A complicated city torn between old and new, and an inimitable mix of ancient culture, colonial charm and modern-day luxury, Hanoi is in a constant state of flux and defies anyone who tries to box it in. It is, though, noticeably less frenzied than Ho Chi Minh City, and the picturesque old centre has retained its appeal.
Today, Hanoi is a rapidly developing city, but one that has kept its striking colonial embellishments. Indeed, it’s ironic that this capital city of fiercely independent people, who have battled for generations against foreign invaders, possesses a decidedly European air. Hanoians may brag about their beautiful city while eating baguette sandwiches and sipping café au lait, but they’re reluctant to admit that much of what makes it so is a legacy of the French. The colonial architecture, together with an abundance of trees and lakes, gives Hanoi an unmistakably romantic air, unusual for an Asian city.
Since the late 1990s, with the help of Korean and Taiwanese investors, the city has transformed itself from a rather sleepy backwater into a bustling metropolis. Luxurious shopping malls and apartment complexes have sprung up beside 200-year-old temples, and each day, new restaurants, cafés and shops open along the city’s busy avenues. Despite, or because of, the rapid progress, Hanoians are passionate about protecting their ancient traditions and culture, and a number of preservation works have been announced to protect important historic sites.