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Archaeological finds suggest that human habitation of Northern Vietnam dates back about 500,000 years. The area around present-day Hanoi has been inhabited since 8000 BC at least. The region's first inhabitants relied on fishing, hunting and gathering for their livelihood. Later they settled and developed animal husbandry and agriculture. Up until the 1st century AD most of the tribes in the region lived relatively isolated from the rest of the world.

In the 3rd century BC the Han Chinese arrived and in 214 BC they set up a military garrison near present-day Hanoi. From this base, the Chinese controlled most of what is now known as Vietnam. The Chinese introduced important technological innovations such as plows and irrigation systems. Resistance against Chinese rule grew stronger over the centuries and in 938, when China's Tang dynasty collapsed, revolutionary leader Ngo Quyen led an uprising against the Chinese and established an independent Vietnamese state. After his death the region fell into anarchy and by 980 Vietnam became a semi-independent client state of China again.

The site of modern Hanoi became the administrative seat for the region. During that period the Grand Royal enclosure, now Hanoi's Old Quarter and the nation's first university, the Temple of Literature were founded. National forces repelled repeated attacks by the Khmers, the Chinese and Kublai Khan.

In 1400 the Chinese tightened control over the region, which prompted a guerilla-style resistance led by national hero Le Loi. Le Loi's efforts in combination with active resistance from peasants eventually resulted in Vietnamese independence.

After that a period of relative peace followed. European missionaries started arriving, which sparked a strong sense of nationalism, as well as renewed interest in Confucianism. In 1858 several missionaries were killed, which gave the French an excuse to invade. Nine years later Vietnam had become a French colony. In 1874 Hanoi was captured.

Once again the Vietnamese had to wait for a leader to stand up against the invaders. That time came after WWI, when Nguyen Tat Thanh, better known as Ho Chi Minh tried to present a plan for an independent Vietnam to US president Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference.

In 1940 France fell to Nazi Germany and the Vichy government allowed the Japanese to put troops in Vietnam. The United States (Japan's enemy during WWII) started funding Ho Chi Minh's communist Viet Minh forces. Resistance against the Japanese grew slowly and after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ho's troop started a general uprising known as the August Revolution. On 2 September 1945, Ho Chi Minh and his National Liberation Committee declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam independent at a rally in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. He was sided by U.S. officials during the event.

The French tried to recover their former colony and with financial aide from the U.S. they fought the Viet Minh fiercely until 7 May 1954. On that date the Vietnamese overran a French garrison that they had had surrounded for 57 days in Diên Biên Phu and the French pulled out of North Vietnam.

Meanwhile in the Southern part of the country fiercely anti-communist leader Ngo Dinh Diem was elected president of South Vietnam. In 1959 desperate Southern cadres, fed up with Diem's autocratic rule, asked the North Vietnamese to join them in their struggle to remove him from power. Hanoi agreed to sponsor the National Liberation Front (NLF), locally known as Viet Cong (VC). The VC mainly consisted of little trained communist members of the South Vietnamese resistance. With the French troops gone, the South Vietnamese army was very weak though and the West started sending in troops to support them.

It started in 1961, when the U.S. sent 2000 'military advisers' to South Vietnam, but by 1964 that number had risen to 23,000. North Vietnam started sending its own well-trained troops across the border into the south. Hanoi claimed some small victories, but the Americans seemed invincible, until the Tet Offensive in 1968, after which the North started winning the conflict.

In 1973 a ceasefire was signed. The North pledged to keep communism above the 17th parallel, while the U.S. withdrew almost all of its troops and cut off financial aid to the South. As a result the South Vietnamese economy collapsed and by 1975 it was in shambles.

In January 1975 North Vietnam launched a massive attack on the South and Saigon (nowadays Ho Chi Minh City) surrendered in April of that year. Vietnamese reunification was chaotic, as nobody was really prepared for it. Some 2 million Vietnamese had died and the country was bankrupt. The violence continued, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978. As an answer China attacked Hanoi a year later, but the Chinese were repelled within 17 days.

