Traveling in a developing city, especially a capital, means you have to deal with its commercialization as well as the blend of historical & cultural values and commercial booming. This article is not about how to have the best day tour in Hanoi. It is about how to gallivant throughout the hustle and bustle of the city and visit places whose owners have a sense of what authenticity means. You will travel like a true Vietnamese, taste what the locals adore, visit the nooks and crannies around Hanoi, as well as witness how the city looks at different times of the day.
Hanoi tourist attractions (Source: Internet)
In the early morning, Hanoi, especially on the lakesides, is “a giant outdoor gym to practice tai chi, exercises, and gymnastics”. Pedaling around Hoan Kiem Lake or Westlake is a very peaceful and interesting experience. Feeling the wind caressing your face and combing through your hair while watching a sunrise on the lake is definitely worth giving up a few extra hours of sleep.
For a travel-eater, Vietnamese food is out-of-this-world incredible. True Vietnamese food was born on the pavement, in the small wooden (now plastic) chairs, and peddler’s stalls, which are considered to be the cradle of the country’s cuisine. While walking through the small alleys you may find stalls selling “sticky rice” draped in banana leaves, “street style omelets” in smoky tiny pans, or appetizing “snail rice noodle” bowls. Most the street foods is sold all day and the menu is diversified, so it is likely to satisfy anyone's tastes no matter the time of day. Here are some places with great good street food stalls for your reference:
Hanoi Street Foods (Source: Internet)
If you are looking for a dining place in Hanoi, I highly recommend you to trying Cha Ca La Vong (grilled fish) - a dish that named a road (Cha Ca Road). Heavily influenced by the yin-yang balanced harmony (in taste and in nutrients), the dish highlights itself with the crucial use of the freshest ingredients, a lot of fresh vegetables and herbs, and the use of shrimp paste as the key seasoning. For Hanoians, it is not only a food but also a ritual in spirit, an iconic dish to dine with family and friend on special occasions. These addresses are located in different parts of the city, and it will take some effort to try them all. However, eating your way through a city is the best way to travel! It may be a long walk for a short bite to eat, but it is definitely worth a try!
After a meal, Vietnamese usually drink a cup of hot tea. Tea is extremely popular in our daily life. A glass of iced tea will definitely wake you up, just like a cup of coffee. In Vietnam, a cup of tea is considered to be a starter for every conversation and a dessert for every meal. Tea stalls appear on every corner, especially near food trucks. However, there are two impressive tea stops for you, in case you are a true tea lover.
The first one is located at the address B6, Northern Thanh Xuan Communal Building on Nguyen Quy Duc Street, named “Lư trà quán” or “Quán trà ông già” (Old-man tea stall) of Mr. Lư. Placed on the 7 square meter alley of an old building; right under the stairs with an old wooden table and a couple of plastic chairs, you will meet the oldest and greatest tea stall in Hanoi. If Japan is well known for their “matcha”, and China is home to several ranges of qualified tea leaves, Vietnam of course has its own remarkable flavor-tea, or as we call it “trà ướp hương”. At this address, Mr. Lư and his “Lư trà quán” started to sell the purest flavor-tea 28 years ago. The seven days of the week come with seven different tea flavors. Monday is Tan Cuong pure tea; Tuesday is lotus tea; Wednesday is jasmine tea; Thursday is daisy tea; Friday is Thanh Hương tea; Saturday is Hồng Đào tea; and the Sunday is five-flavor tea – an invention of Mr. Lư. Only one kind of tea is served each day.
Lu TraQuan of Mr Lu (Source: Internet)
The second one is a Zen-setting tea spot, named Thưởng Trà, and is located on the third floor of an old communal building in Tong Dan Street. In contrast with the simple look of Lu Tra Quan, this is highly sophisticated and is decorated with a koi fish aquarium at the front door, Zen-like furniture, and a green balcony. The name means “enjoying tea”, and it aims to bring back the soul of Vietnamese traditional tea as well as nourish the soul of tea lovers. It is really a lovely hideout in a bustling capital like Hanoi. Taking a sip of traditional Vietnamese tea, tasting a piece of mung bean cake, and reading your favorite book in the airy balcony is certainly ideal for a relaxing afternoon.
ThuongTra Tea Shop
For a night owl, Hanoi is truly a hidden treasure. Unlike the hustle during the day or the freshness in the early morning, Hanoi in the late night is beautiful, romantic and gorgeous. When most of the citizens are in bed, the crowds of the streets are gone, and the city returns to a fresh and serene place. Staying up late in Hoan Kiem Lake’s area, you will be immediately crushed by its poetic night look. With the lack of crowds (and vehicles), Hanoi shines the light of an old-age imperial capital that is hardly found by day.
About 3 or 4 km from Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a wholesale flower market – Quang Ba market – which is open all day and becomes especially bustling at night. The flowers from villages in Nhat Tan, Quang An, and other communes in Tu Liem district and in Da Lat come to be sold in Quang Ba market. The flower market has 2 sessions: the period from 2 am to 4 am is for wholesalers, and the other from 4 am to midday is for retailers. Staying up late, pedaling around Hoan Kiem Lake and then heading up to Quang Ba market for its flower matrix is an interesting way to enjoy the night-life in Hanoi. flowers are everywhere, and the masses of flowers on trucks and tables recall a familiar rural market.
For a bird of passage, staying a couple of day in Hanoi and then traveling to the nearby destinations seems to be a perfect Northern Vietnam itinerary. Lying on the bank of Red River, Hanoi is a cradle of the Northern culture and is in the center of the Northern geography. From Hanoi, you can take a cheap tour to Ninh Binh (90 km to the south of Hanoi) and visit its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Trang An Grottoes; to Hai Phong City (102 km from Hanoi center); and cruise from Cat Ba Island to the remarkable Halong Bay; or to Bac Son (160 km to the northeastern of Hanoi) and trek to the Na Lay Peak.
These paths will show you an unseen Hanoi, and will require you to put effort into discovering, rather than just following a popular “best day tour in Hanoi” with a group of tourists. You will also be taken in and thrown out richer than you thought you could ever be in a Hanoi day tour.
Learn more about Hanoi here: