[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

Lê Ngọc Minh Châu - November 29, 2018

So you’re already here, in Hanoi - the capital of Vietnam. Welcome you to this beautiful city!

Ahead of you are many places to explore, things to do and experience. But first off, we thought you might be curious about this brand new city.

We have listed out some Hanoi facts so that you may get a little insight into this city. So read on...

[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

1. Hanoi - One Of The Most Ancient Capital In The World

One of Hanoi facts that not many people know about is that Hanoi is one of the most ancient capitals in the world and just celebrated its 1000th birthday back in 2010.

From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina - one of France’s most lucrative colonial possessions. Until now, you can still see many constructions built by French in Hanoi.  

2. Curious About The Meaning Of The Name “Hanoi”?

Hanoi was not the name of this city from the very first days.

When Hanoi was chosen as the capital of Vietnam more than a century ago by King Ly Thai To, it was given the name “Thang Long”. “Thang Long” means “Ascending Dragon” in Vietnamese and it’s a legend that King Ly Thai To claimed to have seen a dragon over the Red River.

The name was changed to “Hanoi” by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. Hanoi in Vietnamese is a combination of 2 words “Ha” and “Noi”. “Ha” means 'river' and Noi means 'inner'. Hanoi therefore means "inside the rivers" because it is located between the Red River and Nhue River.

3. Long Bien Bridge - A Work Of French Architect Eiffel

Long Bien Bridge was one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the French colony in Hanoi. When it was completed in 1902, Long Bien Bridge was one of the longest bridges in Asia with 1.68 kilometres in length.

Another interesting fact is that Long Bien Bridge was designed by the famous French architect Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. Sounds familiar, right?

And yes, he was also the one designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Statue of Liberty in USA. Those are 2 of his most famous works. Long Bien Bridge was definitely one of his proud in Asia.

[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

4. Ho Chi Minh Embalmed Body Inside Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh is the beloved leader of Vietnam and an important political figure in world history. He played an important role in the independence of Vietnam. After he passed away, Vietnamese Government decided to build Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to pay contribute to him.

One interesting fact is that the construction of this mausoleum was actually against Ho Chi Minh’s wish before he passed away. The founder of Vietnam Communist Party specified that his body be cremated, with his ashes scattered over the north, center, and south of his country. By this way, he can be present everywhere of his beloved country.

However, The Vietnamese Government did the absolute opposite of his wish.

Instead, they embalmed his body and installed it in an imposing concrete-and-granite block that stands before a vast square with dim lights and placed it inside the mausoleum. Nowadays, the mausoleum is opened for everyone. Tourists can go inside and visit his embalmed body. However, you need to obey strict rules as they require you to pay respect.

5. Hanoi Street Food Culture

Hanoi Food doesn’t win any points in complexity and in fact, all of the popular and most delicious food in Hanoi are street food and you can find it everywhere in this city.

Hanoi food is impeccably rich in flavour, but not as sour, sweet or spicy as the other regions of the country. Considering the deep history that Hanoi has lived through, its food is definitely the true reflection of Vietnam.

Some of the dishes you cannot miss while you’re in Hanoi are Pho, Bun Cha, Spring Rolls, Banh Mi, Banh Xeo, Banh Cuon. It’s better to have a local guide with you so that he/she can teach you how to eat the food properly to taste the best out of it.

6. Hoa Lo Prison - Hell On Earth

Hoa Lo Prison or the “Hanoi Hilton” was once known as Hell On Earth during war periods in Vietnam. Many brutal torture methods were used on prisoners in this prison.

The famous U.S.Senator John McCain was a prisoner in Hoa Lo Prison from 1967 to 1973. He was captured by the local people when his aircraft was shot down over Hanoi. McCain was badly injured and imprisoned in Hoa Lo Prison.

After the war finished, he was released from the prison and came back to the US. He then became a senator and ever since played an important role in reconciling the relationship between the US and Vietnam Government.  

[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

7. Tube Houses - Symbol Architecture of Houses in Hanoi

Wandering around Hanoi, you might notice the unique architecture of local houses here. The narrow facade, in contrast to the seemingly endless extension behind it, and the stacking up of three to five floors - these characteristics have given this particular type of house a name: “tube house”. Tube houses are very common in the city and especially in Hanoi Old Quarter.

The custom of "tube houses" began as a tax-saving measure, since property in the nineteenth-century Nguyen Dynasty was taxed only by street frontage. For centuries, governments in Hanoi used a method of determining property taxes based on the width of the property from the street. The wider your home, the more you paid! Therefore, people responded by building houses as narrow as possible.

Nowadays, not because of the tax anymore, but because of the increasing population, tube houses are still prefer for its space-saving benefit.

8. Hanoi Traffic - Crazy Yet Fascinating

One of a true Hanoi facts, so many foreign friends are scared of the traffic in Hanoi as they described it as super crazy and chaotic. They can’t even dare to walk out of the streets themselves.

And yes, chaotic and noisy, but yet fascinating, Hanoi traffic is something you'll not see anywhere else. Motorbikes zooming past you, no traffic rules being followed and 'signals' and 'footpaths' are words not present in Hanoian dictionary.

However, we have our own way and skill to walk down the streets in such chaotic traffic. You will always be advised to look in both the directions before crossing the road in this city. Keep your confidence and give signals to the motorbikes coming your way.

