Hanoi City & Tourist Information
Pete Peterson's motorbike tour of Hanoi
Map with some recommended sites in Hanoi
Vietnam is a fascinating country of stunning beauty, traditional charm,
with a highly cultured and friendly people. From the glistening iridescent
green rice paddies that stretch from north to south, to the jutting rock
formation of Ha Long Bay in the east, from the waterways of the Mekong delta
to the peak of the "Mountain Citadel" on the northern border,
Vietnam offers more than most people can hope to see in one vacation and
much more than this site can describe. For more information about traveling
in Vietnam see our links.
Hanoi became the capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954;
22 years later, in 1976, it became the capital of the unified Socialist
Republic of Vietnam. The city has grown from a population of 130,000 in
1930 to 3 million today. It is a city where old and new collide--often quite
Everything happens in the streets. They resound with beeping horns and screeching
brakes, and traffic lights are a new phenomenon at most major intersections.
But beware--not everyone obeys them. Women wind their way between the endless
stream of motorbikes carrying baskets balanced on poles with freshly cut
flowers, vegetables, fruits and chickens bound for market. Steel girders
are transported to building sites using bicycles or a cyclo. The city's
sidewalks teem with entrepreneurs. Women set up portable food stands, and
serve soups, rice and noodles. Bike mechanics hunker beside their tire pumps
and wrenches, awaiting their next client.
Peterson's motorbike tour of Hanoi
most foreigners living in Hanoi, Ambassador Peterson enjoys getting on
his Honda Dream II motorbike and touring the city streets.
are his recommendations of what to see in the central part of Hanoi.
Click on the
numbered spot for more information
This is Vietnam's leading museum and a center for cultural and historical
research. It features exhibits designed so that the viewer can walk through
the different periods of Vietnam's history. Four thousand year-old bronze
Dong Son drums and funeral urns along with Nguyen Dynasty pieces from
the early 19th century are among the treasures housed here.
House; Opera Square.
The Opera House built in 1911 is indicative of the French colonial architecture.
It was completely refurbished in 1998 and is the premier location for
performances. In front of the Opera House is a large intersection where
six streets converge, creating a free-for-all as people weave around each
other on motorbikes and bicycles. If you feel brave enough to walk across
it, make sure you walk slowly and maintain your pace. It's okay to stop
if you feel you need to, but never make a sudden change of direction.
What bacon and eggs are to the American breakfast, pho is to the Vietnamese.
Often translated as "noodle soup," pho has no real English equivalent
as it's a soup unique to Vietnam. It's made with chicken or beef and special
spices. Each pho shop is run by a family that has its own secret variation.
The place Vi and I often go to is one of the many pho shops on Le Van
Lo Prison AKA "Hanoi Hilton"
What's left of the prison where I was imprisoned for some of my six and-a-half
years during the war is now a museum. Called "Maison Centrale"
by the French, most of the prison was destroyed for the construction of
Hanoi Towers, a skyscraper that houses apartments and offices. Most of
the exhibits in the museum focus on the years when the prison was run
by the French and housed Vietnamese prisoners, but one small room houses
exhibits from American POWs as well.
The Army Museum contains military displays portraying Vietnam's military
campaigns during the "American War." It is worth seeing because
it provides the Vietnamese perspective on the conflict between America
and Vietnam. You may not agree with what the signs say--but it is useful
to hear the other side of the story.
Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Museum
Modeled after Lenin's tomb in Moscow, this stark concrete structure houses
the embalmed body of much-revered Ho Chi Minh. If you come early, you
will see hundreds of Vietnamese lined up to pay their respects to "Uncle
Ho." After the mausoleum, you can tour Ho Chi Minh's former house
near the Communist Party Guest house, which was the former presidential
palace and residence of the former French governors of Indochina. Ho Chi
Minh refused to live in the palace, opting instead for the electrician's
meager abode on the palace grounds. He felt that the palace belonged to
In an area of Hanoi called Ngoc Ha (Flower Village), an American B 52
that was shot down during the Christmas bombing in 1968 sits rusting in
a small pond surrounded by a busy market. To find this favorite "photo
op" for tourists take Hoang Hoa Tham road; turn left at a tiny sign
that says "B52" and then go down a narrow alley about 300 yards.
After you get lost, ask anyone and they will gladly point the way.
"Ho Tay" is Hanoi's largest lake and is in the northwest section
of the city. On weekends families gather along its banks for pictures
and picnics. But I like to see the young couples who frequent the park
benches. There are so few places for young lovers to have privacy. Many
come here and rent boats and you can see them circling endlessly. You
also can rent boats: whether you circle is up to you! Next to West Lake
is Truc Bach, the lake where my friend and colleague, Senator John McCain,
crashed after he was shot down in 1967.
I enjoy the Old Quarter's crowded, charming, and energetic atmosphere.
The 36 street names come from the trade or specialty sold in ancient times.
While some streets no longer hold true to the past, many do. On "Hang
Bac" (Silver Street) hand crafted silver jewelry is still offered.
"Hang Gai" street is where most tourists go to buy souvenirs,
silk clothing and paintings, and as a result it's become a bit commercialized.
It's a good idea to go beyond the tourist area and explore the maze of
small streets. Walk or rent a cyclo and go to the Eastern Gate to the
old city. You'll get a feel for how life was in Hanoi long ago and simultaneously
see the lifestyle of today.
Woman on the street (1.3 Mb) -
At the heart of Hanoi is the "The Lake of the Returned Sword."
It's inspired countless poems and songs. If you visit the lake at dawn
you'll catch elders practicing Tai Chi. It also has a wonderful legend
that fans of King Arthur will want to investigate. No one knows how many
remain, but sightings of the huge, ancient turtles living in the lake
were reported as recently as November 1998. During Tet, the fireworks
at night and the Dragon boat races during the day draw thousands of spectators
to the lake.