Hanoi | A chaotic uniquely wonderful city
When you first visit Hanoi you will be overwhelmed by its buzzing streets, pungent smells, and often deafening sounds. Thousands of motorbikes stream through the streets daily. Pavements packed with food stalls serving local food on plastic tables and chairs. But no matter how noisy the traffic is nor how precarious crossing the road can feel, Hanoi manages to give the impression of a very peaceful city where the quality of life is good. Take a first walk through the old quater to dive straight into the exciting city life of Hanoi.
The thousand year old capital city of Vietnam shines with both modernity and age old tradition and has endured Chinese and French occupation, as well as the chaos of the American War. But this recent history doesn’t seem to permeate much of modern Hanoi’s daily life. The Hanoi of today is not short on class with recent introductions of top-end restaurants, designer boutiques and art galleries.
Hanoi is an exiting city to discover for both old and young and most probably the best starting point for your Vietnam trip.
THE OLD QUARTER IN HANOI
It’s the Old Town and its street life which is Hanoi’s biggest attraction: honking scooters transporting entire families, street food stalls where you can enjoy delicious food and many shops and cool cafes lining up along the busy streets. This is pure Hanoi where you can walk around for hours.
The Old Quarter is a place where you can find the fusion of the past and the modern life as well as the history and culture of Vietnam’s capital. Each street’s name corresponds to the wares in its shops. But many of the historic houses have deteriorated and are in need of restoration.
Another relic of French Colonial rule is situated right in the heart of the Old Quarter. The St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Nha Tho Street) was built in 1886 and is a fine example of neo-Gothic architectural style. You will probably cross this church many times when you stroll through the Old Town.
A STREET FOOD TOUR WITH GIANG
A highlight of our stay in Hanoi was the guided street food tour with Giang. She is a local guide who just gave up her office job, decided to change her life for something more exciting. A part from starting her own fashion collection, she shows visitors her hometown Hanoi and explains the local food. We met her in the Old Quarter where she led us to seven different food places where we tried different kind of local food.
Here is a list of our favorites:
Pho (Vietnamese Noodle soup):
One of the most famous dishes in Vietnam is Pho. And it’s in Hanoi, you probably eat the best. Pho is very popular among locals and who eat Pho also for breakfast.
Bánh Mì (Vietnames Sandwich):
The Bánh Mì is delicious and you can truly fall in love with. It’s a kind of baguette made with a combination of wheat and rice flours and it has a thin crispy crust. Bánh Mì is stuffed with pork, pâté, cured ham, a mix of Vietnamese herbs and vegetables like coriander, cucumber, carrot, slices, radish and more, depending on what part of the country you are in.
Xoi Xeo (Sweet Sticky Rice):
Xoi xeo usually comes with staple toppings of green mung bean paste, soy sauce, and dried shallots, but you can opt for a variety of add-ins such as pate, boiled chicken, cha lua (Vietnamese ham), marinated pork belly, or preserved eggs for a more substantial meal.
Cà Phê Trung (Egg Coffee):
Egg coffee or Cà Phê Trung is the most famous coffee in the north of Vietnam. It is a thick dark coffee topped with egg yolk whipped with condensed milk into an airy froth. A lot of sugar is added and it is very very rich in taste.
Train Street is one of those places which has become incredibly popular on Instagram. When you search it on the web, you can find hundreds of similar photos. But anyway, it is unique to see the locals rush around and put away all the seats and small table before the impressive train rolls right between the houses.
The train will only pass through this tiny street 2 times per day. It is at 3:15 pm and 7:30 pm.
Hoan Kiem Lake on weekends
The Hoan Kiem Lake – meaning Lake of the Restored Sword- is centrally located in Hanoi and is only minutes away from the Old Quarter. On weekends, some roads around the Lake are closed and the lakeside promenade becomes a peaceful and car free place. The greatest fun here is people watching, from retired folks doing tai chi to youngsters performing their hip street dance. Many locals come here to socialize or just take a few moments to escape the busy city life. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and enjoy a nice walk around the lake.
At the south end of the lake, you can visit the Ngoc Son Temple. This temple is built on a small island linked with a red wooden bridge, the Huc Bridge. On the north end of the lake, you might spot the Tortoise Pagoda (Thap Rua), often hidden by a thin layer of dust and not accessible for visits.
Visit a traditional water puppet show
The tradition of water puppet show in Vietnam goes back to the 11th century. It is said that in the past, these secrets were passed down from father to son because they feared daughters would divulge the secrets when they marry outside the villages. It is incredible to watch how those talented puppeteers make their puppets move so flawlessly and on top of the water while seeming blind from behind a screen. The typical themes that surround a water puppet show are still deeply rooted in rural Vietnamese traditions that include fishing, planting and harvesting of rice as well as village folklore.
A show typically features 7 to 11 puppeteers working in harmony with one another to create magic on stage. The music plays a huge part in the theater. The show takes about an hour and is by far one of the most entertaining attractions in Hanoi to do with kids.
The most famous show in Hanoi is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre located near the Hoan Kiem Lake.
