Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hanoi: For a Uniquely Asian Taste

Hanoi is a city with the charm of exotic marketplaces, modern amenities and a buzzing street life. In contrast, Hanoi is also a city with the serene natural beauty of the Red River and Ha Long Bay – tranquil pagodas, and downright tasty cuisine. All mixed in with the complications of foreign colonialism, a recent history of drawn-out wars, and the uniquely Asian problem of highly compact quarters catering to an exploding population. Hanoi, with its rich culture, history and tradition is undoubtedly one of the world’s poignantly distinct cities. Although a city of such esteem needn’t such a list, here are five reasons to see it for yourself.

Fine Arts Museum – Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật

Associated with the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, the Fine Arts Museum is housed in a 1930′s French-built structure exhibiting traditional architecture. It bares the essentials of fine national art, taking on a platitude of mediums including sculptures, paintings and artifacts, dating as far back as the 10th century. From exhibitions of impressive Buddhist deities, to the various realms of folk art and thematic sculptures, all three floors of the Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi offer an opportunity to explore a fine culture of art and its many facets.
Hanoi Fine Arts Museum
Hanoi Fine Arts Museum surrounded by typically lush Vietnamese greenery

Ha Long Bay

Considered the very heart of Northern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is an absolute paradise. Located about 105 miles (or 170 km) east of Hanoi, the bay contains over 3,000 dolomite and limestone island formations, and a network of caves that will blow your mind. If you can spare a few days for a proper excursion of the area, this UNESCO World Heritage site is chalk full of majestic landscapes, cave excursions and breathtaking boat rides. A trip to Cat Ba Island provides a great opportunity to experience a scenic trek and to see the famous Viet Hai fishing village. While in the area, be sure to check out Ha Long city, full of bars, clubs, restaurants and casinos.
Ha Long Bay Cruise, Hanoi
View of hauntingly lovely Ha Long Bay on a cruise stop, Hanoi

Hanoi is Delectable

Of all the attractions Hanoi has to offer, one stands as a sure fire way to let your body and mind know that you are in Asia: the food. All around town, there are a plethora of places to go to experience Vietnam’s rich history of cuisines. From the local street vendors to restaurants, without trying the varying traditional styles of Phở and Bún thang (noodle soups), or rice and flour crepes known as Bánh cuốn, you were never really in Hanoi. For a guaranteed run-in with one of Hanoi’s eateries, head to the Old Quarter in central Hanoi near Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can not only enjoy a wide range of places to dine, but have a culturally fulfilling walk-about. Otherwise, head to Ba Trieu Street for a selection of equally fulfilling local joints.
Phở for Breakfast, Hanoi
Vietnamese Phở soup for breakfast is a nice way to start the day!

Cho Hom Market

Just outside the city center, the Cho Hom Market is an epicenter in Hanoi’s commerce trade. Specializing in homegrown fabrics, the market presents an excellent opportunity not just to experience the day-to-day dealings of local businesses, but to buy very inexpensive world-grade quality textiles, try exotic fruits, and pick up souvenirs. Feel free to exercise your bargaining skills here as many vendors may choose to apply the ‘western discount.’

Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution -Bảo tàng Cách mạng Việt Nam

Located just off Ho Hoan Kiem, the museum of the Vietnamese Revolution highlights Vietnam’s struggle for independence from the mid-19th century, up through today. Showcasing the country’s conflict with France and the United States, the description of Vietnam’s recent history, intensely portrayed through numerous artifacts and photos, presents a perspective of the country’s tribulations that can only be described as ‘the other side.’ Open Monday through Sunday, this moving account of Vietnam’s history includes the many interesting tools used to propagate its ideas, from a Japanese Buddhist drum used to rally communist party supporters to a sewing machine, representing a means of developing industry.