Before my visit to Hanoi, I had heard all sorts of descriptions and recollections from those who had visited the city – some good but mostly bad. So perhaps that’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Hanoi for myself. There’s a lot that the city has to offer to travelers, from great food to incredible coffee, old French architecture, and lot’s of culture and history. Also, it doesn’t hurt that your money goes a long way in Vietnam. In fact, Vietnam is great destination for budget travelers.
After spending three days in Hanoi, I thought I’d share my experience, and the things we did, saw, and loved.
Street Cafes, Bars & Restaurants
The old quarters of Hanoi feels like the old part of any other city…except for the street cafes. Well, street cafes are not unique to Hanoi by any stretch of imagination. However, the pedestrian paths in the old quarters are extremely narrow and not wide enough to accommodate bikes, scooters, tables, chairs, and pedestrians all together. In order to accommodate, the cafes and restaurants that provide outside seating make their customers sit on miniature stools with tiny tables.
Giant people sitting on tiny furniture – it’s a sight that became accustomed to and I strangely began to associating with Hanoi. It goes without saying I made a point to visit these street cafes, restaurants and bars, and sit on their tiny stools. Although I did end up breaking one stool, I have to admit it was tons of fun sitting so close to the ground with cars passing at my height.
One evening, we stumbled upon a street in the old quarters called Mã Mây which was full of street BBQ restaurants. We stopped by one of them and experienced Vietnamese street BBQ – meat and vegetables cooked on a camphor lit fire (and served with baguette of course). It was probably the most delicious meal we ate during our trip to Vietnam!
If you’re in the mood to try local street food in Hanoi, I highly recommend that you check out this street food tour. We know people who’ve taken, and loved it.
Although coffee isn’t specific to Hanoi, there are some amazing cafes in Hanoi.
Coffee was introduced in Vietnam in 1857 by the French. Today, Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world, after Brazil. The streets of Hanoi are filled with shops selling all varieties of coffee alongside thousands of cafes. Although per capita consumption remains low, Vietnam is famous for its contribution to the world of coffee lovers. It is most famous for its traditional iced coffee (cà phê đá) and egg coffee (cà phê trứng). I really couldn’t decide which one I preferred more because they are both absolutely delicious!
The reason behind their taste is that both the iced coffee and the egg coffee come with regional variations. Back when coffee was introduced, there was a limitation of milk available in Vietnam which led the French to start using sweetened condensed milk in lieu of plain milk. The condensed milk and the dark roasted coffee beans are what lend their flavours to make this the most delicious coffee ever.
If you’re interested in trying the famous egg coffee, I highly recommend Giang Cafe on 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street. They’re probably the most egg coffee cafe in Hanoi.
Hoan Kiem District (The Old Quarters)
Although polluted and congested with crazy two-wheeler riders, the old quarters is a must visit for anyone travelling to Hanoi. It’s easy to get lost in the narrow roads among the street-side cafes, old buildings, and the Hoan Kiem Lake (where we saw a water snake and a turtle). The lake is beautifully lit up at night – the Ngoc Son temple, its bridge and the Turtle Tower make an evening stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake worthwhile.
The old quarters is probably the best place to shop, discover restaurants, bars and cafes and simply experience the best of Hanoi.
Ba Dinh District (The French Quarters)
Close to the buzzing old quarters lies the calm French Quarters of Hanoi. With its wide roads and beautiful old mansions, the French quarters gives you a completely different experience of Hanoi. The Ba Dinh District is also home to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, major government buildings, the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Temple of Literature just to name a few. Old French buildings that were build over a century ago lend the district an old world charm. I’d highly recommend walking around the French quarters (or take a rickshaw) to get a good glimpse at all the buildings.
Hope you enjoyed this post on Hanoi. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, or share this post on the social media platform of your choice.