Knock down some pins
An unabashed tribute to the bowling alleys that once dominated Western culture, The Cosmos Bowling Centre has the lanes, the tunes and the decor to transport you back to the land of the strikes.
Prices are cheap (around $1 per game) making it easy to while away a few hours.
Cosmos Bowling Centre | 168 Ngoc Khanh Street, Ba Dinh District
Visit Hanoi’s monuments & traditional buildings
Most of Hanoi’s attractions are located within walking distance of one another, in the Old and French Quarter.
The Temple of Literature:
Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, this temple is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. The admission was exclusively for those from noble families. After 1442 it became more egalitarian and gifted students from all over Vietnam came to Hanoi to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry.
Probably, you going to spend most of your time in or around the Old Quarter. But if you seeking respite from the busy streets of the Old Quater, you can spend some time at the West Lake. In the Tay Ho District, you can visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda which was built in the 6th century. It’s Vietnam’s oldest temple.
West Lake is also a beautiful place to while away an afternoon: you can hire boats and have lunch on a floating restaurant.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese people who come to pay tribute to “Uncle Ho”, the man who led the fight for an independent, unified Vietnam. Locals line up to pay respect to the great leader and this includes some rules. You need to dress neatly so short skirts or tank tops are not allowed and turn out all your devices. Paying respect and no noises are required.
The French Quarter
Situated to the south and east of Lake Hoan Kiem, the French Quarter has a different feel from the rest of Hanoi due to its broad avenues, wide sidewalks, and colonial french architecture. The highlights include the luxury hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole, with its distinctive white facade and the iconic Hanoi Opera House, modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris.
When you have enough of the traffic and smog, leave the city behind and get out into the countryside on a day trip. There are many beautiful landscapes to explore on a day trip. One of them is the incredible hilly landscape of Hoa Lu Tam Coc. It’s a spectacular limestone karst landscape, 100 km southeast from Hanoi. If you prefer handmade art, you should definitely visit the Ceramic Villages Bat Trang, situated only 1 hour outside of Hanoi.
We recommend to book a local guide, which can explain you the art of ceramic and show you an atelier where you can try the pottery wheel.
WHERE TO EAT IN HANOI:
Located in a beautiful antic french building with garden in the Old Quarter. Madam Hien is the latest venture of the most celebrated French chef in Vietnam – Didier Corlou. He also owns the restaurants, La Vertical and Porte D’Annam
A nice cosy place for a healthy brunch with relaxing outdoor seats. The menu is inspired by Australian brunch culture from a chef who lived in Sydney more than 10 years.
Designed and built based on the culture of New Orleans, Cafe Nola serves simple, creative dishes & excellent coffee.
Inspired by the love of nature and the love of the wilderness, ESSIE is a perfect blend of contemporary and classic. You will find ardent passion and creativity in every little corner arranged with inexplicable delicacy and soul.
NHÀ SÀN ART CAFE
This cafe is not easy to find, as it’s apart from all the common touristic spots. But it is 100% worth the way. It’s a contemporary art space in an old traditional house where you can listen to concerts from local artists.
Green Tangerine is housed in an idyllic refurbished 1920s French villa that’s fitted with rustic décor, bare bricked walls, and antique furnishing. The French chef creates a variations of classic French dishes with a distinct Vietnamese touch.
WHERE TO STAY IN HANOI:
Maison d’Orient has been elegantly furnished and decorated in Hanoian style. The staff is incredibly welcoming and make you forget the be housing in a 2 Star Hotel. The Hotel is just perfectly situated in the heart of the Old Quarter.
Situated in the Hanoi’s Old Quarter Area and only a 2 minute walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s part of a small local chain that prides itself on maintaining a consistently high level of service and comfort across its properties. They also offer high class tours around Vietnam.
Sofitel Legend Metropole has long been a celebrity magnet, welcoming presidents, ambassadors, and literary and cinematic royalty into its marble lobby. The historic Metropole section has beautiful decor shaped by French architecture and Vietnamese culture.
La Terrasse has the feel of a Parisian café, while Le Beaulieu restaurant serves classic French fare and a decadent Sunday brunch.
A small cosy hotel with a contemporary, oriental inspired decoration. On the ground floor, the restaurant serves delicious dim sum. The rooftop terrasse has one of the few bars overlooking the city.
The hotel’s design recalls a theatrical grandeur with clear references to the Belle Époque with a mix of contemporary artwork and modern furnishing, such as Kartell chairs and lamps by Moooi. The sundeck offers a fabulous view of the Opera building, which is especially pretty when it lights up beautifully after the sun has set. There are interconnecting rooms and space for extra beds on all floors.
Hanoi E Central Hotel is placed in the heart of Old Quarter. It’s a good starting point to explore the city and you’re not far from the lake and shopping ear. The penthouse has a large deck outside with great views at night!
We hope you enjoyed reading and wish you a nice trip to Hanoi. Don’t forget to send us your best addresses in the comments section.
See you soon for new adventures!
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