What’s the best way to experience a city? Personally I like to think it is living like a local. And that’s exactly what I did in Hanoi, the energetic and atmospheric capital of Vietnam. I spent my week there staying with my close friends and shadowing their way around the city. So if you are done with Hanoi’s main sights or simply love doing something unusual, this article is for you.
1. Cruise around the city on Uber moto
Hanoi is not only home to 7.5 million people but also 4 million motorbikes. That’s why it is famous, ok infamous, for its traffic, as these millions of motorbikes find their way through the city each day. I always dreamt of joining that craziness. The solution? Open the Uber app in Hanoi and select the option “Uber moto”. A couple of minutes later your ride will be at your doorstep with a surprise: it’s not a car, but a motorbike. The usually friendly drivers come equipped with a spare helmet and even rain jacket. Aside from Uber moto being the most fun way to get around the city, it’s also the cheapest.
2. Relax on the West Lake
You have probably been to the famous Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi right in the city center. However, it has a big and slightly overlooked sister: the West Lake. And what a beautiful sister it is. This serene water is my favorite area in Hanoi to let my mind flow – think calm walks, cafes with lake views and stunning sunsets (and in the evening kissing couples). Head to Quán Thánh Temple (Thanh Niên, Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam) and continue walking on the shore to the west for the nicest stretch. By bike, bicycle or foot, the West Lake is a stunning place to discover and relax.
3. Eat snail soup
Vietnam is all about food. You’ve tried the northern classics of Phở, Bánh Cuốn and Bún Chả I am sure – if not, do it, NOW. Anyhow, when I asked my friend to take me to a place with local but unusual food this happened: we went to an alley in the old town (Hàng Chai, Hàng Mã, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam), sat in the street and got presented a beautiful bowl filled with scented soup, yummie noodles and the super special ingredient: snails. And believe it or not, it was actually my favorite dish in Hanoi.
4. Get inspired by Vietnamese women
You’re tired of temples and military museums, yet look for something cultural on a rainy day? Then head to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum (36 Lý Thường Kiệt, Hàng Bài, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam, entrance fee: 30,000VND). This unusual museum is showcasing womens’ role in history and culture of Vietnam. It’s a great way to gain a better understanding of Vietnam’s society and support equality.
5. Go secondhand shopping
My friends know me for being an avid secondhand fashion fan, so I was brought to The Mint (266 Thái Hà, Trung Liệt, Hà Nội, Vietnam). This secondhand shop really stood out to me as it has a boutique feel to it. Most clothes come from Japan or Korea, are carefully-selected and presented in a very sleek way. Shopping for stylish clothes and doing good as well? The Mint is your place.
6. Indulge in Vietnamese chocolate
I openly confess that I am a chocaholic. There, I said it. Upon walking into Maison Marou in the French Quarter (91A Thợ Nhuộm, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam), my chocolate prayers were answered. Maison Marou produce all their award-winning products in-house and handpick their 100% Vietnamese cocoa beans. So if you’ve been traveling for months and crave a sweet treat that reminds you of home, look no further.
7. Make your heart beat faster on train tracks
Imagine a normal street with vendors selling, children playing and bikes driving. But instead of a road it has train tracks. And they are not simply for decoration but actually used twice a day and life in this street comes to a halt as a train races through. Welcome to Hanoi’s train street (Điện Biên Phủ, Cửa Nam, Hà Nội, Vietnam). For all adrenaline junkies like me, it’s the perfect place to bring up you heart beat either at 3:30pm or 7pm as the train rushes past not even a meter besides you.
8. Join local entrepreneurs in their working space
Very often during traveling my urge for planning comes out – I am Austrian after all. To let my productivity flow I love sleek spaces with a calm atmosphere. That description fits perfectly to VUI Studio cafe. It takes the form of an open studio, where you can browse a collection of VUI’s crafted products, borrow travel books or simply enjoy coffee – all in the company of a hip local crowd. “Vui” actually means joy in Vietnamese and this space definitely lives up to its name.
Not everyone has the privilege to be taken around by friends and experience the city through Vietnamese eyes. But the above-mentioned things will hopefully help you to create your own local experience in Hanoi.
About thr author
Hey! My name is Fran, and I am currently traveling around in South East Asia. Follow me on Instagram to see daily photos and videos of my crazy adventure 😉