Connected to the perks of modernism, Hanoi denies of forgoing its original, old-world charm till date. Dripping in shades of bright contrasts and hues, every single street and road in Hanoi whispers of change, of all those scenes it has seen over its history of being Vietnam’s much sought-after capital city.
After staying for a week in the northern mountain towns of Vietnam, we arrived in Hanoi. We chose to stay in the Old quarter of Hanoi for our last three days in Vietnam. In a way, Hanoi’s old quarter is the city’s attempts at separating it from the mindless hustle-bustle of metropolises. Yet, in a way, full of zeal residents, constantly on-the-move, make it step up from becoming a small hamlet town.
Old Quarter of Hanoi- Getting lost in the maze of streets.
In the city, there are more than 20 different lakes, and dedicated streets spread around downtown, each famous for a particular category of goods or offering a specific kind of service. And that reminded me of my hometown Jaipur, where the walled city has alleyways named after the products sold there. Some streets are famous for the spice shops and others for jewelry. And with that, I immediately had a connection with the old quarter of Hanoi.
In between those streets, there are the incredible street food shacks, coffee houses, and bakery corners serving the country’s best snacks. Houses sometimes so much squeezed you can jump into the neighbor’s window, and other times, you wake up to a choo-choo train running right across your backyard.
Who wouldn’t love to jump right into the streets of one such city that no-matter-how-big it is, doesn’t overwhelm you, and at its best, manages to sync up with your speed?
For getting a VISA, you have two options to take, the first one is the VISA on arrival, that you can have at the Airport itself, except that it could lead to some delays. The other, more accessible option is to get an e-VISA, we got ours from a website in the name vietnamvisapro.net, it took four days to approve, and we paid some 15 USD per person for 3-month VISA.
Vietnamese Dong, the local currency is accepted everywhere. 1 USD counts as 23,335 VND, so be ready for all those extra zeroes in your pocket, it’s just a normal thing.
Things to do in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Walk past, by the lakeside
If no one told you yet, there is a nickname to Hanoi, many lovingly call it the city of lakes and rightly so, thanks to its dozens of lakes. On the edges of Hoan Kiem Lake runs a parallel walkway, this 2 KM long path running alongside the lake is where locals come to jog. Populated by small eateries and local cafes, Hanoi’s street food is one thing extra you can treat yourself while enjoying an aimless stroll around here. On sundown, you might watch some locals grouping to exercise near the park. It’s more like their homegrown-styled Zumba, and if you’re playful enough, be their guests and join in to move a bit.
Life-sized experience of real Vietnam- The mural street
Painted in actual proportions, the walls of Phung Hung Mural Street bring you face to face with the spirit of Vietnam. The older man, sowing paddy fields and that famous wrinkled-old smile that everyone wants to watch. It’s beyond normal to watch beautiful still of Vietnamese people and culture coming alive on this huge canvas-street.
Sipping Coffee at the Hanoi’s Train Street
The overnight star of Hanoi, train street of Hanoi, became a sensation through Instagram, for good or for worse who could tell, but for you, it means one thing, a new experience! A strange addition to so many bucket lists, this street is a thing in the old quarter where original railway tracks run in between houses hardly a few yards apart. Sometime in the late 2010s when one coffee shop opened up its doors in the ‘once-only-residential’ street, suddenly people started loving their coffee sitting on a lowkey wood or plastic stool as a train gushes right in front of their faces and since then, it’s been the new big thing to do in town!
After the place got Insta-fam, the street is getting more and more restricted and sees less train traffic due to security concerns.
Orchestra, legends, and a popular show
If you don’t find legends and folktales very amusing, maybe you’d love the fun of water puppets at the Hoan Kiem lake. If you still seek more, perhaps the live orchestra playing out there will do the wonders to a beautiful evening. You’d love the water puppet show as a whole, and it’s an enjoyable cultural activity in Vietnam.
Go cafe hopping in downtown
Cafes add life to most of Vietnam’s cities; personally, the best cafe culture we have seen in a while now, Hanoi is no exception to the rest of the country. Chic, lively, historical, friendly, out of a local home, inside a garden; you name it, and you’d find a cafe that matches your vibe today! And food, don’t get me started at what a beauty their food options are, you must check out these in Vietnam!
Get yourself the unique souvenirs
From portrait sketches to quirky propaganda posters and a whole variety of Made in Vietnam postcards & stickers, Hanoi old quarter spoil you with choices of souvenirs. If you have two to three days in Hanoi, you could get yourself a Portrait Painting by this very talented artist named Nguyen Bao Nguyen. He was so indulged in his work that he didn’t even notice us initially. His work is very intricate and would surely be a lifetime memory from Vietnam.
