Despite being Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi has managed to retain a traditional and genteel feel. It lacks the “big city” feel of Ho Chi Minh City, and somehow feels like a slight step back into time in comparison. The city has only started to boom and develop in recent years, and thus seems to emanate true Vietnamese culture and soul.
Sidewalks Are Not For Pedestrians
We’re trained to use sidewalks for walking, to let the cars do their thing on the roads. In Hanoi, we quickly learned the opposite.
Sidewalks are the parking lot of motorbikes, and trying to walk around these is often like working your way through a maze. We quickly came to learn our place was on the roads, with the cars, walking single file along the gutter hoping not to get run over.
Department Store Street Shopping
Unique to shopping in Hanoi’s Old District is that each street is named by the item it sells. Looking for shoes? Go to Shoe Street. Herbal medicine? Go to Herbal medicine street. The street names literally translate into what they sell.
We’ve got Town Shoes here:
And Home Depot here:
Or the pots and pans section at Bed, Bath and Beyond:
Every street is a new adventure!
Night Markets & Freshly Brewed Beer
Hanoi is a great city to explore on the weekends. On Friday-Sunday evenings, a series of streets in the Old Quarter close down to traffic (a welcome relief) and illuminate with overhanging bulbs.
A night market opens, selling anything from clothes to toys to electronics. Most goods are fake – like a Beats speaker whose voice talks to you improperly in a Vietnamese accent, or atheletic goods with misspelled names like “Nikey”. Most shirts have captions, some of which are puzzling to read:
One of the coolest parts of the evening is something called “beer corner”. Vietnam is actually known for its daily brewed beers (“bia hoi“), which have a short lifespan and are therefore sold the day they’re made with any remaining liquid discarded. Since the kegs have to go fast, a cup of this draft beer costs a mere 5000 Dong (ie. 30 cents).
The streets were full of people enjoying beer, hanging out with friends, and people watching. Some restaurants even have a keg open in the corner so you can get a cup “to go”!
Hoan Kiem Lake
At the center of Hanoi is a large lake, Hoan Kiem. The boulevard that goes along the lake is one of the only places you can walk without worrying about about being run down by a scooter, and one of the few places you see locals jogging and doing early morning tai chi.
Floating within the lake is the striking red Huc bridge, which leads to a temple hidden among a shroud of trees.
Further south of this, the Tortoise Tower is set on a tiny island in the lake. In the daytime it is easy to miss, but by night the pavilion is lit with large spotlights that shine all the way into the sky.
Overall Hanoi was one of our favorite stops, and a city we used a base for all our day trips in the North (to Sapa and Halong Bay, for example). We were always happy to come back!