among the best in the world. Already Hanoi has also been chosen by MSN network readers as ranking third among ten cities providing the most delicious and enjoyable dishes in the world. They use Nuok Mam, which is a brown, salty, fermented fish (head) sauce, on just about everything. It tastes far better than it sounds.

Workers prepare Nuok Mam fish sauce
Workers prepare Nuok Mam fish sauce
  • The most typical dishes in Hanoi are rice noodle soup, fish cooked with noodles and scallions cooked in a charcoal grill, thanh tri steamed rolls made from rice flour, greasy pork pies and sausages, and Pho, a typical soup of Hanoi.
  • Com lam rice is steamed inside a fresh hollow bamboo stock, a cooking technique used throughout Vietnam, like a box lunch. Special mountain rice is used, grown in the highlands in rice paddies. A tube of bamboo is cut about 20 inches long, filled with rice, topped up with water, sealed and thrown on a fire until the bamboo chars. They then peel away the charred bark, and you are left with a thing bamboo membrane that the rice sticks to. Cut them into sections about two inches long, add sea salt (which Vietnam is famous for) and sesame seeds, and you have it made!
    Eating at the market
    Eating at the market
  • Cha ca grilled fish cakes are a unique speciality of Hanoi, and served especially along a streeet named after the specialty. The best is made from Hemibagrus (Ca Lang) fish. The fish bone is removed, special seasonings, slivers of bamboo, then it is fried over coals for that extra carcinogenic flavour. Cha Ca is generally served with fresh roasted peanuts, a soft noodle soup, spiced-up vegetables, lemon, chili and a shrimp paste, especially enjoyed on cool days.
  • Similarly, Banh Tom Ho Tay Restaurant along Young Street is famous among Hanoi people for its shrimp pies. Mixed with wheat and potato flakes, it is fried in oil, shrimps exposed on top. The outside is brittle, inside soft, it smells sweet, and best served with a sweet and sour sauce. Pickled vegetables often also accompany it.
  • Banh cuon or rolled rice pancakes is a breakfast dish served in Vietnam. Steam then grill the rice, add oil for a sweet smell, then serve it with a salty crisp and fried onions. The amazing 'secret' sauce is what keeps people coming back.
    Hanoi cuisine
    Hanoi cuisine
  • Ladder soft noodle soup (Bun Thang) is a seafood often made from crab and vermicelli (thin rice noodles), pork paste, salted shrimp and a fried egg. The best is pure and sweet.
  • Com Vong, green rice that is grilled, is a dish from the countryside. It is sticky rice taken in at harvest time, crushed and put through a seive. Sometimes they are put in lotus leaves for extra flavour and aroma. The Village of Dich Vong is the home of this type of rice, and many off-shoot dishes have been made from it.

Health and safety in Hanoi

Many people worry about safety issues when traveling to Hanoi due primarily to the fact that there are suggestions that Vietnam is an unfriendly place for many travelers. This stems from the fact that the Hanoi saw years and years of domination by other countries and as a
Storing food is a problem in Asia
Storing food is a problem in Asia
result erected an artificial barrier around themselves from foreigners.
Hanoi traffic accident
Hanoi traffic accident
However, it is no longer the case that Hanoi is unfriendly. Hanoians seem to forget about the past, and are very forward looking. Besides, the Vietnam War was about thirty five years ago, and the average age of the Vietnamese people is a youthful twenty six. Much of the money in the area comes from tourists and the locals recognize and appreciate that.

The one main area where there is generally some concern for safety is traffic accidents on the congested streets, particularly for pedestrians. Pedestrians should try to stay away from motorbikes to the greatest extent possible to not only avoid collisions but also avoid "drive-by snatchings. Also when using public transportation in Hanoi, the bus system there can be confusing, which means that visitors are often not alert and head-up to their surroundings when navigating the bus system trying to figure out what is going on with their schedules and routes.

Hanoi is a very safe city crime wise, one of the safest in the world. However, like any large city, there is low-level street theft of the pick-pocket variety, but threats to physical safety are rare. There have been some incidents of distraction tactics used to snatch purses and wallets. Anything left unattended is at considerable risk.

