We are excited to have Alex from The Wayfaring Voyager share her favourite places to visit in Hanoi in this Off the Beaten Path Hanoi Travel Guide!
Hanoi is a city that captures all of your senses, and with so many things to do here, it can be difficult to choose what you want to experience. I had a month to walk around the city and get to know it, and I found that some of my best memories tended to be the ones that strayed a bit from the normal sights a typical tourist would visit. Whether you visit for a day or 5, Hanoi needs to be on your Vietnam Itinerary.
That being said, the people in Vietnam were some of the kindest I have ever met on my travels, and I found that simply interacting with them was my favourite part about being in Hanoi.
Here are 6 activities you might want to consider doing if you don’t want to follow the typical tourist route on your journey to Hanoi.
1. Try an egg coffee on the banks of the West Lake
Vietnam is a country that is changing rapidly, and there is no greater sign of this than the area around West Lake. Home to some new restaurants, boutiques, and an incredible view of the large body of water bordering the neighbourhood (it has a 17km perimeter), the West Lake area is worth spending a quiet morning at.
Vietnamese coffee is also some of my favourite, and their special egg coffee could also function as dessert. There are several coffee shops along the edge of the lake where you can take your time and enjoy the serenity of the place before diving into some of the more chaotic parts of town.
2. Get a history lesson at the Hilton Hanoi
Along with its beauty, Vietnam has had a past filled with strife. Plenty of tourists opt not to visit the Hoa Lo (American soldiers jokingly called it the Hilton Hanoi when imprisoned there) because it is such a strong reminder of the war. On the other hand, it allows you a glimpse into the life of the average citizen of Hanoi during the time, and it serves as a reminder of the atrocities of war.
3. Take a bike ride through the countryside
Countryside? In Hanoi? Yes, there is a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city—though it’s not exactly leisurely. You can sign up for bike tours that take you to the forest of the banana trees located smack dab next to the city center. Get to know some of the local farmers who tend to the area, get a beautiful view of the Red River, and avoid harrowing traffic on the way back to the Old Quarter.
This area is also home to some of Vietnam’s floating villages, where you can get a glimpse of what life is like living in a container on the river. You can also sip on a cup of tea and eat a snack of fresh bananas right off the tree.
4. Head to the weekend night market for some shopping
Looking for interesting and unique gifts to bring home? The weekend night market is the place to be. While not everything will be something you’d love to take back with you (there are a lot of phone covers and silly t-shirts), it’s a great place to people watch and is home to some of the best street food in Vietnam.
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5. Avoid speeding trains on the “Train Street”
This residential neighbourhood adds a whole new meaning to the adage “living on the edge.” Twice a day, a train passes only inches away from local homes. When residents hear a train coming, they quickly press tight to the walls of the homes. Make sure to check the train times before you go so you don’t risk becoming smushed!
It is the perfect way to get a glimpse into the lives of a modern Vietnamese family. You might even be invited in for some dinner.
6. Check out the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Vietnam is home to a vast number of various ethnic groups and has been a melting pot for centuries. You can get an idea of how Vietnam came to be through its people by visiting the Ethnology museum. There are often a number of demonstrations going on, so you might have the chance to learn about folk games or stilt walking. It’s a fairly large museum, so you might want to devote an entire afternoon to wandering around.
There’s so much to explore in Vietnam meaning Hanoi is often overlooked for Halong Bay or Ho Chi Minh City. However, by wandering a bit off the tourist path, you can get to know why this city has captured the hearts and minds of millions of travellers.
Alex is a Montana-born traveller and writer. She is currently a New York dreamer living in Brooklyn, encouraging sustainable travel for millennials. You can read more about her travels at The Wayfaring Voyager. You can also follow her on Instagram at @wayfaringvoyager.