The city is at its best from October to December: warm and sunny, mild at night. Winter is mainly cloudy, and summer brings the monsoon. March and April can be nice, when the countryside glows green.
Tourist visas, generally issued for one month, cost about $65 through the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C.; allow two to three weeks for delivery. Some private agencies offer 48-hour turnaround for $150. Two to consider: Magnolia Travel in Fountain Valley, California (800/543-3481 or 714/963-2121, fax 714/964-7970), or South Sea Tour & Travel in Palo Alto (800/546-7890 or 650/493-6299, fax 650/813-1101).
International flights go to Hanoi or Saigon, though more airlines serve Saigon. Flights between Hanoi and Saigon on Vietnam Airlines are currently fixed at $170 each way.
Should you visit only one city?I'd hate to choose. The pair make a good composite portrait, and they're great antidotes to each other. Living in Saigon, I think of Hanoi the way I think of a cool drink.
Hotels are going up like mad in Hanoi. Eight high-rises are set to open sooner or later--probably later, given the tourism slump and the current glut in lodgings. The two below will do nicely in the meantime.
Hotel Sofitel Metropole15 Ngo Quyen; 84-4/826-6919, fax 84-4/826-6920; doubles from $259. Still the most romantic hotel in town; built in 1901 and very well updated. Rooms in the old wing are especially atmospheric. Open your balcony doors, look out over the frangipani, pretend you're Graham Greene.
Daewoo Hotel 360 Kim Ma; 84-4/831-5000, fax 84-4/831-5010; doubles from $199. The new millennium's first arrival--out on the city's western edge, but the top choice for businessmen and those seeking premium service. You'll need a cab to get into town.
Restaurants & Cafés
Seasons of Hanoi 95B Quan Thanh; 84-4/843-5444; dinner for two $30. Nouvelle Vietnamese in a gorgeous old villa; a favorite of expats, because it's owned by an Englishman. Luonxaoxa ot (sautéed eel in a ginger chili sauce) is terrific, and so is the tempura-style soft-shell crab.
Indochine 16 Nam Ngu; 84-4/824-6097; dinner for two $30. Set in a pretty French Quarter villa, with a very refined Vietnamese kitchen. Sit on the patio under the sweet-scented orange tree.
Miró 3 Nguyen Khac Can; 84-4/826-9080; dinner for two $40. Ambitious California cuisine and a very good sushi bar. Chef Bryce Lamb was previously at Seattle's Blowfish Café.
Le Beaulieu Sofitel Metropole, 15 Ngo Quyen; 84-4/826-6919; dinner for two $100. Hanoi's grandest dining room serves French and New American food to a rather sleepy European and American clientele.
Press Club 59A Ly Thai To; 84-4/934-0888; lunch for two in the Deli $15, dinner for two $80. The ground-floor Deli is a casual pizzas-and-panini lunch spot; upstairs is the power dining room.
Soho 57 Ba Trieu; 84-4/826-6555; lunch for two $16. One of the top casual Western restaurants in Hanoi, serving fresh salads and great sandwiches and pasta. Come for lunch on the second-story terrace.
Quan Hué 6 Ly Thuong Kiet; 84-4/826-4062; dinnerfor two $6. Excellent Hué-style dishes served in a very casual street-side café. No atmosphere at all, but locals love this place.
Au Lac Café 57 Ly Thai To; 84-4/825-7807; breakfastfor two $8. The best café in town, on an open-air patio. Delicious cappuccino and omelettes.
Hoa Sua 81 Tho Nhuom; 84-4/824-0448; lunch for two $8. A French-style bakery, brasserie, and courtyard café, all in one. Pastries and croissants draw locals and foreigners alike.
On the Web
The VietNam Pictures Archive at SunSite --An extensive photo and audio gallery of life in contemporary Vietnam. A variety of useful links provide access to tourist information, magazine articles, and radio-station home
Interknowledge Introduction to Vietnam-- For basic encyclopedia info on Vietnamese culture and history
The Center for Disease Control's Southeast Asia Travel Information-- Don't let it scare you away, but maybe