This website link could save your life

If you are new to travelling, or even if you have travelled the globe for years, I strongly recommend you check out the following link for some very interesting and informative reading about safe travelling in Hanoi, and the Third World in general. It is an accumulation of original thoughts and experiences of several worldly travellers, just go to Safely.travel. It was written with the Third World in mind, where travelling disasters are around every corner, and a pre-emptor to what we may all expect someday in the First World as populations increase and desperate people become more brave and sophisticated in their survival techniques. It will make you aware of all sorts of scams, how to check into a hotel, advice for single lady travellers, advice for single men travellers, rip tides, credit card scams, driving in a foreign land, kidnapping, street people, you name it. It is an essential read for anyone travelling, and the most comprehensive discussion I know of!
Girl from a dating service
Girl from a dating service

Prostitution

Like most places where prostitution is a fact of life, if you are not looking for it, you most likely won't see it.

Vietnam and Hanoi in particular have an unusual situation. Because of the emerging economy, it is difficult for anyone to stamp out, and the number of massage parlors, karaike bars, and the like are increasing dramatically. Rough estimates put the number of sex workers in Hanoi at over 100,000. Though anything to do with it is illegal by law such as pornography and pimping, the police turn a blind eye to it. But more than this, because many of the establishments where the activities take place is owned by the government, they have every disincentive to stop the practice. Also, even the government estimates that seventy percent of the clients of the hookers are party member or government officials.

Recently the government has given token efforts to shut down brothels, if the brothel owner pays his fees, the police leave him alone. The police are also on the take, as are the thugs that actually do the policing.

Time and again it is the young girls coming from the countryside in search of a better life in the city. Often they arrive under the promise of waitress or store clerk work available, but end up in debt to some 'kind' stranger, and must work their way out of debt.

A typical bar has more women than men, usually business men or government officials 'off duty'. Before a government raid of the establishment, the owner is generally tipped off, so he has time to remove the hookers.

But even reaching a concensus on who is a hooker, and who would be considered a waitress who accepts a little financial help form her 'lover' muddies the water. Women short of money are now even known to have sex with their landlords in lieu of rent. The whole hedonistic approach to life has taken off now that rules are grey, if not completely lacking.

Prostitution in Hanoi is here to stay atleast for the short term, atleast until the government makes an ernest effort to bring it under control.

Mail in Hanoi

The main post office in Hanoi is on Dinh Tien Hoang on the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake. This post office has the full range of postal and telecommunications services, including express mail. Smaller branch offices are throughout the city. Mail coming into and leaving Vietnam is subject to inspection.
Hanoi internet cafe
Hanoi internet cafe

Internet

The communist government of Vietnam has a huge problem on its hands trying to limit 'propaganda' and other undesireable communication from the 'free world', and unless it bans the internet entirely, it is a lost cause, as undoubtably Vietnam citizens will get the taste of freedom and democracy, and use it against the strict policies of the Vietnam government. Communism will probably weaken and self-collapse either through evolution or from internal forces. Some of the forward thinking hotels have guest computers available and set up on the internet. As well, there are internet cafes located throughout the tourist areas.

Vietnam's Freedom of Press

The following is a reprint of an article entitled "Vietnamese Media Bare Their Teeth - Carefully," written by Andrew Lam of the Pacific News Service and originally published on January 17, 2003. It is a very interesting description of how Viet Nam's media outlets are becoming bolder and less restricted by the communist government, but also about how true freedom of press is still an illusion.
Starting to see freedom of the press
Starting to see freedom of the press

YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY

From woman's magazines to tabloids to newspaper exposes of gangsterism and government corruption, media in Vietnam are flexing their muscles. But taboo topics remain. Writers and editors who call for political pluralism or criticize government policy take huge risks. At a typical newsstand here in the capital, colorful magazines and newspapers jostle for space like mosaic tiles on a church wall. More than 65 publications cram a single stand. From Woman's Forum to Youth, from Liberated Saigon to New Hanoi, from Vietnam Economic News to Beautiful Home, the choices are staggering.

