Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam from 1954-1976, and of French Indochina for 70 years before that, is a river city 700 mi/1,120 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi is dynamic, chaotic and rapidly changing. More than five million motorbikes dodge, weave and honk through the narrow streets of the Old Quarter and down the broad avenues of the Colonial District. The venerable old buildings, many beautifully restored, give this part of the city its character, and it is one of the most popular areas for travelers to stay. Fortunately, the historic buildings, some of them now luxurious five-star hotels that offer a taste of colonial-era splendor, are as much loved by the locals as they are by visitors, but a bold new Hanoi is emerging: one of mega malls, condos and high-rise office towers.

The downside to development, however, is a huge annual increase in cars and motorcycles causing noise and pollution, and dust from construction sites. The result is that Hanoi is one of the most badly polluted cities in Southeast Asia. This can make it challenging for visitors, especially during the hot, humid months when the air and the climate are particularly oppressive. However, don't let that deter you; Hanoi is a beguiling city at a crossroads where ancient culture and traditions collide with the modern world. It will assault your senses, but it will also win you over with its many and undeniable charms.

In order to combat this, during the weekends some roads around Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the city are closed off to vehicular traffic. This part of the city transforms as locals take to the streets to dance, promenade, play, cycle, eat and generally have a great time. Visitors are very welcome to join in the fun.

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