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In 1010 Emperor Ly Thai To founded his capital on the fertile banks of the Red River, which he christened 'City of the Ascending Dragon'. A millennium later, Hanoi remains Vietnam's political centre with its crowded streets lined with reminders of its long and tumultuous history. The city is the only one in Vietnam to retain its ancient merchants' quarter and its street names date back to the 15th Century when the area was divided into 36 artisan guilds. Many of the streets remain committed to their original crafts, impressing aesthetes and artists from far and wide.

When it comes to culture-rich sites, you will be spoilt for choice between the impressive monuments, museums and temples that lie scattered around this city; from the lotus-shaped One Pillar Pagoda containing a statue of the Goddess of Mercy to the Temple of Literature, which is Vietnam's principle Confucian sanctuary and historical centre of learning.

Moving at a slower pace than Saigon, there are plenty of tranquil neighbourhoods to explore with ochre-coloured colonial style buildings, tree-lined avenues and lakes. Excitement awaits you in the alleyways and streets of the Old Quarter, which team with life and a myriad of motorbikes.

During your stay here, take the opportunity to enjoy a bowl of pho by Hoan Kiem Lake whilst watching the locals do their daily Tai Chi, and make sure to discover the grisly Hanoi Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. Another unmissable experience in this city is a visit to Ho Chi Minh, embalmed in his very own Soviet style monolith mausoleum.

Although the street food is not as prominent and easy to find as in Hoi An, it's just as delicious - if not more so! Other local finds are well-worth discovering too - one of our favourites being the ancient and modest Water Puppet theatre show, which has absorbed audiences for centuries and makes for a memorable evening.

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The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.
Rudyard Kipling

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