We started our Asia trip with Hanoi being our very first stop, and it was definitely a shock to the system. We wasn’t even sure if our taxi would make it to the hotel in one piece! Rules of the road and checking your blind spot definitely do not exist (not that they mean much in London either at times…) and crossing the road has become our biggest life challenge to date.
In the 4 days we’ve spent here we’ve really soaked in the culture and feel we’ve already got used to life in Hanoi. We haven’t been run over yet either which is a huge bonus – #winning!
If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, you’re definitely going to want to check out our list of what to do in Hanoi.
This was an easy one to put at the very top of our list. We’d seen so much online about the famous Train Street of Hanoi and never in a million years did we think we would have the opportunity to experience it for ourselves.
It’s just an ordinary day for locals who live life on the line. They sit, eat, play and even dry their clothes on the track in the terrifyingly narrow street. For a brief moment each day, they pack everything off the track to make way for the speeding train which now owns the street. Locals calmly move at the last minute, whilst tourists scatter and panic (like us!).
What an experience – this is a must if you’re in the area and we’ve wrote about our experience in more detail in our post about how to find the Train Street. Here you can find a detailed description, map and photos on how to find it, along with the most up to date timetable, plus a couple of tips on how to prepare for photographing the train.
If you haven’t already seen it plastered all over social media, the Note Coffee is a small coffee shop situated at 64 Lương Văn Can, on the North-West corner of Ho Hoàn Kiếm lake. It’s interior is covered top to bottom with post it notes written from people all over the world, and they serve the best coffee and milkshakes in Hanoi!
What actually caught our attention initially was how kind and welcoming the staff were, probably being the nicest people we’ve met on our trip so far! They even speak fluent English which was a slight relief after struggling with the language barrier everywhere else.
Seeing the notes from all corners of the world was so heart-warming. Amazing life quotes, travel inspiration, love notes to partners and family, amazing drawings and even the odd bad joke (which Luke added to).
This is definitely something you don’t want to miss, so pop in and leave your mark!
Google Maps: The Note Coffee
Sword Lake and the Turtle Tower
Sword Lake (Hoàn Kiếm) is a lovely big lake to walk around, which has a small island holding a tower known as the Turtle Tower (Thap Ruá). This tower holds great significance to the Vietnamese as it commemorates the victory of Le Loi, who had freed the Vietnamese from the Chinese forces back in 1425 – the tower has been there since it was originally built in the 17th century.
The lake is surrounded by street food, clothes markets and an endless amount of coffee shops, and for those wanting a break from rice and noodles, you’ll be glad to know there’s a McDonald’s on the South-East corner.
Google Maps: Sword Lake
If you love food and love immersing yourself in different culture, then the Old Quarter is the place for you. This is also known as the backpacker quarter of Hanoi. Along the sides of every street you’ll find countless food stalls and restaurants with small tables and chairs or stools. For us this was all very new and quite daunting, as some places don’t seem too welcoming – we came to the conclusion that some of these places are more for the locals rather than tourists, so it’s just a case of wandering until you find somewhere that suits you.
We found a street called Pho Hang Buom on our first night which we like the most, which is where most of the crowd tended to be, including tourists. The restaurant staff are more welcoming giving out menus to read and there was music blasting from a couple of places which is always fun! Definitely the place for some evening entertainment.
Google Maps: Pho Hang Buom
Egg Coffee at the Giảng Cafe
We were lucky enough to hear about this place whilst we were in Hanoi, so decided to pay it a visit. The initial thought of egg in coffee turned our noses up, but after hearing the story and knowing how popular it was, we thought we’d be open minded and give it a try.
Giảng Café is the historic place egg coffee originated, first invented by owner Mr. Nguyen Giảng in 1946. Milk was scarce back then in Vietnam, so he used egg yolks instead of milk, and we admit it wasn’t a bad idea!
Luke decided not to go with the egg beer so just had a regular Hanoi beer instead, but I tried egg coffee with rum – it was almost like an Irish coffee, with thick velvety foam! I enjoyed my drink but think it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you should definitely give it a go!
The Café itself is a little hard to find, but once you find it, it’s very authentic inside. Old, but authentic. The address is below, and it is located through a small alley way. It has a slightly hidden sign so you just have to look closely for it!
Google Maps: Giảng Café
This was slightly out of the way just outside the backpackers area in the Old Quarter but we definitely recommend the visit, the views are absolutely stunning. We braved it and walked here, which turned out to be about a 30 minute walk each way from the Old Quarter. We suggest getting a taxi as this part of the city is a lot busier with bigger roads – not the best to cross at night.
Chill with reasonably priced cocktails, ambient music and beautiful panoramic views of the city – we promise you wont be disappointed!
It’s located at the below address and be aware it is closed from 21:00-21:30, and then re-opens until 2:00.
Google Maps: The Rooftop
This was a great last minute venture big thanks to Sarah, the Five Foot Traveler! We hadn’t actually heard of this prior to our trip so was an interesting last minute discovery. Once we had heard about it from Sarah, we were so keen to go just for the sheer significance of the lake and its story – we just had to see it.
Huu Tiep Lake is renowned for the American B-52 bomber that still lies there today, amongst its original wreckage from when it crashed into the lake in 1972. After the Americans killed over 3,000 locals in the Christmas bombing, the Vietnamese took revenge and shot down the B-52 during Operation “Linebacker II”. Four of the six men on board were taken prisoner, the other two died in the crash.
We felt so overwhelmed to be in this spot which physically portrays so much history – to see it with our own eyes and to be able to imagine what happened here that many years ago was just surreal.
There’s not much else in the area, so may not be worth the visit for some, but you can’t beat a bit of history!
Google Maps: B-52/Huu Tiep Lake
As you walk around Sword Lake, you will stumble across the Ngoc Son Temple. You’ll be taken back by it’s beauty and if you get there early enough you can witness the locals doing their morning yoga and Tai Chi – the pagoda opens 8am – 5pm.
The name of the temple translates to “Temple of the Jade Mountain” and is mostly dedicated to the war hero General Tran Hung Dao who defeated an armed force of 300,000 who were sent to invade Vietnam by Mongolian Emperor, Kublai Khan, in the 13th century.
Google Maps: Temple of Jade Mountain
Exploring Hanoi and experiencing all of the above definitely left us feeling fulfilled, and that we had really lived the true style of Hanoians and discovered what the beautiful city has to offer.
We promise you these places are really worth the visit, and we hope you love your time in Hanoi 🙂
If you have any more recommendations for Hanoi that we missed, or have more information on your website, please let us know in the comments and share your site!
Enjoy Hanoi, we fell in love with it!
Kelly and Luke