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The capital and largest city of Vietnam, Hanoi has an estimated 7.7 million people (2015). The city is located on the right bank of the Red River, about 1,760 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.
Combining influences from East and West, Hanoi is known for centuries-old colonial architecture and a rich culture. Its historic city centre is the focal point for public life and tourist attractions. In recent years, Hanoi has undergone a construction boom, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in Southeast Asia.
The gay scene in Hanoi is very small, when compared with other Asian capital cities. Whilst there are plenty of Vietnamese gay men, they don’t frequent public places where they might be subject to gossip. As a result, people tend to keep a low profile, and online services and apps such as Grindr are the best way for gay men meet each other.
The discreet gay lifestyle makes for a quiet gay nightlife, where bars and clubs are mostly mixed. Bar GC (Golden Cock) seems to be the only well-known gay venue in town. However, Hanoi has seen a growing number of exclusively male Gay Massage Spas over the years, as the dilemma surrounding homosexuality has begun to subside.
While visiting Hanoi, beware of scams and hustlers posing as gays. Like in most major cities, use your common sense and caution when you’ve come in contact with strangers.
Travellers fly to Hanoi via Noi Bai International Airport (IATA: HAN), located about 15 km north of the city. The new international terminal (T2), which opened in 2015, was a major improvement for the airport. In addition, the new highway and the new bridge connecting the airport and the city center provide much more convenience than the old road.
There are plenty of taxis, most of which have meters, although it is common to agree on the price before taking a taxi from the airport to downtown.
Motorbikes, buses, taxis, and cars are the most common way to get around Hanoi. To minimise the negative effects on health and environment caused by motorcycles, the local government is trying to increase public transportation. Two metro lines are now under construction and are expected to be operational in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Many people rent a “hug bike” (xe ôm) to make fast trips or go through irregular routes around Hanoi. Motorbikes can be rented from agents in the Old Quarter. Public buses run on many routes, and fares can be paid for on the bus. The fares are very cheap, compared to taxis.
Most visitors stay in the Old Quarter which is close to all the major attractions and the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. For our list of some of the best hotels in Hanoi for gay travellers, please visit Gay Hanoi Hotels page.
Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple – The Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the centre of the city, close to the Old Quarter. The Ngoc Son Temple is located on an island in the lake and is a place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. The temple is dedicated to the national hero Tran Hung Dao who defeated Mogul invaders in the 13th century.
The Old Quarter – Also known as the ’36 Streets. The Old Quarter has been a commercial district for more than 1000 years. This maze of streets, each dedicated to selling a specific trade or product, is the most fascinating sight in the city. From early morning to late at night, this area is a hive of activity and a great introduction to life in Hanoi.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – The final resting place of Ho Chi Minh and still a place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese. The Mausoleum, a monolith of granite and marble from across the Vietnam, is based on a traditional Vietnamese communal house. Next to the Mausoleum is the stilt house where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1958 – 1969. The house and gardens (and garage) is open to the public.
One Pillar Pagoda – Chua Mot Cot – Just a short distance from Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is Chua Mot Cot. The Pagoda was built in 1049 by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled from 1028 -1054. The lotus-shaped Pagoda reset on a single stone pillar and was erected to celebrate the Emperors marriage to a peasant girl and subsequent birth of his heir.
Hanoi Opera House – The 700-seat Hanoi Opera House is just a short walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. It was built in 1911 by the French and was modeled on the Paris Palais Garnier. It was from the balcony of the building that the Viet Minh announced they had taken over the city in 1945.
Temple of Literature – Van Mieu – Built in 1070 and dedicated to the worship of Confucius and several famous Vietnamese scholars, Van Mieu became the first National University of Vietnam in 1706 to educate the son of Mandarins – the names of whom are inscribed on stone tablets inside the temple complex. This is one of the most historically important Temples in Hanoi.
Maison Centrale – The Hanoi Hilton – Hoa Lo Prison – This French built prison was constructed in 1896 to hold 450 prisoners. By the 1930’s, more than 2000 Vietnamese prisoners were being held inside. After the French withdrew, the prison housed US POW, earning it the name ‘Hanoi Hilton’. The building is now a museum.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – Hourly performances of puppets dancing in a water-filled stage to traditional Vietnamese music.
Hanoi’s climate is tropical, with humid and hot weather most of the year. In the winter, temperatures can drop dramatically, and the weather can feel chilly. If possible, avoid the hot summer months, and visit Hanoi from October to April.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a mystical archipelago of 1969 islands, some of which are inhabited, many of which are not. It is probably Vietnam’s most famous tourist destinations and is often included in lists of the natural wonders of the world. In 1994, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Ha Long Bay is a long way from Hanoi (170km!) and is at least a 4 hour drive each way. Day trips are possible but can be very exhausting. Plan your trip in advance and consider booking a cruise with a least one night on a boat.