Hanoi, one of the most beautiful of the colonial Indochinese cities is often the start or end point of a trip to Vietnam, and what a great welcome or farewell it is. Simply oozing charm, Hanoi has gone through wholesale changes in the last decade since Vietnam swung open its doors to tourism, yet it remains an amazing city to experience. Tree-lined boulevards slice through the up-market embassy district, while winding back-alleys littered with steaming street-side pho stalls are more the norm in the city's Old Quarter.
It's a bustling capital with often heaving (mostly motorcycle) traffic intermingled with everything from pedestrians and cyclos to heavy trucks and buses. As with Saigon in the south, there's food just about everywhere and there's a developing scene meaning you'll need not eat at the same place twice. Outside the capital there's the breathtaking Ha Long Bay -- which is an absolute must see for any first time visitor to Vietnam. Don't make the mistake of opting for a single-day rushed tour -- give Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island as much time as you can afford -- there's nowhere else like it.
Closer to Hanoi, from the Perfume Pagoda to the Hill station at Tam Dao and the scenery of Hoa Binh there's enough to keep you busy for a week to ten days in this region of Vietnam, savouring the sights, food and experiences that make the northern capital such a comfortable contrast to bustling Saigon in the south.