There is a funny saying: "If you can make it through Hanoi rush hour traffic, you can make it anywhere in life".

9. The World’s Largest Mosaic Mural

Hanoi has the World’s Largest Mosaic Mural as recorded in Guinness World Record. The Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural is a four kilometer long mural made on the wall of the dyke system. An idea suggested by Nguyen Thu Thuy, a journalist of arts and culture, this project started in 2007 to take advantage of the boring and drab dyke wall, and convert it into Vietnam's finest art. The project finished in 2010 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi.

This project is a visual narrative reflecting the rich history, culture and vibrancy of Hanoi over the years. Over 600 people including Vietnamese, foreign artists, craftsmen and children collaborated using mosaic tiles and their art skills to turn this wall into Hanoi's most colorful creation.

[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

10. Abundant of French Colonial Architecture

French colonialism in Vietnam lasted more than six decades. Vietnam was a part of French Indochina -  one of France’s most lucrative colonial possessions. Hence, the impact of French colonial was undoubtedly huge, and today you can see the those chapters of Hanoian history in the gorgeous French architecture.

Hanoi is home to many examples of glorious French colonial architecture in the form of monuments, cafes, churches and many more. The Hanoi Opera House, St. Joseph's Cathedral, Presidential Palace, Long Bien Bridge and the National Museum of Vietnamese History are just a few among the many buildings where you'll find the French architectural influence.

11. A Victim of Wars

There is a brutal truth, Vietnam has been a victim of wars and oppressions almost their whole existence. After the feudal era, Vietnam was colonized by the French and then followed by the Vietnam war. The struggles of Vietnamese people through long-lasting wars cannot described in words.

There are numerous museums all over Hanoi such as War museum, Revolutionary museum, Army museum, Military museum, Prison museum. For anyone want to have a deeper insight into war periods, these museums are cannot be missed.

12. Hanoi Beer Culture

There is one thing for sure - Vietnamese people love their beer. Hanoi Beer is cheap and found everywhere on the streets of Hanoi. The most famous beer is “fresh beer” or “bia hoi” in Vietnamese.

Bia Hoi is brewed daily in small steel barrels, and may be the cheapest beer in the world at between 7,000 and 15,000 VND for a glass (about $0.25 - $0.50 USD). Instead of going to nightclubs, bars, Vietnamese people like gathering around and have their beer after work.

The best nightlife spot in Hanoi and also a haven for beer lovers is Bia Hoi Junction. Bia Hoi Junction is located at the corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Here, you will see locals and tourists sitting throughout the day and night with a pint of beer in their hands. The atmosphere of this place, especially in the evenings, gets very festival like and you can get an authentic sense of the Vietnamese nightlife culture here.

[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

13. Hanoi Coffee Culture

If you thought Europeans were the world’s coffee connoisseurs, try to taste the authentic Hanoi coffee will make you reconsider. In fact, coffee was first introduced by the French colonists in the late 19th century. Vietnamese quickly made their own unique coffee based on the original.

Note that in order to taste the real delicious and authentic Hanoi coffee, you should check out the street pavement coffee shops instead of drinking the coffee at your hotel or big restaurant.

An absolute must-try is the local egg coffee (ca phe trung) - the very very very delicious and famous coffee of Hanoi. For the best and original egg coffee, come to Giang Cafe, 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street. It won’t disappoint you!

14. Cyclo in Hanoi

Cyclo is properly an unique transportation in Hanoi. A cyclo looks like a bicycle but with 3 wheels and a seat for maximum of 3 people in the front. The peddlers sit behind and peddle you around.

Appeared sometime in the late 19th century, cyclo is still a transportation you can see nowadays on the streets of Hanoi. However, you can only ride a cyclo around Hanoi Old Quarter to explore the area, there is no cyclo that goes outside of the center area of the city.

Taking a cyclo tour around Hanoi Old Quarter is a good idea in case you’re tired of walking. Also, sightseeing is much better while sitting on a cyclo than walking.

15. Water Puppet Show - An Unique Traditional Art Show

Vietnam is not famous for any world-class art performance but its traditional art shows are worth watching for its uniqueness and exclusiveness. One of the notable ones is the Water Puppet Show, which was created in the 11th in the North of Vietnam.

In Hanoi, you can watch Water Puppet Show in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The tradition of water puppet stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would make entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water.

Water Puppet Show is not plainly a music show or a play. It’s somehow a mixture between two of them and with storylines of Vietnamese folk tales. If you’re curious enough, come to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to enjoy it.

[2019] 15+ Hanoi Facts - What You Don't Know About This City

16. Hanoi Train Street - Risking Your Life?

Hidden amidst the hectic, narrow streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter lies a funky little area, where motorbikes are no longer the biggest danger to locals stepping outside of their front door. Rather than being a normal road with car or motorbike traffic, it has actual real railway lines running through it. Homes and businesses literally open out onto the railway lines.

Yes, this is the Hanoi Train Street - an unique spot for explorers out there.

Whenever the train passes through, the locals prepare for it. Drying clothes are carried inside, children ushered indoors, and bikes pulled to the side of the road just before the train speeds past, with a couple feet of clearance at most on each side.

If you think this is dangerous, then you will be surprised by how the locals live their peaceful and calm lives in such a place!

Some Hanoi facts you might already know, but some might be brand new. We hope after this post, you gain some insight into this beautiful city.