Hanoi is a city still devoted to politics rather than business. But even though the Communist Party is still firmly in charge, and long lines form each day to catch a glimpse of the mummified Ho Chi Minh on display in a Soviet-style mausoleum, the city is not oppressive. The narrow streets that comprise the Old Quarter, many named in the medieval fashion after the trades long practiced there, are still wonderfully atmospheric places for a stroll.
Hanoi Design Centre
One of the best places to shop for bracelets, necklaces and loom weavings is the Hanoi Design Centre, a combination gallery, shop, school, library and café that is a collaboration between the Vietnam Handicraft Exporters Association (VIETCRAFT) and Lund University’s School of Industrial Design in Sweden. The center sources handcrafted products (all are certified as organic, nontoxic and responsibly produced from certified materials) from more than 3,000 artisans living in different rural areas of Vietnam.
Ten miles southeast of Hanoi, the village of Bát Tràng has been famous for ceramics for a thousand years. The products are beautiful and reasonably priced. Some workshops even offer pottery classes. Bát Tràng is best visited with a car and driver, which your hotel can arrange.
Whenever I return to Hanoi, the first dish I order is chả cá, a local specialty of grilled fish that is flavored with turmeric and dill and crisped in a skillet.