The address is:
47, Hàng Ngang St. 04.39.260364
The other shop we liked was The Craft House- proudly made in Vietnam. This chain has various shops in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The stickers and postcards were of very high quality, and there were plenty of small items that can fit in your backpack and would not make a dent in your pocket.
The Propaganda Posters are a thing in the old quarter of Hanoi, and you will see a lot of shops selling them. Since the language is Vietnamese and the context is local, many of the propaganda posters were not understandable for me. But your eyes would definitely catch the colorful and quality printed posters.
Places to eat in the Old quarter of Hanoi
Banh Mi 25
You will miss how an actual, superb, crispy baguette tastes like if you miss Banh Mi 25 in Hanoi. No questions asked, the best Banh Mi in all of Vietnam, it stole my attention every time I passed through the street. It’s a super humble roadside shack that has climbed to great fame with nothing, but it’s original and unique Banh Mi recipe, so you can imagine how good it would be!
Though their strong point is Banh Mi, you should not miss their beverages and smoothies. For us, their mango smoothie was a constant companion of our Banh Mis.
Colorful and yummy! Vegan home is one authentic place in the city that serves a buffet of Vegan Vietnamese dishes. They are in superb demand on any singular morning and clearly, an absolute favorite amongst the locals. The variety is humongous, plus the ladies running the place are super humble. We couldn’t get all of the buffet available when we arrived here, and she very honestly waived off some amount from our bill (something really unexpected for us).
The small door at the main entrance might confuse you, but as soon as you walk through the small corridor, take the stairs on your right and the restaurant is on the first floor. The ambiance is pretty basic, but delicious food will drive you to its doors over and over! Must try their sticky rice and Mango.
Hanoi Coffee Station
After tasting their coffee in Hoi An (Phin Coffee) and Phong Nha (Phong Nha Coffee station) previously, we couldn’t break our streak here in Hanoi and not visit the last of three coffee shops now. We already knew what we had signed up for, but this place is more than our swankiest of imaginations, the kind of place where you step-in and enter a different era. The yellow building has old vibes, a staircase with mural art on its right, huge window panes, and balancing furniture.
But on top of everything, it’s their coffee that steals the show. The aroma of freshly brewed organic coffee would stay with you even when you walk out. We enjoyed our coffee and Dark Rye toast with avocado, sitting outside in the balcony with a view of the street.
Mango life is a small cafe not far from the Hoan Kiem Lake, and as the name suggests, every dish in this cafe is about mangoes. For us eating ripened and sweet mangoes in the month of February was a delight as the mango season in north India would not start before the month of April. They have a variety of dishes from Mango desserts to Mango smoothies, but our personal favorite was Mango with sticky rice, a dish from Thailand, which is popular in Vietnam too.
Places to stay
1. Mterre Boutique Hotel
On our super short stay in Hanoi Old Quarter, we stayed at this boutique hotel in downtown, it is super central to the main city square and has a fancy feel to it. Some rooms here offer a great view of the city streets from the swanky balconies, and the chic interiors are just one more wow factor for the super low prices that you pay for it.
2. Oakwood Residence Hanoi
Imagine renting out a studio in between the mirror maze of downtown Hanoi city, yes that and more comes with these apartments where you can swim while watching down at the city and enjoy the benefits of everything you could have done (if you were at home). The amenities are many, and it’s a budget option if you are planning for an apartment to rent for stay. It’s a little bit out of the old quarter, though!
3. Backy Poshtel
Jamming on with some barbeque out in the open, when you’re indoors, there’s certainly no one stopping you from lazing in the hammock or reading a book while you fall on that beanie! The unparalleled vibe, you drink, cook, and play together at this hostel located right in the old quarter of Hanoi. What could be better than all of that? Maybe the fact that it’s just apt for backpacker’s budget.
4. Hanoi Paradise Hotel and Spa
Class and sophistication so accurate, you would love peeking out of the window to see the twin realities of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The monochrome interiors are so classy, you’d already feel the luxury, and the prices are so low, it would become hard to believe the value for money you would be getting.
5. Homestay La Ava
Airy, full of natural light, this is one playful place located very strategically in the Old Quarter. Simple, clean, and colorful, the rooms are a complete winner, and the vibe doesn’t go unnoticed. On the top is a balcony with seating arrangements overlooking the streets and old buildings.
A third world country’s capital is a tough title to maintain, and when you have to keep a slow-paced life for your people, it becomes quite a task. Hanoi had watched its buildings painted in history when French colonized its roots, but it stayed the course with its history and culture. Today, Hanoi’s old-world charm still breathes easily through the concrete and glass buildings that have surrounded the new city solely because the people have chosen their calm to be bigger than the change that the modern world has dawned upon it.
Hanoi is that city with a beautiful old soul!