Day One: Shop, Eat and Explore in the Old Quarter
After you get to your accommodation drop your bags and set out towards Hang Bac street. This is a main road that will connect you to Ma May Street. Here the road is lined with knock off goods, which in most cases look extremely real! Factory quality merchandise overflow out of the shops; Brands like The North Face, Under Armor and Patagonia are sold at a fraction of the price, along with tons of other brands at amazing deals. If you don’t find anything that strikes your fancy, don’t worry – there are many more streets filled with things to buy!
Here are some good streets to visit!
Hang Bac – Silver Street
Ma May – Knock-off Clothing
Hang da – Custom Clothing and Textiles
Hang gai – Traditional Vietnamese Clothing and Silk
Nha Tho – Boutique Shops
Hang Dau – Shoes
** Make sure if you are in Hanoi on a weekend to check out the Old Quarter’s Weekend Market!
Eat, eat, eat!
All of walking you will be doing is sure to make you hungry! All around the Old Quarter are restaurants and food stalls, I recommend grabbing a seat on the sidewalk and munch on Bahn Mi (Vietnamese Sandwhich) or try to find some Ban Oc (Vietnamese Snail Soup).
If you aren’t too hungry, grab a Vietnamese coffee or Hanoi’s famous Egg Coffee and people watch. There are tons of good cafes usually with a second or third floor where you can sit and watch the craziness of the streets below!
To read more about Hanoi’s delicious foods take a look at my 5 Must Try Foods of Hanoi, Vietnam!
Explore Hoan Kiem Lake:
Hoan Kiem is a historical landmark as well as a central meeting place for the community. In the middle of the lake is Ngoc Son Temple which is connected to the main land by a beautiful red bridge. Legend has it that in the 15th century Heaven sent a sword down to the Emperor of Vietnam, with it he successfully drove the Chinese out of the land. Afterwards, a large golden turtle rose from the lake and took back the sword, thus giving the lake the name Ho Hoan Kiem, Lake of the Restored Sword.
Take a stroll around the lake and mingle with locals, we got approached by university students wanting to practice their English! On Fridays and Weekends traffic is blocked off and the large streets are open for all sorts of activities. School groups/clubs were gathered together hanging out, roller blading and playing card games. There was even an Art exhibition set up featuring photographs from Vietnam.
Day Two: Sightsee by Day and Night
A great way to see a lot of Hanoi is to take a free walking tour! On this you will see many of the top attractions, as well as eat and drink authentic Vietnamese fare with University students who know the best places to go! It should be easy to just book a tour through your accommodation – just make sure to give them a days notice!
Often times tours are flexible and you can choose what you want to see! On our tour we saw Hoa Lo Prison, Ngoc Son Temple (Temple on the lake!), Old East Gate and St. Joseph’s Cathedral! Our guides also took us to an amazing lunch spot where we ate Ban Cha, along with showing us the local spots for Vietnamese coffee and Tea!
Hoa Lo Prison:
Visiting the Hoa Lo Prison is a must on any trip to Hanoi! The museum is laid out nicely and is very informative. As you walk through the different chambers you learn about the Vietnamese Revolution against the French as well as how the prison was used during the American War.
Old East Gate:
Of the 16 medieval gates to the city, this is the last one standing! A neat place to explore, surrounded by interesting small streets and allies full of fruit and snacks!
St. Joseph’s Cathedral:
This is the oldest church in Hanoi, being built by the French in the 1800’s. Fun fact: While the majority of the country does not practice Catholicism nearly four million do!
While there you should grab another specialty of Hanoi – Lemon Tea! There is a little hole in the wall place right across the street where locals hang out and escape the heat, eating sunflower seeds as well as sipping on this refreshing beverage!
Bia Hoi: Hanoi’s Beer Corner
After a full day of walking its time to chill out! Grab a beer on Hanoi’s infamous beer corner (Bia Hoi) in the Old Quarter! Located on on Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc, it is the most popular place to drink for cheap! As the night goes on the corners selling beer expand and retract as the influx of customers change.
These outdoor hangouts are constructed of just small stools on the sidewalk so as more people arrive stools are added, and they leave stools are taken away. You can watch the hustle and bustle of the ever breathing roads long into the night! Roads are blocked off making this central spot in the Old Quarter like one large party!
Hanoi is an absolutely beautiful city full of color, life and vibrancy! Two days is definitely not enough time to see everything in the city but you can comfortably see a lot! Make sure to bring your wits and your walking shoes, Hanoi will most definitely not disappoint!
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Keep on smiling!