Hanoi has a wealth of historical sights lying as it does at the heart of a region rich in history and landscapes. The scenery around the city is some of the most attractive in the land. Excursions to the Perfume Pagoda and the temples and caves at Tam Coc are particularly worthwhile.
Hanoi also has stylish shops and plentiful market stalls and increasingly diverse restaurants from French haute cuisine to Vietnamese street food. Much of its charm, though, lies not so much in the official 'sights' but in the unofficial and informal: the traffic zooming around the broad streets or the cyclos taking a mellow pedal through the Old Quarter, small shops packed with traders' goods or stacks of silk for visitors, skewered poultry on pavement stalls, mobile flower stalls piled on the backs of bikes, the bustle of pedestrians, the ubiquitous tinkle of the ice cream man's bicycle, and the political posters, now raised to an art form, dotted around the city. Like China when it was ‘opening-up’ to Western tourists in the late 1970s, the primary interest lies in the novelty of exploring a city which, until recently, has opted for a firmly socialist road to development and has been insulated from the West.