Hanoi- A day exploring the way locals do


Being over a thousand years old and recently modernized, Hanoi has a lot to offer. Besides things that are popularly known among tourists like the mausoleum, museums, walking in the Old Quarter… There are places and things to do that will show you the different face of Hanoi looking from different angles. Things that most tourists don’t know and don’t hear of when visiting Hanoi.


These 9 things to do when in Hanoi will bring you the complete feel of Hanoi like you are living here. It’s has been put in order of time so you can have a perfect day exploring Hanoi the way that 99% of tourists will miss.


       1.   Go to the early flower and fruit markets.

Quang Ba flower market and Long Bien whole sale fruit and vegetable market open very early – 2 A.M when the city is still sleeping. Quang Ba market is a whole sale market selling fresh flowers from the Quang Ba and Nhat Tan flower villages nearby. Flower shop owners in Hanoi come here to buy big bunches of flowers for retailing later in their shops. Long Bien market is a wholesales fruit and vegetable market.


During the night there are many trucks taking farm products from provinces around Hanoi to this market. And restaurants, hotels and fruit shops all come here for good quality, cheap price and very fresh green things.


Quang Ba flower market



You should come to these two market around 5 A.M (don’t party too hard the night before then). This is a good time to have a stroll around to witness the colors, activities and people here in these unique markets.



Carrying fruits in Long Bien market



      2.   Doing Tai-chi around Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning.

Hanoians start the day very early. At 5 o’clock in the morning you’ll see already many people hanging around Hoan Kiem lake doing Tai-chi, meditation, working out or just simply having a slow walk to enjoy the rare freshness of the early morning air ( before the 4,5 million scooters appear ! ) Hoan Kiem Lake is always the place to go for those who live nearby. When you are here you can just simply join in any of the Tai-chi group, release your mind and feel the magic air running in your body (well good luck with that).


If you are not a big fan of Tai-chi then Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning is also very photogenic! Many chances of interesting photos for Hanoi lovers!




Doing Tai-Chi on the bank of Hoan Kiem Lake



      3.   Eat street food in food stalls

Your stomach is now telling you that you’ve had a really good start for the day?! It’s time to sit down in one of the many low plastic stools to trying one or several type of street food that is being sold right at every street corner of the Old Quarter, just a few minutes of Hanoi. You can choose between numerous kinds of noodle, sticky rice, soup…or even boiled balut for breakfast.  Hanoi street food has always been an interesting factor to add in the culture of Hanoi.


Trying street food right on the street early in the morning after your Tai-chi lesson is a second to none experience when in Hanoi. After food you should really find yourself a street cafe in Nguyen Huu Huan street nearby, have a cup of thick strong Vietnamese drip coffee, watch the traffic starting and plan ahead your interesting day. It’s just started!


Eating street food on food stalls


   4.   Have a walk in the historical Long Bien Bridge.

From the Old Quarter where you have that Vietnamese coffee with condense milk. It is only 5 minute to walk to the Long Bien Bridge. Not only just another bridge crossing the Red river, Long Bien Bridge has been a witness for changes of Hanoi over the years. Since being built by the French in 1902, Long Bien Bridge is now one of the symbols for Hanoi during the French colonial time.  


This bridge was built with 3 lanes and the lane in the middle is used for the railway. With an impressive structure of steel and cement, Long Bien Bridge is now a popular destination for young people to admire the Red river and the land in between the river. Take a walk from Long Bien train station side to get to Ngoc Thuy side and back with the river breeze going through your comb less hair. That’s one of the coolest feel ever!



Walking along the legendary Long Bien Bridge



    5.   Take a local bus tour around new area of Hanoi

You may have done all the Old Quarter and the French Quarter and want to discover more the extended city? Taking a local bus is a great idea. It is a cheap (costs you just 7000VND- don’t sweat- that’s only 30 US cents), worriless and interesting way of traveling to the extended new part of the city. Local buses are the very popular mean of public transport in Hanoi, actually the only way of public transport now in the city.


Many school children, office people and workers choose this kind of transport to avoid the many millions of mopeds in town. By doing it this way you can avoid being stuck in the traffic surrounded with many vehicles outside. Plus you’ll have chance to blend in with the locals and see their everyday life.


Just take a bus map with you and start another new bus when this one stops. It will bring you lots of nice surprises! This is my favorite way to see Hanoi in a leisure day (when I don’t have to kill some of the motorbike riders one the way to work!). Just sit there in the bus looking out of the windows witnessing life passing by like a slow motion movie.



Buses are the second most taken in Hanoi after scooters



    6.   See Hanoi from the clouds

No I don’t mean you go all the way to the Hanoi airport and take a flight. After those bus routes your stomach is telling you again it’s time for lunch. (What a greedy bro!)  And what’s the coolest way to have lunch in Hanoi? Lunch with a panorama view of the city! Hanoi has been innovating with many skyscrapers being built. You can always get to the top of those high buildings for a great view of the city when having lunch.


The Summit Lounge on the top of the Sofitel Plaza Hanoi Hotel is the place to go. Or want a place with more local people? Then try the newly built Lotte Tower near Australian Embassy or the Kangnam Tower (bit far away from the inner city) for an impressive view of Hanoi with a different angle from the above. I recommend you to do this twice, once in the day and once in the night time to see how big different the scenery changed. Don’t forget to take some photo to impress your friends.



Thanh Nien road crossing the West Lake from above



    7.   Watching the sunset in West Lake

Located in the west of Hanoi, the West Lake is the biggest water body in the city. This is the living area for many wealthy people in Hanoi with beautiful houses, villas and gardens. Take an electric golf buggy for a tour around the lake and stop by several temples and pagoda on the way. It’s hard to notice that the sun is setting without your attention. Sunset over the water of West Lake is impressive and beautiful.


Best to do it with your loved one to enjoy the scenery and the atmosphere of the nightfall. My favorite place to watch the sunset is from the Sunset bar in the Intercontinental Hanoi West lake hotel.  A beer (or ten!) with a great view, it could be better to end your day exploring Hanoi.



Watching sunset over the water of West Lake



    8.   Join the retreat ceremony in front of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

On the way back to your place/hotel you should pass by the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum area to witness the retreat ceremony. It is time now they lower our national flag to end the day in Ho Chi Minh complex area. At 9 o’clock all activities in the Ba Dinh square stops when the loudspeaker announces it’s time for the retreat ceremony. The National flag will now be lowered by a troop of 34 soldiers marching from the right side when the music starts doughtily from the right side. If you haven’t done the visit to Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in the day then this is a good alternative.



Retreat ceremony in front of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum



That’s it! You have already finished a very interesting day exploring around Hanoi in a way that not many tourists know. You have witnessed the daily life of Hanoi people and understand more about this unique city the way that you’ll never forget.


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Pham Tuyen