Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, is busy and bustling by 6am every day. People are exercising and setting up shop for a day of trading. Hanoi is an exciting mix of calmness and chaos, which is to be expected with a population of more than 6 million. And right now it's in the throes of 1000th birthday celebrations.
While Hanoi isn't as hectic as Vietnam's largest city, Ho Chi Minh down south, traffic can be a little unnerving. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedicabs known as cyclos fly along the wide roads in all directions. The best way to cross seems to be just walk drivers are experts in swerving around pedestrians. If you stand on the curb and wait for them to stop you could be there all day.
There is much evidence in Hanoi of the time when Vietnam was ruled by France. Architecture and broad boulevards are impressive. Even though the French haven't governed Vietnam for more than 50 years, the older generation speaks French and cuisine is a tasty mix of French and Vietnamese.
Natalie Gruzlewski opted for a cycling tour around Hanoi and it began in the city's Old Quarter. For more than 1000 years, Thang Long has been the national commercial centre. Built by the French, it lies between the Lake of the Restored Sword, the Long Bien Bridge and a citadel wall. Once a snake- and alligator-infested swamp, it evolved into a cluster of stilt houses.
It's a place of manufacturing, trading, services and handicraft production. Thirty-six streets and small paths tangle to make up the triangular Old Quarter which was formed in the 13th century. Tubular houses are long and narrow with business carried out at the front and families living at the back.
Each street specialises in producing or selling just one kind of product. There are rows of picture framers, coffin makers, car parts, holiday decorations, silk clothing, herbal medicines you name it. You will also see antique pagodas, temples and other shrines, joss houses and family churches.
The beauty of touring by bicycle is that you can stop for a closer look and pop into a noodle shop for a feed whenever and wherever you like. They are all over the city and pho, the traditional soup, is a typical breakfast dish, but eaten at lunch and dinner as well. It's very cheap and locals buy it from noodle shops and stalls rather than make it. The Vietnamese people are real coffee lovers and they like it very, very strong!
Lake of the Returned Sword Hoan Kiem is the focal point of the city and is a good place to take a break. The Tortoise Tower stands on a small island in the lake and is linked to the legend that large soft-shell turtles were placed there in honour of the emperor. They are spotted occasionally but are critically endangered.
One of the city's many must-do's is a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Ho led the Viet Minh independence movement and is the greatly revered father of modern Vietnam. Locals visit to pay respect to his great contribution. There is a changing of the guard each hour and you can see his embalmed body if you wish.
When you're through with cycling and sightseeing there's plenty of shopping to do.
The three-storey Dong Xuan Market in the old quarter has hundreds of stalls and thousands of workers selling household goods, fresh produce, paintings, drawings, embroideries and laces, and everything else you can think of. On weekends it becomes a night bazaar and is quite the social gathering place for locals. You do need to beware of pickpockets.
Hang Da Market is smaller than Dong Xuan. It offers imported food, wines, flowers, fabrics, clothing and jewellery.
Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, in the north of the country.
Travel Indochina has a 19-day Cycling Vietnam tour out of Hanoi. All accommodation, most meals, transport, entrance fees and transfers are included. They start at $2795 per person twin share.
Vietnam Airlines has flights to Hanoi.
- Melbourne $1211
- Sydney $1230
- Hobart and Brisbane $1251
- Canberra $1262
- Adelaide $1265
Sale and validity dates apply.
Prices correct at March 11, 2010.
For further information
13/31 Market Street
Ph: 1300 888 028
Ph: 1300 138 755
Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan & Hang Chieu Streets
Ph: +84 4 826 4089
Hang Da Market
1 Pho Hang Da
Visas: Australian passport holders must have a valid passport and a visa is required.
Electricity: 220V at 50Hz. Three plugs are used throughout Vietnam: two flat blade; two round pins; two parallel flat pins with ground pin.
Time zone: GMT +7.
Currency: The dong.
International dialling code: +84.
It is recommended travellers to Vietnam see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au.
To find out more about the hot deals mentioned on the show, check out Holidays for Sale.