[Vietnam travel guide] Hanoi: The chaos and charms of the capital

Jona Bering's travel guide to northern Vietnam is a 4-part series. First up: what to see, eat, and do in the country's busy capital, Hanoi.

For long-time travelers, it is sometimes hard to pick a place when asked, “What’s the most beautiful place you’ve been to so far?” I would stammer, and a train of places would come rushing to my mind. Often, I answer the question with another question: how do you define “beautiful?”

For a writer, well at least for me, a place is beautiful when there's something about it that you want to write about. And sometimes, writable places can be challenging to travel to.

Defining a beautiful place is always subjective. I've met someone who did not rave about Vietnam as much as I did, so take this list with a grain of salt. 

If we narrow down the definition of “beautiful” to something more tangible, like landscape, northern Vietnam is on top of my top list. 

Three elements recur in northern Vietnam’s landscapes: flatlands of varying hues of green, water – be it fresh or salt – and the dramatic limestone formations. Sometimes, they tease you by appearing in the periphery of your vision; other times, they burst out in the open. Either way, the scenes left me sighing with gratitude and awe. 


 We flew to northern Vietnam after 3 weeks in southern Vietnam. We had gotten so used to the southern Vietnam hospitality and kindness that we instinctively thought Hanoi would not be any different. But it was as if the city had a mischievous plan in mind – well, at least, on the first night. 

When you are in Hanoi, it is financially and emotionally practical to opt for an Uber, Grab, or bus. Some taxi drivers will scam you once they figure out you’re not a local. That being said, we got victimized on a hefty ten-minute taxi ride on the night we arrived in Hanoi. 

Even southern Vietnamese get scammed – how much more if you are a foreigner?

Despite the awkward first meeting, Hanoi and I get along pretty well. If it is your first time in the capital, here are some of the must-dos. 

1. Hang out at Hoan Kiem Lake