During the 1980's Vietnam tried to recover from the past, but widespread famine and the continuing guerilla war with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia slowed that process dramatically. It is amazing that Vietnam ended that decade in better shape than it started.

After the fall of communism in the beginning of the 1990's, the government in Hanoi had no choice but to seek closer relationships with Western countries for much needed funds. Slowly the communist's grip on the economy was loosened. In 1992 a peace treaty with Cambodia was signed and in 1994 the U.S. lifted economic sanctions.

Although the country's economy kept steadily growing, the communist party stayed firmly in control. It is inevitable though that capitalism is slowly gaining ground in Vietnam.

At the end of the 19th century Hanoi was surrounded by dense woodlands, but economic and population growth have reduced them. Nevertheless Hanoi is a wonderful place that includes numerous lakes, shaded boulevards and lush parks, as well as various architectural gems. It sprawls along the Red River (Song Hong) and boasts a pagoda from the 5th century, loads of colonial French buildings and modern glass and steel skyscrapers and office buildings. The river is spanned by 3 bridges, of which the Long Bien Bridge is the oldest. It was built in 1902 and measures 1682 m (5500 feet). The Long Bien Bridge was heavily damaged during the Vietnam War, but rail and road traffic was supported without interruption throughout the war. Nowadays it is a pedestrian area, while the new Chuong Duong Bridge next to it takes care of motorized traffic nowadays. The Thang Long Bridge is to the north and connects Hanoi with the airport.

The majority of Hanoi's streets are prefixed with pho and the larger boulevards are often called duong. There are seven central districts in Hanoi, known as quan. These areas are surrounded by outlying neighborhoods called hyyen. Hanoi's city center is formed by the Quan of Hoan Kiem district, while the French Quarter is in the elegant Ba Dinh district. The Ba Dinh district is home to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, Hanoi's most important historical sight.

Hanoi has several busy markets. The city is Vietnam's cultural center; it is a magnificent blend of old and new. In Hanoi you will see historical temples and monuments, but also hamburger shops and people doing business using their cell-phones.

When to Go

Hanoi can be visited all year round. Most official holidays are scheduled according to the solar (Western) calendar, while the dates of most festive celebrations depend on the lunar calendar. On 1 January most businesses are closed to celebrate (Western) New Year's Day, while on 3 January the anniversary of the Vietnamese Communist Party is celebrated. During the winter from November to February temperatures vary between 10 and 15°C (59-68°F).

The weeklong festivities around Tet, or the Vietnamese New Year are celebrated in late January or early February, depending on the lunar calendar. The celebrations for Tet involve extravagant flower blossoms, delicate kumquat trees, cakes of pork, bean curd and sticky rice known as banh chung and massive fireworks. It is well worth to travel to Hanoi if you are in Vietnam during that time. After Tet, the streets of Hanoi get very quiet, as the days following the celebration are family time and most people spend time in their homes together. During Tet accommodation is hard to come by and public transportation gets very crowded.

On 30 April the surrender of Saigon (nowadays Ho Chi Minh City) to the North is celebrated, while the first of May is the traditional Labor Day, which is very important to communist regimes. On 19 May Ho Chi Minh's birthday is celebrated. During the spring from March to May, the weather is usually warmer than in winter, but there is a constant drizzle.

Between May and September, when it is summer in Hanoi, it can be quite hot and humid. Occasionally typhoons hit the region and temperatures reach from 30 to 36°C (86-97°F). Buddha's birthday is usually celebrated in June, but the date depends on the lunar calendar and varies from year to year. During the Summer Solstice human effigies are burned to stock the God of the Dead's armies.

In late summer or early autumn the important Wandering Souls Day is celebrated. Food and gifts are offered in homes and pagodas for the wandering souls of the forgotten dead. On 2 September Vietnam's 1945 Declaration of Independence is celebrated. Also in fall is the Mid-Autumn Festival, during which thousands of children carry colorful lanterns and bang cymbals. Autumn, between September and November, offers the best weather. Temperatures are perfect and it is mostly sunny during that time of year.

