Smart Luxury: Hanoi

by  Alex Schechter | Dec 18, 2013
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam / MarcPo/iStock

History isn't the only thing that abounds in Hanoi, the bustling Vietnamese capital. A new museum, cheap hotels, vibrant shopping districts, and abundant public parks all help to make this city one of southeast Asia's prettiest and most visited destinations. If you're heading there soon (and with this week's $1799 deal, why wouldn't you?), here are a few ways to enjoy the best of Hanoi on a next-to-nothing budget:

As Asia continues to lead the way on the world's newest hotel openings, the focus lands now on Hanoi, where a brand new, 450-room JW Marriott Hanoi (from $133 per night) recently opened in the city's Central Business District. Shaped in a crescent, the massive glass-and-steel structure houses six restaurant and bars, a small spa, and an indoor pool. Best of all is the hotel's proximity to the famous Red River, from which you can access attractions like the Bat Trang Ceramics Village and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (see description below).

For something a bit more intimate, adventurous travelers stop in at the Conifer Boutique Hotel, where an elegant Classic room starts at just $68, (including buffet breakfast and Wifi). If you plan on exploring parts of Hanoi by foot – and you definitely should – the hotel is a convenient five-minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake, where a multitude of shops, restaurants, and other attractions await.

In Hoan Kiem District (also located along the Red River), a quirky but memorable cultural stop is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, where traditional Vietnamese folklore is acted out with wooden puppets and a live mini orchestra. The iconic theater has been in operation since the late 1960s, and stages several shows each day – the 6:30 p.m. show gets particularly rowdy, so be sure to turn up a bit earlier (5 p.m.) or later (8 p.m.). Though no matter what time you show up, tickets remain fixed at a very reasonable $3.

Almost a thousand years of history is contained within the peaceful Temple of Literature ($1 admission), a tranquil park that dates back to the 11th century, when it was established as Vietnam's first university. Intricately carved stone gates mark entry points into the green oasis, where visitors can wander along winding paths, across foot bridges, through tree-lined courtyards, and into the sanctuaries themselves. Occasional orchestra performances heighten the site's timeless feel, while its frequent use as a graduation ceremony venue for local students underline the temple's cultural significance.

A four-story museum dedicated to the art, culture, and history of Southeast Asian countries (11 in total) opened earlier this month along Nguyen Van Huyen street in the city's northern section. After six years of construction, the build-up to the opening was significant for two reasons: firstly, the museum's kite-shaped design has instantly made it one of Hanoi's most original modern structures. Meanwhile, the museum's collection itself, containing more than 400 artifacts, 150 photographs, as well as articles, maps, documentaries, and more, offers a unique glimpse into not just Vietnam but the entire surrounding region.

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