Since the Vietnamese doi moi, or perestroika -- which really picked up after the Soviet Union collapsed -- Vietnam has been experiencing a kind of cultural renaissance. For the country's news media, the changes are more like a big bang. "Ten years ago, we had only a few state-controlled newspapers, mostly serving as the propaganda machine for the party," observes Quang Nguyen, a college student in Hanoi. "All news about Western capitalist countries tended to be negative. Now, we have newspapers of all kinds, both quality and tabloid. There are also more academic journals, as well as some good programs on TV."

Surprisingly, all these papers and magazines are still under the control of the communist government. But longtime observers say the trend is toward media liberalization. Though there are no privately owned papers, many publications increasingly find more space to maneuver. They need that freedom -- the majority, unless they are official government mouthpieces, must survive without much government funding. They may pay lip service to communist ideology to appease the party, but these publications survive on advertising money and readership.

Breaking the hand of censorship
Breaking the hand of censorship

Perhaps accordingly, Vietnamese newspapers and magazines have become more bold. A few years ago in the most popular newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City, called Tuoi Tre, or Youth, a poll found that more young people identified Bill Gates as their personal hero than the long-dead leader Ho Chi Minh. Police quickly pulled copies of the paper from stands and burned them. The paper's chief editor was fired. Some of the copies nevertheless got distributed and the story became popular lore. But even the BBC picked it up.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES

So what's in the hottest story of late? The impending U.S. war with Iraq is reported with far less fervor and interest than what some are calling the trial of the century. That's the story of Nam Cam, a Saigonese kingpin who became a multi-millionaire by operating a gambling and prostitution empire in Ho Chi Minh City. A former South Vietnamese soldier, Cam's connections are wide, and the papers claim that he is personally linked to high-ranking communists, especially those from the South.

The story has all the elements of a Hollywood movie. Nam Cam, along with dozens of accomplices, had been under arrest for allegedly having his lesbian gangster rival, Dung Ha, assassinated. Ha, based in North Vietnam in Hai Phong province, moved to Saigon and tried to break up Cam's operations. But Ha apparently sealed her own fate when, on Nam's birthday, she sent feces-covered rats in boxes as gifts to humiliate Cam in front of his many VIP guests.
All the news the government allows
All the news the government allows

A middle aged business man named Long Tran, a southerner, says there is an art to deciphering such stories. Many, he says, are about longstanding regional differences. "I read this mafioso's arrest as about the northern communists trying to undermine the power of southern communists. Cam's support was linked to former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, who was the only southerner of high-ranking position. High-ranking officers from Hanoi allow the papers to report on this issue. But you don't read about kingpins in Hanoi. It's forever an internal North-South power play."

But Tran readily admits that regardless of motive, the new liberalization in the media is real. "It is the communist government's effort to gain legitimacy. It encourages participation in building the state. So you
Propaganda or reality?
Propaganda or reality?
can write in to suggest how the government can reform its policies -- you can even criticize corruption." For some of the younger, educated, urban generation, however, who watch CNN and access the Internet, the Vietnamese media is still too restrained. "Liberalizing media is still not a free media," says a Vietnamese Fulbright scholar who asked to remain anonymous.

"A multiparty system and human rights issues are still taboo topics," the scholar says. "I have not seen anything in the media about the situation of the mountain people whose land is being confiscated, or about Vietnam giving away land to China. News about religious and political dissidents under house arrest is also never made public." The line, he says, is clear. If you write in and suggest there should be political pluralism, you could be arrested. Even so, there are those who risk it all and publish controversial works online. The lawyer Le Chi Quang, 32, was arrested a few months ago for writing an online article criticizing land and sea border agreements with China. Writer Nguyen Vu Binh was arrested for doing the same.

Despite Vietnam's constitutional guarantees of a free press, dissidents still take considerable risks to speak out. But the fact that some do -- and that some muckrakers and bold editors and writers are pushing the envelope despite threats -- says something about the Vietnamese media. Though still on a leash, it is beginning to bare its teeth.