Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities

As a child of Vietnam with an education in France, VNT staff writer Daoni Nguyen reflects on the surprising similarities between the capitals of both nations.
November 12, 2022 | 08:00
Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities
With roots in both France and Vietnam, VNT's Daoni Nguyen offers a detailed guide to both capitals of the two nations. Photo by Daoni Nguyen.

Having lived in both Hanoi and Paris, I proudly call these cities my home. Although seperated by over 12,000 kilometers and several borders, the capitals of France and Vietnam are places of remarkable heritage and rich culture. I can recognize the subtle similarities of Paris and Hanoi thanks to my roots in both cities. While France and Vietnam share a tragic history, their capital cities also share the same revenance for the arts, culture, commerce, and metropolitan bliss.

It is no secret that colonization certaintly left its mark on Vietnam, especially Hanoi. In the colonial age, Hanoi was referred to as the "Paris of the East." French city planners set out to organize the streets and boulevards in a typical, grandiose Parisian-style. However, in addition to implementing new infrastructure, the French also attempted to perserve the Vietnamese aspects of Hanoi in order to retain the city's authenticity and entice French tourists looking for adventure in Southeast Asia.

Nowadays, Paris's ten million residents are constantly reminded by the capital's lenghty history, from its ancient alleyways to its gothic churches. Meanwhile, Hanoi's seven million residents live in a city that is constantly rebuilding itself, forgoing ancient buildings for a newer, modern cityscape. Since Vietnam's Doi Moi period, Hanoi continues to expand as it achieves prosperity.

Despite these differences, many similiarities are to be found throughout the streets of Hanoi and Paris for those who know where to look!

Hanoi Opera House & Palais Garnier

Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities
The opera houses of Paris and Hanoi are cultral mainstays for each capital. Photo by Daoni Nguyen.

You don't need to go far to notice the first Parisian trait of Hanoi, right in the aptly named French Quarter. The area is home to numerous French establishments like the French Institute and the famous Hotel Métropole. However the pièce de résistance of the French Quarter is the impressive Hanoi Opera House. This magnificent structure takes inspiration from the Opéra Garnier in Paris. It is actually one of the few places in Hanoi where you can spend an enchanting evening admists the sounds of symphonies.

Built under the hands of French architects Broyer and Harley, this building is 87m of length and 30m of height. Meanwhile, the Palais Garnier, named after its architect, Charles Garnier, is to 173m and 125m. Although the Vietnamese opera house is much smaller, the compacted acoustics allows for the music to swell over amazed audiences. Since it's establishment in 1911, the Hanoi Opera House has seen French musicals, Soviet ballerinas, Italian repertoire, and Vietnamese folk celebrations.

France has been deeply invested in maintaining both opera houses. In 1997, the Hanoi Opera House was renovated with the funds provided by the French government. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese goverment has taken steps to make the building more accessible to everyone by taking down the old barriers, aiming it to become a top cultural destination for both Vietnamese and foreigners.

The moment I step into this Opera House, I can immediately sense the European vibe; from the architecture, to the paintings, and dazzling productions. Shows like Les Miserables, performed by a troupe comprised of French and Vietnamese actors, demonstrate how far Vietnamese and French relations have come over the years.

Long Bien Bridge & Eiffel Tower

Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities
Both structures model the architecture and design of the French and Vietnamese people. Photo by Daoni Nguyen.

The Long Bien Bridge was built in 1901 by the French company Daydé et Pillé. It was previously named 'Pont Paul-Doumer,' as nod to the former Governor General of Indochina. Later it was renamed 'Pont Long-Bien', since at the time it was the only bridge that connected Long Bien district with Hanoi. The metalwork is reminiscent of the Gustave Eiffel style, the creator of the Eiffel Tower.

