Hanoi – how it lures us back! If you’ve been bitten by the Hanoi bug, you know the symptoms: Vivid memories of sun-dappled sidewalks and graceful colonial villas, deep sighs at the thought of evenings around misty Hoan Kiem Lake, sudden cravings for steaming bowls of pho ga, and the list goes on.
Did we mention that we love the Vietnamese capital? Here are 20 experiences that will leave you in love with Hanoi too:
Coffee break at the Metropole’s La Terrasse. This wrap-around café facing a park is one of Hanoi’s most iconic treasures. Stop by in the late afternoon for a leisurely cup served with a slice of history (and those little Metropole chocolates.
Listening to the bells at St. Joseph’ Cathedral. Step inside to admire the beautiful neo-gothic design that echoes portions of the Paris Cathedral in France.
Early morning exercise around Hoan Kiem Lake, or cycling around West Lake. Watching the Vietnamese capital wake up and go through a routine of inventive stretches right along the water’s edge is an only-in-Hanoi experience.
Egg milk coffee with a view. On 11 Hang Gai street, duck down a small alley and into a courtyard and find your way up to the rooftop of Café Pho Co for a warm cup of their unique egg milk coffee and an unobstructed perspective on Hoan Kiem Lake.
Dining in a colonial villa. Hanoi is full of amazing restaurants, yet a meal at the romantic Madame Hien’s never disappoints.
Cocktails in the sky at Sofitel Plaza Hanoi. Summit Lounge’s 20th floor rooftop perch is the ideal spot to soak up the changing skyline of the city and reflect on your travels with a glass of chardonnay in hand.
Noodle nirvana. Pho, with its delicate aroma and flavorful broth is a must-try. The authentic beef pho shop on Bat Dat street boasts a long queue from morning to night. Bun, a type of soft rice noodle, is especially popular in fantastic dishes such a bun ca, bun thang, bun bo and bun cha.
Getting lost in the Old Quarter. With 36 streets each named after a different trade, Hanoi’s crowded Old Quarter is overflowing with interesting sights and smells. You can dine, drink, shop and stay here for days without ever leaving.
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Stopping to smell the flowers on Au Co St. This early morning flower market sells the best blossoms from all over the north of Vietnam. Visit from 3 to 4 am.
Settling in for a lazy afternoon at Hanoi Social Club. This laid-back but charming café is stocked with books, low loungers and a healthy menu – everything you need for a relaxed afternoon session or a meet-up with good friends.
Feeding your mind in the city’s top museums. Hanoi has several excellent museums for those with a few hours to spare. Spend a day at the Women’s Museum, the Museum of Ethnology, or the Museum of Fine Arts and come away with a deeper appreciation of the country.
Cha Ca La Vong at the original restaurant in the Old Quarter. We won’t say too much about this mind-blowing dish, except that it’s made with a 100-year-old recipe, so you know they’re doing something right.
“The whole of Hanoi seems to be sprinkled with amazing cafes of every stripe.”
Café-hopping in the French districts. The whole of Hanoi seems to be sprinkled with amazing cafes of every stripe. Find one and make it your own. We like Cong Caphe for its unmatchable atmosphere.
Getting into the wartime bunker below the Metrople’s Bamboo Bar. History enthusiasts may enjoy this little excursion below the surface. Scribbles on the wall are still legible, and you can listen to the soulful song Joan Baez’s wrote about the war while staying at the hotel.
Soaking up history at the Temple of Literature. Right in the middle of the city, this ancient Confucian temple brings Vietnamese history to life in full color.
Shaking all the stress away with a good live band. Loosen up those limbs at Polygon Musik, Swing or Minh’s Jazz Club.
Eating your heart out on the sidewalk. Where do we begin with this one? Don’t leave without trying the banh cuon (steamed rice cake) at 14 Hang Ga St. Follow your nose and try everything!
Quaffing draft beer on Ta Hien St. Pull up a seat, or a stool, in the Old Quarter on a weekend, and watch the evening disappear into an endless stream of exotic bar chow, chit chat and cheers.
Evening meanders around the lake. Why stay in when Hanoi is so lovely outside? Enjoy the sparkling reflections off Hoan Kiem, warm yourself with a cup of tea, or join the couples walking to dinner arm-in-arm.
Seeing the city on two wheels. Hop on a motorcycle to experience Hanoi just like the locals. There’s nothing between you and thousands of other motorists enjoying life in one of the world’s most fascinating cities.
Alexander Grootmeester is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.
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