You could spend weeks in Hanoi and still find new things to do every day. Whether you’ve finished with all the main attractions, or are hoping to avoid them in the first place, see the sides to the capital of Vietnam that many tourists don’t, from hotpot spots to night markets.
Long Biên Bridge is certainly an amazing sight, but for a truly local experience, head to the night market near its start and see where many of the restaurants in the area get their ingredients. This market isn’t meant for tourists, so don’t expect to find interesting souvenirs or fashionable clothes.
Bring a couple of friends with you for this one, as hotpots are meant to be shared. They’re a simmering soup with a wide assortment of vegetables and meats to add as you wish. You could just head to Ha Tien Street and find some good hotpot spots, but it’s quite touristy. Phùng Hưng Street is more popular among locals. Look out for the word lẩu (hotpot) as you explore they area.
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The area around West Lake is one of the hippest in the city these days and popular with expats. Many people prefer to cycle along the path that goes around West Lake, but we love paddling on the swan boats. For extra fun, bring along your favourite beverage. The swan boats are on the southern side of Trúc Bạch Lake, near Highlands Coffee.
Even though this spot is a poorly kept secret, it really isn’t as touristy as it could be. The Lotte Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Vietnam and on the 65th floor there’s a viewing deck where you can see most of the city. You’ll also find the first ever skywalk in Southeast Asia, with its vertigo-inducing glass floor.
We know what you’re thinking: isn’t Hoàn Kiếm Lake the focal point of tourism in Hanoi? It sure is, but only later in the day when the foreigners who spent all night partying finally get up. In the morning, the lake is where locals go to exercise and hang out. The earlier you can get there, the better.
If you’re a flower fan, this is an absolute must. It looks far away on the map, but it only takes about 20 minutes to get here from Hoàn Kiếm Lake. The best time to go is from midnight to 6am, when floodlights cast beautiful shadows over the millions of flowers: roses, orchids, sunflowers, lilies and chrysanthemums. The market is still open later in the morning, but it isn’t as busy.
At the Chả Cá Thăng Long restaurant, don’t even bother with the menu. Everyone who comes to here comes for one thing: chả cá. It’s fried fish with some of the most delicious flavours you’ve ever tasted – yet another dish that Hanoians make the best.
Everyone knows Vietnamese coffee is fantastic, but you should also try egg coffee while you’re here. It can be a bit difficult to find, so go to Giảng Cafe, which is known for it. The rich drink is prepared with yolks, sugar, condensed milk and robusta coffee.
When imitators set up shop nearby, it’s probably a good sign you’re doing something right. Bún chả is rice vermicelli noodles with fried spring rolls, veggies and grilled fatty pork –and Hanoians love it. Find some of the best at Bun Cha Dac Kim in the Old Quarter.
If you’re in Hanoi over a weekend, check out the night market on Hàng Đào Street. At 8pm, traffic is blocked and people are free to browse the hundreds of stalls selling clothing, ceramics, jewellery and all kinds of souvenirs. The market runs from Hoàn Kiếm Lake all the way to Đồng Xuân Market.
To commemorate the 1,000-year anniversary of Hanoi, community leaders and local businesses built a mosaic wall that runs for almost 4km (2.5mi). The sheer number of little ceramic tiles it took to make this mosaic is astounding and the artwork tells many vivid stories from the long history of the city. Unless you like smog and noise, don’t walk the length of the street. For a better experience, hire a taxi or a xe ôm (motorbike taxi).
Even if you have no intention of driving the length of Vietnam, this street is a cool look at the rich motorbike culture of Vietnam. There are thousands of rides for sale and plenty of deals to be found.
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