For over a thousand years, West Lake has been one of the top attractions in Hanoi. Not only it is regarded as the most romantic corner of the capital, but it also plays a big part in Hanoians’ spiritual and religious life. While the imprints of the bygone eras are vividly etched on its every corner, the beguiling fusion of cultures reflected on its architectural and cultural heritage is somehow undermined by the nonstop daily grind.
Has it ever crossed your mind: ‘what really happens before all the dins?’. A Hanoi biking tour around West Lake before the city wakes up will show you Hanoi in a different light!
Cycling around West Lake
Perhaps the dominating impression that Hanoi left on us is its overwhelming sense of pace and the deafening sound of constant blaring horns together with street vendors’ cries. Cars encroach on bike lanes and motorbikes ride on pavements, squeezing pedestrians off the crosswalks. But if you set your alarm early and pedal around West Lake before the sun rises, you will get to witness Hanoi at a much slower pace of life.
West Lake in the morning
Located only 5km from Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake is known as the ‘green lung of Hanoi’. It is an ideal relaxing getaway for city hustlers; a hangout place for families, friends, and colleagues; and a romantic dating spot for couples, especially when night falls. Estimated at 500ha and 18km in circumference, a leisurely Hanoi cycling tour around West Lake takes roughly an hour.
West Lake was primarily fed by the Red River before it switched its outlet over thousands of years ago, under the reign of Hung Kings (2879-258 BCE). It has been a major attraction for the royalty since the Ly Dynasty, with many palaces built along the shores, overlooking the lake. These palaces were later turned into pagodas and we can still see more than 20 of them along the way.
Lotus in West Lake
While everyone would agree that West Lake is a mecca for cyclists and it looks utterly mesmerizing during twilight, the best way to avoid the jam of people is to start your Hanoi cycling tour at dawn. Catching the sunrise over West Lake and feeling the wind brush against your face as you ride is definitely one of the things in life that is worth waking up early for.
Exercising on Westlake
Get out and about early in the morning and watch how creative, resourceful Hanoians turn West Lake into a giant outdoor gym to practice tai chi, exercises, and gymnastics.
Quang Ba Night Flower Market – Getting involved in local life
The image of flower bicycles weaving their way through the streets of Hanoi has always been a unique cultural identity – a ‘specialty’ of the capital. Have you ever been curious about where these beauties come from?
Hanoi's signature flower bike
Right before most of the city go to sleep, Quang Ba Night Flower Market awakens and starts its daily grind. Originally a makeshift market held on Nghi Tam Dyke, 8km to the west of Hanoi city center, Quang Ba was later turned into a wholesale flower market of a hundred square meters to accommodate the rising demand. No one knows exactly when the market came into existence, ‘it’s been around for a long time’ – is what they say.
Neatly arranged flowers
Under the brilliant light of incandescent lamps, a plethora of fresh flowers are neatly displayed, showcasing their best side and filling the air with their fragrant aroma. Flowers still damp with morning dew are sourced from neighboring districts such as Tay Tuu, Dong Anh, etc., as well as other regions such as Sapa, Da Lat, etc. Native flowers such as lotus, rose, gladiolus, dahlia, chrysanthemum, etc. are exhibited in one section, and non-native flowers such as iris, delphinium, tulip, etc. are in another.
Not everyone comes here for flowers, or at least, not entirely. Aside from those looking for the best flower deals, others have their own reasons to be here. Some give up their precious sleep in exchange for an intimate glimpse into the effervescent nightlife of Hanoi. Also, can you think of a better way to deal with jet lag than to indulge your senses in the lovely, intoxicating scent of fresh flowers?
Flowers of vibrant colors exhibited in Quang Ba Market
On normal days, Quang Ba Market is held in two distinctive sessions. The first one is from 2-4 AM – between growers and wholesale florists, and the other one is from 4 AM till dawn – open to the general public. After that, flowers will follow wholesale and street florists to every corner of the city, gussying and freshening up the air. During holidays such as the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, International Women’s, etc., the market is open all day.
Not an early bird? Fear not! The market is still open until the skies take on the shade of orange. Thus, make it the first stop of your Hanoi biking tour. And don’t forget to carry a flashlight that has a bright, white backlight to better check out the color of the flowers!
Trấn Quốc Pagoda - Witness to the eventful history of Hanoi
Tran Quoc Pagoda was ranked amongst the top 16 most mesmerizing pagodas across the world by the esteemed newspaper Daily Mail in 2016. Dating back to 544 BC under the Early Ly Dynasty, Tran Quoc (formerly Khai Quoc Pagoda - Khai Quoc means founding the country) is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi. It was the Buddhist center under the Later Ly and Tran Dynasties (1009-1400) and is now the symbol of Hanoi’s centuries-old culture.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
The fact that this pagoda is located right next to the shore of West Lake makes it convenient to incorporate cultural exploration into your Hanoi biking tour.
Originally established by Emperor Ly Nam De on the shores of the Red River, the pagoda expresses Vietnamese people’s desire for independence after over a thousand years of Chinese occupation. In 1615, it was relocated to a small peninsula to the east of West Lake and later renamed to Trấn Quốc (protecting the country) under the reign of Emperor Le Hy Tong (1680-1705).
Tran Quoc Pagoda from above
The solemnity and antiquity of the pagoda itself are in perfect harmony with the elegance and gracefulness of its surroundings. While not letting any of the craze going on in the outside world affect its sacredness, Tran Quoc is known as the holiest pagoda in Hanoi, luring Buddhist devotees from across the country, especially during the 1st and 15th of the Lunar Calendar and public holidays.
Tran Quoc Pagoda and West Lake at dawn
Surrounded by the most beautiful lake in Hanoi, it is so divine to watch the sun peek through the clouds, signaling a new beginning and casting a halo over the pagoda. The ambiance is even more atmospheric when everything is still draped in morning mist, other visitors haven’t started their pilgrimage, and the city hasn’t been filled with noise.