Hanoi is an ancient city that lives and breaths chaos. It is hard to explain, so I don't think I will try, but Hanoi's Chaotic vibes have a unique effect on us culturally starved Westerners. The chaos brings about an odd sensation of calm & peace.
The area were Hanoi now stands has been inhabited since 3000 BC and at the heart of this cities ancient architecture lies the chaotic Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is located in the Northern half of Hoan Kiem District. With narrow streets and ancient architecture the area really gives off an authentic Vietnamese feel.
Let's explore 8 things to do while you are staying in the Old Quarter.
Hanoi is by far our pick when it comes to large cities. One little area of this city in particular is worth the trip - The Old Quarter. With so much personality and authentic Vietnamese culture it is hard to leave. We met many travelers who had quite literally found themselves unable to leave.
English teachers are always sought out in this rapidly developing nation, so if you find yourself unable to leave... Find out how to be a teacher.
Alright so you have made it to Hanoi Old Quarter and it is time to get exploring. I have tried to put the next 8 stops are in order of sunrise to sunset. All these spots are manageable within a day. Make it happen and have an unforgettable day!
001 - Walk around Hoam Kiem Lake
If you haven't traveled yet then let me give you a huge tip that most people either don't know or just can't be f*cked doing. Get up for every sunrise & stay up for every sunset. You don't have work so if you need to nap... you can!
Not only will you see a location at it's best, you will also be treated to minimal crowds (especially at sunrise) & be given an insiders look at local life. Hoam Kiem Lake is no exception, the sunrise vibes at this lake are some of the best I have experienced.
The first time I truly thought, "I could live here." Was during a sunrise run at this very lake. If running isn't your thing then that's ok. Take a stroll or try some yoga, just make sure you check out this beautiful paradise in the centre of the Old Quarter.
Here is a visual guide to give you an idea of the lakes location.
002 - Visit Train Road
Stop two is a cultural shock. The best way to get acquainted with your new cultural surroundings is to throw yourself into the thick of it. Train road is located just out of the Old Quarter and you can get there by foot or you can catch a Grab (learn about grabs in 004).
I wish I could tell you some crazy story about why the area is named 'Train Road,' but I can't. Because the reason it is called train road is this simple - It's a road that people live on that has a train running straight through the middle. This place is hectic & I have never seen anything like it before.
The street is so narrow that residents must ensure that all their belongings, including small children, are safely inside while the train passes (at full speed) twice daily. The trains generally pass at 3pm & 7pm but you will know for sure as you see locals begin to pull their stalls off the tracks.
The tracks are located between Lê Duẩn and Khâm Thin street which you can find on THIS MAP. The map will give you directions from Hoàn Kiếm Lake. There is also a map below with the location pinned. Be sure to bring your camera for this one and BE SAFE! The trains don't stop for anything or anyone.
Tip - Visit in the morning and again around 3pm to see the train zoom past.
003 - Visit the Note Cafe
There is an abundance of Cafes in Hanoi & contrary to popular tourist belief the coffee is f*cking good! The local cold brews are incredible but if that ain't your taste then you can still grab a decent latte or go crazy and try an Egg coffee ( check out point 006).
But if you want to check out the cafe with the biggest personality in the Old Quarter. The Note Cafe is the spot hands down. You are greeted 100 metres away from the cafe by the ridiculously happy voice of the local doorman & host. "Hello! Welcome to Note Cafe. Come in, Come in!"
Once you inevitably get sucked in to this quaint little coffee shop you will be shown to the upper levels as you duck your head up the tiny stairwell. The first thin you will notice is that every single surface (from table to walls) is covered in Post it notes with messages from other travelers.
The vibe is beautiful & the coffee is pretty damn good to. Find it HERE.
004 - Catch a Grab and take a tour around the city
Looking for an Uber in Hanoi? Ain't gonna happen homie. Uber doesn't really exist in Vietnam, but Grab does and it offers a very similar service with one amazing difference. You can order a Scooter ride. In my opinion this is one of the best ways to see the city.
Catching a Grab is cheap and easy (DOWNLOAD THE APP HERE) plus it gives you the feeling of really being part of the beautiful chaos that is Hanoi. If you don't have the App or you haven't got your data sorted then no worries. Just ask your hostel front desk team & they will sort you out.
You may have to give them a destination but I had no issues when I just asked my Grab driver to cruise around the city.
005 - Sight see at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh is not just the name of a city in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is a person, a very important and influential figure for the Vietnamese people. Ho Chi Minh is the great liberator & the man who created Vietnam as it is known today. A man who stood against the might of the United States of America & won.
Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 before the end of the Vietnam war but his accomplishments are still celebrated with vigor everyday. You will see this when you arrive at the Mausoleum grounds. Lines that stretch for kilometers just to get a glimpse of their visionary leader.
Ho Chi Minh's remains are enclosed in a glass case for all to see, cameras are not really allowed but it is a memory worth having.
006 - Have an Egg coffee at Cafe Giang
Hanoi's humble Cafe Giang is the place to go for a "cà phê trúng," or egg coffee. Egg coffee is famous in Hanoi & a must try while you are exploring the streets of the Old Quarter. So why not visit the location where it was invented.
You can order the Egg coffee as a hot or cold beverage. The cold version is consumed with the aid of a spoon and almost tastes like a custard ice cream. The hot version comes resting in a glass of hot water (to maintain the temperature). The hot coffee at the base of the drink seeps into the yellow layer on top.
The yellow layer with that sweet custard taste is in fact the egg. Thick, sweet and whisked to perfection this is quite the treat. CLICK HERE for a Map from Hoam Kiem lake or see the guide map below. HINT - It's where the black dot is.
007 - Watch the Sunset at City View Cafe
Remember how I told you earlier that you need to see the sunrises and the sunsets? I wasn't kidding guys/gals. Make the most of the golden hours, especially if you have any sort of interest in photography.
A great spot to be present and take in the amazing vibes of Hanoi's old quarter is from the City View Cafe. Watch the Chaos below and smile at the stunning colours of the golden sunset as they dance on Hoam Kiem Lake.
The Cafe is located at the top of Hoam Kiem Lake and is very easy to get to after your egg coffee is all done at Cafe Giang. But in case you are someone who struggles to get their bearings here is a map.
A clue - It is about four stories up, if it is closed then try Highlands Coffee, it's two stories down but the view is still epic!
008 - Check out the Hanoi Night markets
What a day you have had aye! Better cap it off with some amazing street food (if your stomach is up for it) & some late night bartering at the night markets. If you are traveling with a significant other, this is a great option for some cute date night action.
If you are alone then this is a great option to meet some new travelers and who knows you might meet the love of your life while hustling a local merchant for a pug shirt that catches your fancy.
The night markets are also a great way to experience some local culture. Remember be respectful & polite to the locals. Try and have a conversation with the local vendors, the Vietnamese people love travelers and are legitimately stoked to have you in their country.
Tip - You will see the night markets from where you are sitting at City View Cafe. Just in case you can't - THIS LINK will help you out.
Hanoi's Old Quarter is incredible! Paulo & I fell in love with the place, the people, the culture & the chaotic calm that makes this city so incredible. Be respectful & do your research on local customs. Don' be that culturally insensitive d*ck!
For more on Vietnam check out - 61 Things to do in Vietnam
Also be sure to Subscribe to get the best updates & guides from around the world. You can Subscribe below with your name and email. Don't worry we only send things that we believe you will be interested in.
Life is Great. Travel is Better.
Paulo & Jacques