Hanoi is not one of the best travel destinations, but is an important part of travelling around the world.
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According to Wikipedia, "Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam. The second largest city in Vietnam, it consists of 12 urban districts, one district-leveled town and 17 rural districts. Located within the Red River Delta, Hanoi is the cultural and political centre of Vietnam."
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Part 1: Understand. Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. Tourist Information Centre, Dinh Tien Hoang (just north of Hoan Kiem Lake), ☏ +84 4 926 3366. Can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet.
Part 2: Get Around.
This is the best way to traverse the maze of little streets in the old quarter and Hoan Kiem lakeside (which is traffic-free at weekends). From there it's a 1.5-km stroll to the Ho Chi Minh complex, 2 km to West Lake; follow usual local rules on traffic safety.
Taxis (i.e., cars) are small 4-seaters or larger 7-seaters. (Motorbike & cyclo taxis, described below, are notorious for scams.) Within the city, three companies are generally reliable: CP Taxi and Hanoi Taxi are two brands of Taxi Group, in white cars, and Mai Linh are in green cars. Taxi NoiBai specialise in airport transfers. Your hotel will call a reliable firm, and leave them in no doubt where they are supposed to be taking you.
Scam-free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay 7,000 dong (as of October 2015) and off you go. If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to inform the mostly helpful conductor where you want to get off. Or, use your phone's GPS and Google Maps - it works well with most bus lines, just keep in mind that traffic jams make schedules unreliable.
Part 3: Itinerary
Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum. Tu-Th Sa Su 08:00-11:30. The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion. The mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance. It is closed in the afternoons for maintenance.Free.
One-Pillar Pagoda (tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum). Visitors find this either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit. It has a long history attached to it. Regarded as one of Vietnam's iconic temples, it was built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông.
Hồ Chí Minh Museum, 19 Ngoc Ha St, Ba Dinh, ☏+84 4 846-3572, email@example.com. Daily 08:00-11:30, and Tu-Th Sa Su 14:00-16:00. This gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography is the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum.
Hồ Chí Minh's Vestige in the Presidential Palace Area, 1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, ☏+84 4 0804 4529. Summer 07:30-11:00, 14:00-16:00; Winter 08:00-11:00, 13:30-16:00, closed M F afternoons. The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake. A pleasant park in the centre of town, an easy walk from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people practising tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon.
Lý Thái Tổ Statue & Park (SE corner of lake). The park faces Hoàn Kiếm lake, with a beautiful view of the busy Hang Bai St. and the serenity of the willows on the bank of the lake. Many locals view this mini-park as their favourite place because it is a symbol of the integration of modernity and tradition.
Hồ Tây (West Lake) (NW of the city). Mostly a residential hub of the well-to-do. The InterContinental West Lake, Sheraton Hanoi and Pan Pacific Hanoi are on this lake front.