Hanoi is the first city that I have visited on my two week trip with my friends in Vietnam. The city is tourist friendly, great to walk around and will train you well for the adventures to come. This is my list of must-try experiences in Hanoi:
1) Go on a street food tour
When you first arrive in Vietnam you might be put off by the smell of the food and spices or by how the food is prepared in the street. Nevertheless, everyone is eating on the streets and it would be a pity to miss out this experience because the food is amazing! Thus the easiest way to stay safe from a bad dish and maybe food poisoning is to book a street food tour on your first day. This way you will go to a few places to grab a bite of their famous dishes (Ph? soup, Bún bò salad, G?i cu?n wraps, Bánh mì sandwich) and deserts (fresh fruits and coconut ice-cream, moon cake, egg coffee) and learn a few things about what to look out when choosing the next place to eat on your own. Some things we learned from our guide:
Vietnam is a big country and the flavors up north are different from the ones in the center or the south, so take the chance to try as many dishes as possible. Street food is cheap so it will not break the bank when eating out. Pro tip: remember to pin the location of the places you enjoyed during your tour and this way you can come back and eat there again.
- is to choose places that are cooking the food up front and not somewhere hidden
- a place that has also indoor seating is better as they actually are a restaurant and not a mobile vendor
- keep a lookout for small family places as they take pride in home recipes and tradition.
2) Go for a Vietnamese massage This has been the highlight of our trip. In October at noon, it gets very hot and humid in Hanoi and we needed a way to refresh. We chose a place well rated online and made a reservation on their website. Based on the not so cleanliness of the hotel, streets, and restaurants, the first time we were skeptical and booked a foot massage as we did not know what to expect. The overall experience has been well above our expectations. We were kindly greeted and offered a refreshing cold tea and slippers while we waited to be taken to the massage rooms. The place was spotless with great decor and the staff were attentive and asked us if all was ok frequently. The second time, we went to a massage after a long hike in Sapa and we knew exactly what we wanted. Even if we chose another place, we were not disappointed by the full body massage we booked. Same amazing greeting experience and friendly staff. We were surprised by the way they were using pressure points and the different massaging techniques.
3) See the sunset on the Long Biên Bridge If you will stay at a hotel in the old city center it will be hard to miss the old bridge. I recommend going on a walk around sunset to catch both the beautiful sunlight but also the rush hour. As you start your walk on the bridge you will have a great top view of an intersection and be in awe of how well the people manage not to get in an accident. All cars, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, and pedestrians manage to keep the traffic flowing with little or no consideration of traffic lights and rules. As you continue your way on the bridge you will notice that even if the lanes are separated you will see a random scooter honking its way into oncoming traffic and making a path for itself. Continue your way and enjoy the view of the river, the banana trees, field workers on the island and the fishermen on the boats as you see the last rays of sunlight pass.
4) Grab a scooter ride It’s great to see the traffic from afar but it’s even better to be part of it. Crossing the street is an experience in itself and I’m not talking about a car drive but actually about grabbing a scooter taxi. It does sound strange but considering that more than 50% of the population of Vietnam owns a scooter or motorcycle it makes sense to have the possibility to share a ride with a local driver. It’s very easy to use by installing a phone app (we tried Grab) and sharing your destination. Within minutes of the order, a scooter driver with the trademark of the company will be offering you a helmet and pointers if you never were on a scooter before. It’s an adrenaline rush but we felt safe all the time as the driver knew how to go with the traffic and announce his presence by rapidly honking when passing through an intersection.
5) Wait for the train on the small street You can’t look at Hanoi pictures and not see the famous train street. The train passes twice daily and you have the chance to be extremely close to it either before entering the train station or when leaving it. While waiting you can take pictures of the surroundings or enjoy a drink at a cafe. Even more surprising than the train that rushes past you is to notice how uneventful this is for the locals as they will make room for the train to pass and after continue what they were doing. Pro tip: Stick to the wall when the train passes as it will not slow down and in some areas, it gets very close to the buildings. Other honorable mentions are visiting the peaceful gardens of the V?n Mi?u temple, going to the market and trying your negotiation skills, going to one of the karaoke bars and visiting the great Ho Chi Min Mausoleum.