Hanoi, Vietnam

Like many younger Americans, my image of Vietnam was shaped not by a war I wasn’t alive for, but by a TV show I loved – “China Beach“! So, quite frankly, I didn’t know quite what to expect when I was landed in the capital of Vietnam this week as part of my 30th birthday extravaganza. I ended up falling in love with Hanoi – a place whose frenetic pace seemed calmed by its wealth of French colonial architecture and gorgeous lakes and parklands.

Approaching Hanoi from Bangkok, the views were spectacular — and made one wonder how a war was ever fought in this terrain:

If you’re going to stay in Hanoi, it absolutely must be at the famous Metropole Hotel. It was a spectacular retreat from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, and so rich with history (who doesn’t love a bunker under the pool bar?).

The incredible Presidential Palace, once home of the governor-general of French Indochine, and then of Ho Chi Minh (though he refused to live here, opting instead for what might pass for a shack in the backyard).

Speaking of Ho Chi Minh, there is no escaping the lingering memory of the revolutionary leader. Here is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where we got to stand 15 feet from the man’s embalmed body, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which told the story of the Vietnamese people’s revolt against colonial influence.

There’s no denying the French built this city; the Hanoi Opera House is modeled after the Palais Garnier in Paris, and one church looks rather like Notre Dame. N’est pas?

National Museum:

The gentleman who showed me around Hanoi on his cyclo (aka bicycle rickshaw):

Bikes, bikes, everywhere!

More photos of Hanoi