Hanoi, the second largest city in Vietnam - and also the country's capital - is in many ways different from its big-city cousin, Ho Chi Minh City.
More clean, consistent and picturesque than the rough architectural hodge-podge that is Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi's classical appearance is composed of colorful colonial buildings, lakes, abundant flora (fig trees grace the streets), and a more suburban air throughout.
The biggest testament to Hanoi's persona is The Old Quarter, a colorful district with narrow, twining streets that wind in all directions, packed back-to-back with commercial activity, an enormous variety of restaurants and cafes of all price levels, colonial architecture, and all shades of bars, bakeries and boutique shops. It is here that you will also find Hoan Kiem Lake, which many associate as the symbol of Hanoi.
Motorbikes still swarm in chaotic droves and every corner of more popular districts is packed with interesting regional cuisine. Do not expect a foreigner-friendly experience just because the city is relatively modernized and the streets are cleaner than in Saigon - this is through and through an old-school Vietnamese city with conservative ideals and few English speakers. Locals are kind, as they are in much of Vietnam, and petty crime is less prevalent than in the South, but still exists.
Hanoi's appeal lies in its charming presentation, great street food, beautiful surroundings and a classic appeal that comes from 1,000+ years of existence. Cuisine is a big indicator or the Northern city’s different style of life: food is exotic and many dishes are surprisingly new experiences even for those who have traveled extensively throughout central and southern Vietnam. Like much of Saigon and Dalat, Hanoi retains trace roots from the colonial era, employing French architecture and food and merging these with Northern Vietnam's age-old customs and traditions.