In Vietnam Christmas is celebrated on 25 December. The tourist seasons run from late June through August, as well as from October through Tet.

Places to Visit

Van Mie (The Temple of Literature)

Van Mie is Vietnam's oldest university. Emperor Ly Thanh Tong founded it in 1070. The university compound is a surprising oasis of quiet, compared with the busy streets of Hanoi and an interesting introduction to Confucianism. The building is a unique example of traditional Vietnamese architecture.

There are 5 courtyards, each one representing the essential elements of nature. The complex is divided by a central path, which symbolizes the Confucian Middle Path. According to old signs entry to each of the courtyards requires tasks to be completed. For example, you need only to dismount your horse to enter the first courtyard, but to get to the second courtyard you must accomplish virtue and attain talent, although nowadays a fee will do. The first courtyard is called the Entrance to the Way, while the second one is known as the Great Middle Gate.

Considered by many as one of Hanoi's great symbols is the marvelous Constellation of Literature Pavilion. It serves as the entrance to the third courtyard, the Garden of the Stelae. There are several stone turtles there, which have the names of all graduates since the 15th century inscribed on their backs.

The fourth courtyard is called Courtyard of the Sages and includes a place where offerings to the great teacher can be made. Around the fifth courtyard the dormitories and classrooms for the university are situated. This courtyard is called the School for the Sons of the Nation. It was completely destroyed by French shelling in 1947 though and little remains of the original structure.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum

The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh lies inside a huge concrete cubicle, which is watched over by guards in white uniforms. Ho wanted to be cremated after his death, but his successors decided differently. Entrance to the tomb is free.

Ho Chi Minh is regarded by most Vietnamese as the man who liberated the country from colonialism. The economic disaster that was caused by communism is usually attributed to Ho's successors.

Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House

Not far from the mausoleum is Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House, the place where the commander lived between 1958 and 1969. The building was erected in a style that reflects all of Vietnam's minorities and inside everything has stayed exactly as Ho Chi Minh left it after his death. The gardens around the building are very well tended.

Ho Chi Minh Museum

The Ho Chi Minh Museum is also in the vicinity of the mausoleum. It displays Ho's life and is divided into two sections, 'past' and 'future'. You will need an English speaking guide to make the exhibition understandable.

The Old Quarter

Hanoi's Old Quarter is made up of 36 streets. Each street was occupied by a different artisan guild in the 13th century. Nowadays the district is very lively and there are countless shops. Specialized streets bear the names of the products traditionally sold there.

'Ghost money', which is used to be burnt at Buddhist ceremonies for good luck, can be purchased on Hang Ma, which literally means 'Counterfeit Street'. Other streets, such as Hang Hanh (Onion Street), have lost their original meaning and are now lined with bars and cafés.

In the Old Quarter is the lovely Bach Ma Temple (White Horse Temple), which was built to commemorate the appearance of a divine white horse. According to legend this horse showed Ly King where to build the city walls.

City Walls

There is not much left of the original city walls, but at the well-preserved 11th-century Old East Gate you can still see how marvelous they once were.

Fine Arts Museum

This museum houses Vietnam's most important works of art, dating from the 9th century to the present. It is a good place to see Vietnam's artistic heritage. Highlights include several large Buddhist statues, an impressive Bodhisattva with 1000 eyes and arms, as well as modern works by Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Bui Xuan Phai and Nguyen Sang.

Museum of Ethnology

In Hanoi's Museum of Ethnology some 15,000 artifacts, excavated throughout Vietnam, are on display. The museum is well worth a visit and all exhibits, maps and dioramas are clearly labeled in Vietnamese, French and English.

Some of the most interesting displays show a typical Vietnamese village market, a Tay shaman ceremony and the manufacturing of comical hats. A traditional Black Thai house was reconstructed inside the museum. Vietnamese cultures are studied by scientists from all over the world in the adjacent center for research and conservation.

Vietnamese Women's Museum

This museum gives an inside look at women in Vietnam. One sections displays the adoration of women soldiers fighting for Vietnam's liberation, while others focus on social equality, development and peace.

