Whenever we travel to a place, we are always excited to see all of the amazing places that the location has to offer. Castles, ruins, monuments, national parks, or city centers are all fascinating and make for wonderful memories when we return home. However, sometimes, it is just sitting in a little bistro and watching the crowds or going for a walk along the river that become some of our favorite memories.
We always try to make sure that we have time to relax during our travels or to find something different to do that we didn’t know about before arriving. It is often those little surprises that weren’t planned or the time simply spent together enjoying each other’s company in a unique environment that come to our minds when we look back at our different trips. It can even be the conversations that we have with the locals in a restaurant or hotel that put a smile on our faces when we think back about our time.
Clearly we take the time to see as many of the important sights as we can when we visit a city or country, so our memories are often a mix of tourist locations and simple moments. Do you ever think back about a trip and remember a time that had nothing to do with a specific location or sight that you were planning on seeing?
When visiting Hanoi in Vietnam, most of the hotels and rental properties are located in Hanoi’s old quarter. It is a very busy district with plenty of shops and restaurants making it a perfect location to explore the best of Hanoi. Some of the highlights of the old quarter are “Sword Lake”, Hoan Kiem Lake, the night market, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. You will find plenty of street food and vendors walking with sweets and fruit for sale. Regardless of the time of day, the old quarter in Hanoi is extremely busy and the streets are packed with motorcycles, cars, and rickshaws. In fact there are so many motorcycles parked on the sidewalks that it is often easier to walk in the street than on the sidewalks.
The first thing that you need to do when exploring Hanoi’s old quarter is to learn how to cross the busy narrow streets. Many of the intersections don’t have stop lights and crosswalks and even when there are, the motorists usually ignore them. The basic rule when walking or even driving on the streets of Hanoi is that whoever gets to a spot first has the right of way. If you wait until there is no traffic, you will never make your way through the old quarter, so you simply need to walk out into the street, avoiding vehicles directly in front of you, and the other vehicles will simple swerve around you as you make your way across the street. It is a little unnerving at first, but once you get used to it, it becomes quite natural and is completely safe.
Strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular activity as the lake is centered in the heart of the old quarter and is a quiet refuge in the otherwise hectic area. The streets around the lake offer some of the best choices for restaurants featuring Bun Cha, Pho, and Egg Coffee. On weekend evenings, the streets on the north end of the lake are blocked to motorized traffic and converted into outdoor markets with live music and a variety of entertainment. Just north of that is the section of the old quarter referred to as the “beer streets” due to the number of pubs that can be found in the area.
We would highly recommend walking the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter in both the daytime and nighttime hours to get a true sense of the city. You are likely to see other tourists walking the streets as well, but it is predominantly local residents that you will find there. Families and friends gather on the streets at dinnertime and sit in their tiny chairs as they enjoy a meal together. We spent many nights in Hanoi’s old quarter and found every exploration to bring us a new and enjoyable experience.