Top experiences in Hanoi
Hanoi is a city of many faces. Some associate it with nostalgic romance: lake-filled parks, hidden cafes, and boulevards lined with French-era trees. Others see the capital as Vietnam's cold, communist haven, still recovering from the aftermath of American military destruction and the post-war subsidized period. With its recent sprawl, through which the city proper absorbed surrounding districts, the Hanoi that many know is a peri-urban world completely apart from its most famous sites like Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter.
No matter the perspective, most agree that Hanoi has a unique ethos and cultural vibe. The city’s legacy as fertile grounds for intellectualism and creativity stretches back to 1070, when the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's oldest university, was established. Today Hanoi is most commonly conceived of in opposition to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam's commercial epicenter. Rather, Hanoi is home to the nation's top universities, cultural centers, embassies, donor organizations, IGOs, and NGO headquarters.
As a result, the city is a magnet for a mosaic of people, ranging from contemporary artists and experimental musicians to government officials, development workers, and career diplomats. Thus, while Hanoi is the hub of political power and control, it is curiously also where you’ll find some of Vietnam’s most compelling and provocative events. Hanoi boasts everything from an artist compound festooned with giant phalluses to the city’s first gay pride parade in 2012 to arguably the country's richest array of musical venues (in a given week, Hanoi might have shows by a monk singing Trinh Cong Son, an indie rock band from San Francisco, female rapper Kimmese, and experimental musician Tri Minh).
In sum, Hanoi's different dimensions are there for those who look. But the only way to fully grasp a city of such rich and contrasting elements is to venture out with an open mind and peel back its many layers.
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