Hanoi - a mixture of discreet charm and excitement
A tour in HANOI is to steep yourself in history, tradition, and legend in a capital that has been inhabited continuously for almost a millenium. Visitors often note that the city is quieter, greener, and "cooler" than other big cities of Vietnam. Indeed, Hanoi itself, and the Northern Vietnam, have quite clear four seasons, and October to March are lovely pretty cool months whilst other towns southward just have dry and rainy times. It probably influences in the mentality of the inhabitants and the city seems attract more intellectuals and artists, while Saigon is great for entrepreneurs and hustlers.
Hanoi's present architecture is mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries, and the French-built section of the town is largely intact. Yet, the city preserves many old religious temples and shrines dedicated to the nation's heroes or deities, who supported the farmers to cultivate and protect the fertile land on the Red River right bank and gather the first commercial guilds to form what later became an exciting urban town. Hanoi street life now is fascinating. In the early morning, you can see people both young and old practicing "tai chi quan" or martial arts in the parks and joggers along pretty lakes. Outdoor barbers with mirrors simply hung on the street walls and women selling great French baguettes and flowers are also at every street corner. If you go for a walk, the motorbikes and cyclos may make you wonder a bit which directions they move on, but as soon as you get a chance to try one of them, you could say they are not so risky like they seem to be, as the local drivers have extremely special skills to avoid one another (!). Thus a deliberate Cyclo tour for one or two hours is so far the best way to visit the Old Quarter, 90\\% of which are narrow and short streets.
During the two Indochinese Wars in 20th century, Hanoi had been heavily damaged, but there is virtually no evidence that now and the particularly thin, tall, often awkward-looking buildings that you see on streets are not a result of bombing, but are created by landowners who own only a thin slice of land so build up rather than out. Hanoi has a number of lovely parks and big Lakes which inspire the ancient architects to build graceful temples nearby, and Museums with precious exhibits of Vietnam's Fine Arts, Ethnology, History and Recent Wars that attract not only historians but foreign visitors and local people.
Finally, the Hanoians are reckoned the warmest and most approachable in the country. Though English is not as commonly spoken as in Saigon, most of the shopkeepers have learnt English quite enough to discussion on the commodities and price, and many of the older generation have a working vocabulary of French. Regardless of language, people will attempt to chat with you irrespective of whether you can understand them. Many of the cyclo drivers speak some English and often have very interesting pasts that they are now willing to discuss with foreigners. At times in Hanoi, you could be sitting in a cafe sipping excellent coffee that Vietnam plant in the Central Highlands for domestic use and export, eating great pastries that is a pleasant trace of the French time, chatting in French to an old beret clad gentleman, whilst as you look out the window you can see posh French-style villas in the shadows of fig trees or malabar-almon trees. Then you can really wonder just what country you really are in. In a single word, Hanoi is a city to be savoured.