Just like the most famous Parisian landmark, the Long Bien Bridge is a prime romantic destination. Going on a date there, especially during sunrise or sunset is quite an experience. The Long Bien Bridge is also known as the "Bridge of Young Lovers," making it similar to another French landmark, the Pont des Arts. At night, lovers fearlessly sit high above the tremendous Red River, focusing on the night sky... and each other.

Nowadays, over a century later, names of the creators can still be seen on the facade of the bridge. For its conservation, only bikes are allowed on it (cars and buses are forbidden), and a train line that connects the North to the South of Vietnam. It is one of the longest bridges in the world and an achievement of the industrial revolution in Asia.

Like the Eiffel Tower that survived the invading Nazis, the Long Bien Bridge survived numerous bombing campaigns by invading Americans. I view the Eiffel Tower and the Long Bien Bridge as everlasting symbols, as if they are a testament to love itself.

Lotte Tower & Tour Montparnasse

Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities
The tallest towers of Paris and Hanoi. Photo by Daoni Nguyen.

The Lotte Tower in Hanoi and the Tour Montparnasse in Paris are both the tallest towers in the two cities.

Although it only opened a eight years ago, the Lotte Tower has quickly become a very popular spot, boasting a epic view of the Vietnamese capital and a fancy restaurant, 'Top of Hanoi'. With the price of 200 000 VND (around 9USD, compared to 11euros at Tour Montparnasse), you can access the 65th floor and see Hanoi in all its forms.

The Tour Montparnasse finished construction in 1973, so over 40 years apart between the two towers, with 60 floors. My tourist friends who come to visit Paris, usually prefer to go on top of the Montparnasse Tower than on top of the Eiffel tower, since it's less crowded, more peaceful to enjoy the view with better access.

From the top of the two towers, the constrasting cityscapes of Hanoi and Paris become quite notable. Paris, built on top of fragile quarries, has strict laws that forbidding construction past a certain height. Therefore, the city of Paris still retains its medieval charms. Hanoi's buildings are not as uniformed; giant, glass skyscapers reside next to narrow, tube houses, demonstrating the timeless diversity of the Vietnamese capital.

Parks of Hanoi and Paris

Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities
Park life in Paris and Hanoi. Photo by Daoni Nguyen.

The Bach Thao park is a beautiful park in the heart of Hanoi. Just like parks in Paris, it's one of the few parks in Hanoi where you can have an actual walk and picnic, very similar to Les Buttes-Chaumont, with a lake and a bridge.

Recently, Yen So park, just south of the capital, has also been known to attract teenagers and young lovers. It is a romantic park that invites visitors to lay on the grass and even camp through the night. Music festivals and movies were filmed at this stunning location.

Parisians and Hanoians also use the parks in the same way, to commune with nature while in a big city. In the Vietnamese capital, the elderly like to wake up very early, around 5am, to go to the parks to exercise, and in the afternoon, the youngsters go there to skate, play, jog, and walk their pets.

Meanwhile, the Parisians tend to chill and read, have a picnic, as their elders walk around and enjoy nature. The Yen So park in particular reminds me of Paris, because it's clean, compared to other parks in Hanoi, and also the air is fresh since it's near the border of the city.

Bus and Metro

Hanoi & Paris: A Tale of Two Sister Cities
Different perspective on similar transportation systems. Photo by Daoni Nguyen.

The first metro line in Hanoi was recently finished and connects Cat Linh to Ha Dong, with the price of 15 000 VND (0.65 USD). At 30 000 VND (1.3 USD), patrons can take the line for the whole day. The metro system, along with other multiple lines in both Hanoi and Saigon, is still under construction. Therefore, in a few years, the metro map will likely be similar to the one in Paris, thereby making another connection to the sister city. However, the bus system in Hanoi, despite being in a crowded, chaotic city, is surprisingly very practical. The price varies from 7 000 to 15 000 VND, and buses can also take you to the airport from the city, they work from 5am to 11.30pm. This is similar to the Parisan transportation system; while it might be a bit of mission, it will get you to where you need to go.

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Daoni Nguyen
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