Frenetic yet disciplined, jumbled yet orderly, history meets opportunity in this hot spot of controlled chaos.
When to Go
Dry season is from November to April and wet season is May to October. Late fall is the best time to go since temperatures are moderate (in the 70-plus degrees Fahrenheit range) and rain has tapered off. In summer the heat can soar to 95 F with equally extreme humidity while January gets a little chilly, mercury dipping as low as 53 F.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival (Tet Trung Thu) is a happy time for children who don masks, play traditional games and receive toys. Go to Hang Ma street in the Old Quarter to snap shots of shops overflowing with toys and lanterns. Then, join the crowds at Hoan Kiem Lake and Thang Long Royal Citadel for puppet shows and lion dances. Adults get in the spirit by gifting favorite people packages of luscious mooncakes.
What to Eat
Pho is a breakfast favorite and there are a gazillion takes on the steaming broth filled with noodles, meat and fresh herbs. For lunch, try banh mi made with paté, sliced carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro and a splash of hot sauce stuffed into a feathery French roll. Fish sauce, made with fermented anchovies, chilies and lime, is delicious spooned on fresh spring rolls - chopped carrots, cucumber, herbs, shrimp or pork, wrapped in rice paper.
Souvenir to Take Home
There are plenty of places to pick up a conical hat in Hanoi, or you can go to the nearby (18 miles away) village of Chuong where families have been making them for centuries. Palm leaves are softened by foot, then dried, ironed and hand-stitched to a frame. Worn to ward off sun or rain, they are great for gardening and modest in price.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Cut down on exhaust fumes and take a Hanoi Electric Bus Tour. It is a relaxing way to see the Old Quarter and get ease into intimidating motor scooter traffic. Drivers generally don't speak much English, but they'll make stops where you can get out to look at pagodas, historic sites and Dong Xuan market. The ticket stall is on Dinh Tien Hoang Street, next to Hoan Kiem Lake.
An iconic sight downtown is the red, wooden Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge connecting the city center to Jade Island and Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake. Shoot it from the shore either early morning, as mist rises from the lake, or when night falls and the scarlet pops in the water's reflection.