The museum is divided into four sections: Vietnam's mothers; female historical figures; women's unions; and the various ethnic groups in Vietnam. Guides are included in the price of the entrance ticket and will show you a typical rural kitchen, underground meeting rooms and the 54 different national costumes.

Perfume Pagoda

The Perfume Pagoda consists of a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines. It was built into the limestone cliffs of the Huong Tich Mountains (Mountains of Fragrant Traces) and can be accessed from the water only. Some of the most interesting temples include the Thien Chu (Pagoda Leading to Heaven), Huong Tich Chu (Pagoda of the Perfume Vestige) and Giai Oan (Purgatorial Pagoda). Devotees believe deities purify souls, cure illnesses and grant offspring to childless couples.

In the beginning of spring the area gets very busy with Buddhist pilgrims. They come to the area to pray, hike, explore the caves and row boats. Despite of this the Perfume Pagoda is a peaceful place.

Around Hanoi

Day trips to the beautiful Halong Bay, which is dotted with more than 3000 tiny islands, are available from Hanoi. The largest island in the region is Cat Ba Island, which includes Cat Ba National Park. Another interesting National Park is Cuc Phuong, 80 km south of Hanoi.

Hanoi boasts several outdoors activities. There are various tennis courts, public swimming pools and golf courses. Indoors fitness centers, table tennis facilities, billiards and martial arts schools are scattered all over the city.


Hanoi's Noi Bai airport has connections with numerous international destinations. Taxis and minibuses ply the route from the airport to central Hanoi. They can also be rented for a sightseeing trip around town. There are also bus connections, but the bus system is complicated to use if you're not used to it. Fares are extremely cheap though.

You can also get to the capital by bus from most other towns in Vietnam. Most buses are in a severe state of neglect and it is wise to stay alert while riding on one. There is also a system of minibuses for destinations in the region around Hanoi, but they are usually uncomfortable and slow.

Ga Hang Co is Hanoi's main railway station. Trains run all the way south to Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Beijing in China. Trains are often even slower than buses, but they are safer and more comfortable, especially if you are planning to cover longer distances.

It is possible to rent a car or a motorbike, but you should be very careful as traffic in Vietnam includes animals on the roads that are usually packed with bicycles, mopeds and all other sorts of vehicles of every shape, size and color. Traffic rules are practically nonexistent. All car rentals come with a guide, which is very good, as it helps you a lot to get used to the chaotic traffic. Motorbikes can be rented with or without a driver.

Another way to get around is by cyclo (xich lo), or pedicab. It is a sort of rickshaw with a view. Negotiate the price before you get in. Using the cyclo is an excellent way to see Hanoi's chaotic streets. Bicycles can be rented and since most Vietnamese use one to get around, they are an excellent way to explore the city.

Around the week-long celebrations of Tet, as well as during the summer, public transportation gets busy, as Vietnamese tend to travel a lot during these periods.

Accommodation and Food

There is not a whole lot of budget accommodation in Hanoi, but many locals rent rooms, so with some effort you should be able to find something, but remember that Hanoi is more expensive than the rest of Vietnam. More expensive hotels are scattered all over the city. Around Tet and between June and September it is difficult to find a room, but it is still worth the effort, as several interesting festivities take place during that time.

There are countless restaurants, food stalls and other eateries in Hanoi, where all sorts of foodstuffs are for sale.

Miscellaneous Information

Latitude:    21 03 N
Longitude: 105 52 E
Elevation:  6 m (20 ft.)

Population: 3,000,000
Cost-of-living compared to Washington D.C.: n/a

Hours from UTC: 7
Daylight savings time: n/a

City phone code: 4
Country phone code: 84

Average Weather Patterns

January17.2°C (63°F)2 cm (0.79 in)
April23.9°C (75°F)9.1 cm (3.58 in)
July29.7°C (85.5°F)30.2 cm (11.89 in)
October25.6°C (78.1°F)8.9 cm (3.5 in)

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