Noisy, bustling, yet downright charming are the first words that could perfectly describe the capital city of Hanoi, Vietnam upon your arrival. With a thriving economy that doesn’t want to stop anytime soon and the rise of tourism in less than a decade, Hanoi is a city everyone should visit before it loses its appeal and go mainstream to the likes of Singapore, Beijing, and even of Bangkok.
But for first-timers, with so much options and blogs with guides available online, what are really the best things to do around the city? Lo and behold, we’ve listed them down for you to make it painless once you turn up in this promised land.
Get Lost in the Old Streets of Hanoi Old Quarter
Whether it’s shoe street, chicken street, or gold street you’re looking, they have it all. In fact, they have 36 of them right in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and it’s where it’s all happening. Short, narrow, and absurdly chaotic throughout the day, these roads are what make Hanoi, well, Hanoi. The Old Quarter is the quintessential representation of Vietnamese culture and traditions.
And what better way to experience it than getting lost inside it? Worry not though, even if you get off track of where you are exactly, we’re pretty sure the locals would help you find your way back to where you started, since life literally happens outside those quaint French-colonial type of buildings. And when you do lose track of your directions, it’s best to just enjoy the surroundings and see what you can learn in every corner of this historical area.
Pro-tip: Hanoi’s old streets do seem to look alike from each other. And yes, even locals get lost from time to time too. One way to beat the odds is grab a printed map with you. Otherwise, a smartphone would do as there’s free Wi-Fi connection anyway everywhere. And one more thing, if you’re starting point is Hoan Kiem Lake, then it’s a lot easier for people to help you out on how to get back. Which brings us to our second tip…
Talk to a Stranger & Make a Friend
The Vietnamese people are probably the most genuine and helpful people in Asia, if not the world. Having faced so much sufferings in the past, the country seems to have this unspoken rule that everyone should move on from what happened and just enjoy life to the fullest, which is why it’s actually super easy to talk to strangers and make friends in Vietnam. Whether you’re at a park, a café, a bar, or even inside a club, we’re 100 percent sure that it will only take 2 minutes for you to start a friendly conversation with someone and ending up with a possible long-term friendship.
And what’s even more interesting is that this specific habit of making friends and trusting even complete strangers go way back and deeper into the country’s dark past as a lot of them had to stick together with each other to survive. And we believe that this is also the reason why it’s usual for Vietnamese people to leave their houses wide open throughout the day as everyone, especially their neighbors, are considered extended family.
So the next time you meet someone, make sure you make the first move, but not too aggressive to the point that comes off as a creepy stranger. You’ll never know, this person might end up driving you around town and showing you all the hidden secrets of this remarkable city, or better, bring you to the best places in town for food. Therefore, going to our next point…
Indulge in Street Food Madness
What better way to get to know a country’s history, culture, and traditions than trying exactly the same kind of food that they eat? And this theory can’t even be truer than in Hanoi, where most of the city’s population spend a significant amount of their time and money on eating out on the streets. Fried rice, rice pancakes, rice noodles, egg noodles, steamed tofu, grilled meat, fresh herbs and the oddest spices you could imagine, they have it all indeed.
Some people say that street food in Hanoi is like 7 Eleven in the in Bangkok, you can find one literally at every corner of every street. And even around the central business areas, where high-rise buildings are dominant, you’ll find at least two to three street food options tucked in tiny alleys in between the giant concrete walls, where your typical Vietnamese grandma and her family serve their own specialty, usually in the form of rice, noodles, or bread. Hanoi is definitely not a place for tourists who want to go on a strict diet and wouldn’t dare to go out in the middle of the night to get something to devour. And when all is said and done, or should we say, gobbled and finished, then it’s the perfect time to…
Sit Still, Sip a Cup of Coffee, and Watch People Go About Their Lives
Everyone’s favorite past time, and regarded as the country’s number one custom, sitting in cafés and watching the day go by have always been an unwritten tradition in Vietnam. And since it’s your first time in the country, this is probably the most Vietnamese you could ever get if you’re not the adrenaline rush type of traveler who’d most likely to drive a motorbike instead of sipping coffee on the side of the street.
Cafés are so central to the lives of the local people that a lot of life’s events happen inside these four walls; business transactions, family reunions, birthdays, friends talking about their dreams, breakfasts, dinners, and even brunches for that matter; whatever crazy idea you may have in your head, for sure Hanoi has something in store for you. Heck, they even have cafés that double as clubs at night.
But when you’ve finally reached that point of exhaustion and fatigue, ending your first trip to Hanoi, whether it’s your first day or your last day, sitting still while sipping a cup of coffee and watching people go about their lives will give you a sensation you’d never feel anywhere else, a sense of solace in the midst of chaos.