Hanoi is arguably Asia’s most charming capital city. Hanoi, meaning ‘embraced by the river’, is a city of broad, tree-lined boulevards, elegant French villas and colonial-era buildings painted in muted hues of mustard and white. It is also one of Asia’s greenest cities with an abundance of parks and lakes as well as a host of cafes and art galleries and an Old Quarter steeped in history. By day the city hums with commerce and moves at motorbike speed; by night the city is an enchanting, 19th century Asian village best experienced from the seat of a silent cyclo.
Hanoi sits astride the banks of the Red River, Vietnam’s second longest river. Beneath modern-day Hanoi lies artefacts and relics of the early Bronze and Iron ages, dating back to 2,000BC. The city was officially founded by Emperor Ly Thai To, who in 1010 renamed the area Thang Long or Soaring Dragon. Soon after, some of the city’s oldest structures were built including the Temple of Literature, one of the oldest universities in the world.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the city experienced rapid growth due to the expansion of foreign trade. In 1786, the Tay Son Army from the south invaded northern Vietnam and united the country. During the Tay Son reign the capital was moved south to Hue, where it remained throughout the Nguyen Dynasty. Indeed, Hanoi had to wait until 1831 to regain its former name, when Emperor Minh Mang established it as the capital of the Northern Province. The city’s main period of growth stemmed from the arrival of the French in 1888. Fortunately, many of the old boulevards and residences have survived and today are used to house Foreign Embassies and Government institutions. From 1902 until 1953, the city served as the capital of French Indochina. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed in his independence speech in Ba Dinh square, that Hanoi would henceforth be the capital of Vietnam. Today, Hanoi is a bustling city.