Authentic things to do in Hanoi – Discover the real Hanoi!
You’ve found yourself in the fast-paced city of Hanoi, Vietnam. Motorbikes are flying at you left and right. Now, what are you going to do while you’re here? Maybe you’ve got two days, maybe you’ve got three. You’re ready to pack in the sights, sounds and delectable tastes. This is a place to be experienced rather than seen, and this list will help you accomplish just that.
Book a half day or a full day and learn first-hand from a local about the Old Quarter and the major sights of Hanoi. While walking, you will have more time to watch and enjoy any attractive street food. Most importantly, your guide taught you how to cross the roads in heavy traffic. Worth every penny of his tip!
Easy to find and nearest place for you is the Old Quarter, including Hoan Kiem Lake, the lovely old Opera House. Or a bit away is Ho Chi Minh Complex, One-Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, and Imperial Citadel of Thang Long... In addition, many museums in Hanoi will be ideal places for tourists who are interested in history and culture like Hoa Lo Prison Museum, Museum of Ethnology, Vietnamese Women's Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Vietnamese Air Force Museum…
Discover the Old Quarter
While at first sight it is hectic, with loads of scooters, people and narrow streets it is beautiful. I only saw how beautiful it was at second sight, but yep: it is definitely beautiful. You probably won’t have enough time, eyes and ears to see the Old Quarter completely. But you’ll come a long way in a couple of days. Explore the streets, explore the shops, explore the markets, explore the bars and explore the street food and you’ll fall in love with the Old Quarter. If you fancy a rest for your weary feet and a bit of a novelty, hop in a “xich lo” - cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) for a quick spin. Make sure to negotiate your ride first.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Take in a Water Puppet Show
In a couple of theaters in Hanoi, you can watch a water puppet show. A show where you’ll see puppets in the water perform Vietnamese traditions complete with Vietnamese talks and music. This ancient old art and form of entertainment is a ‘only in Vietnam’ thing and therefor something you don’t want to miss. It isn’t that expensive and time consuming so easy to fit into your busy schedule as well! You can find the venues for water puppet show in Hanoi as below:
- Thang Long water puppet theatre (57 B Dinh Tien Hoang): 5 shows/day (15:10, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30 and 20:00), ticket price: type 1 – 100,000 VND, type 2 – 60,000 VND
- Vietnam Puppetry Theater (261 Truong Chinh): 2 shows/day (17:00 and 18:10), ticket price: 70,000 – 80,000 VND
- Bong Sen Water Puppet Theater (16 Ly Thai To / 79 Hang Trong): 3 shows/day (15:30, 17:00 and 18:30), ticket price: normal – 80,000 VND, VIP – 100,000 VND.
- Dao Thuc Water Puppetry Guild (Dao Thuc Village, Dong Anh District): Only 1 show each day, please book in advance, price up to the number of group.
Traditional water puppet show (Video source: Lonely planet)
Explore the night market
Purely because Hanoi is a completely different city at night as it is during day time. The scooters disappear, backpackers and locals go into the old quarter to dine and to enjoy their nights and more shops and bars open their doors than they do during daytime. While the streets are more crowded with people it feels calmer because the scooters aren’t allowed in this part of town anymore. The night market is more than just seeing a market and you definitely shouldn’t miss a quick stroll through the center at night!
Explore the street foods
Hanoi, just as other big Asian cities, is filled with small little street food places where you just need to taste one or another recipe. Next to the fact that it is enormously cheap, it is probably the most delicious Asian food you’ll taste in a while. As there are so many street food places I would recommend you to follow your nose and ask your hotel/hostel which places they adore!
Eating on street like the locals do
Take a cooking class
Just as you will find them a lot in Hoian, Hanoi offers a lot of cooking classes so you can learn how to make the most delicious Vietnamese recipes. A lot of fun and rewarding as you can go home with a little bit of Asia for your kitchen!
Biking tour to the surrounding areas of Hanoi
Leaving the streets noisy and crowded environment in the city center, you can join the biking tour to fully enjoy the fresh air and tranquility of the suburbs.
- Bat Trang Village:
Bat Trang pottery village is in the suburb near Red River that belongs to Gia Lam District and just about 10 kilometers from Hanoi city center. You will have chance to experience the typical countryside of Vietnam in this beautiful place. A trip to Bat Trang will give you a chance to watch the skillful workmen making ceramic bowls, cups, vases or classic tea sets. Especially, you can experience how to create a pottery item from the clay by your own hand and bring your products home.
- Duong Lam Village:
Duong Lam called two kings land because this is the birthplace of two kings in Vietnam are Phung Hung and Ngo Quyen. It is an old village with characteristic architecture of the North Vietnam in the past. The village gateway, the communal house and the laterite walls will help you understand more about this.
- Around Hanoi, Red River Delta:
No need to go too far, you can cycle through the Long Bien Bridge - the history witness of Hanoi and visit several villages situated next to the Red River. You will see the cornfields, gardens peach flower, kumquat gardens, rice fields ... (seasonal); I think that not many foreign tourists who had enjoy this scene. Even, low-roofed floating houses on the Red River will make you have a different perspective on your life.
Biking to the suburban of Hanoi
Shopping in Hanoi is fun and easy. The 15th century Old Quarter of Hanoi is the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere of the city: it’s delightfully exotic and is the place to go to buy Hanoi’s best handicrafts including the famed Vietnamese hand embroidery, silver carving, lacquer ware and bronze moulding. Markets in Hanoi are an amalgam of the traditional and contemporary. On one hand, you can shop in Dong Xuan Market in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District and on the other, visit Trang Tien Plaza (Hai Ba Trung) and VinCom City Towers (Ba Trieu) to witness the changing face of the city. You can purchase silk and indigenous clothes in Hang Gai (also known as Silk Street) and Hang Bong along with checking out some more shops in Nha Tho.
Chilling out at “bia hoi” (beer) corner
This is probably the most exciting and culturally fun thing to experience in Hanoi. Ta Hien Street is a popular spot for locals as well as tourists. Many of the shops brew the beer daily on their premises, so if they run out, that’s it for the day. And don’t expect any award-winning quality here either. The spot comes alive at night, and even more packed on weekends. There are other great little restaurants and bars spilling onto the side streets around it.
A very popular and busy lane for Bia Hoi
Now, what are you going to do while you're here? Let's discover the amazing sights and smells of our graceful capital city on one of our Hanoi tours.
Image Sources: Internet.