by Richard Henderson
Playing host to visitors in Ha Noi can be a challenging task as you guiding them through the cache of busy tourist attractions and attempt to share your own interpretations of what really makes the capital tick.
|Riding through history: Tailoring an exciting tour through the city for friends and family should encompass the dynamic history of Ha Noi and Viet Nam, while giving a feel of the rapid change sweeping the nation. — VNA/VNS Photo Anh Tuan
Ha Noi today is a mix of the sacred traditional spaces of the Thang Long Citadel and Temple of Literature, the throbbing pulse of Old Quarter streets to modern shopping centres and nouvelle cuisine restaurants dotting the city.
Tailoring an exciting tour through the city for friends and family should encompass the dynamic history of Ha Noi and Viet Nam, while giving a feel of the rapid change sweeping the nation.
A slightly offbeat way to begin a tour of the city, and a personal favourite of mine, is the Museum of Vietnamese Women, on Ly Thuong Kiet Street. While the name suggests a narrow focus, this collection of exhibits uses the lives and experiences of famous and everyday Vietnamese women alike as a branching-off point to explore the diverse culture and history of the country.
From the tear-rendering documentary video installation detailing the lives of Ha Noi's street vendors, with their unique stories of provincial struggles and family feuds, to the hot pink and aqua blues of the country's ethnic minorities' traditional dress, the museum's four floors are cleverly packed with information that excites rather than bores.
If your visitors have concentrated their trip to major cities, a great way of getting a feel for Viet Nam's mountain life is a trip to the Museum of Ethnology, home to traditional houses of the country's long list of ethnicities.
To escape the museums and inject your guests with a traditional Vietnamese performance, seeing a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre on the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake is a must.
This is undoubtedly a tourist hot-spot, and may require advanced booking, but the vibrant music and animated scenes of rural life the puppets conjure gives a fun insight into Vietnamese tradition.
With one of the most diverse cuisines in the world, a visit to Ha Noi must include experiencing an ankle-stool dining experience at a street food stall, in addition to a meal of traditional fare in a city restaurant.
The tender light pink and brown sauteed beef of bun bo nam bo, topped with crushed peanuts on a bed of bun (rice vermicellu) and aromatic herbs is always a success for both the culinary adventurous and the wary traveller. A consistently stunning outlet for this wonderful assortment of flavours is the very basic restaurant bearing only the dish's name, at 8 Hang Dieu Street, in the western part of the Old Quarter.
Just around the corner at the beginning of Bat Dan Street is a cluster of bia hoi, where enjoying fresh, cheap beer on blue plastic stools will give any visitor a true Ha Noi experience.
For a wider selection of quality local gastronomic delights, a meal at the famed Little Hanoi restaurant on Ta Hien Street in the middle of the Old Quarter will definitely stun the tastebuds of any visitor to Ha Noi. Specialities include caramelised pork with lemongrass and chilli, five-spiced chicken and the unbeatable grilled eggplant.
After a day's sight-seeing, a fantastic way to rehydrate a weary traveller is to have a drink at the Sofitel Plaza's rooftop bar, which boasts the best view of the city.
Located on the eastern edge of Ho Tay (West Lake), the 26th floor balcony bar area offers a 180-degree vista of central Ha Noi, which is lit up by multicoloured neon signs and streetlights as dusk falls.
To conclude a day's journeying through the city, a quick visit to one of Ha Noi's latest institutions, Fanny's Ice Cream on Hoan Kiem Lake, will always get visitors in a twist, with their world-class ice cream, enjoyed by young, hip Hanoians who will no doubt lead the country in the future. — VNS