When I say Hanoi, Vietnam is big, I mean it’s MASSIVE. But it doesn’t feel like it. Yes, you feel like you’re in a city, but it is separated into neighborhoods. And the central lake makes it feel less…crowded.
We had 48 hours in Hanoi after spending seven days in El Nido Palawan, Philippines, and before heading up north for three days in Sapa. You can see our guide to El Nido here.
Make sure you start your day at The Note Coffee. You’ll understand when you see my photos from inside the cafe. You’ll order up front. Technically you could leave immediately after getting your coffee. But I encourage you to venture up the narrow stairwell to see the thousands of sticky notes posted everywhere – on the walls, on the tables, on the chairs, hanging from the ceiling…everywhere. We didn’t sit down, but did want to see the defining aspect of this coffee shop.
Oh, and the coffee was good. You even get your own personal note. There was no one there when we arrived, so we spoke to the baristas for a bit. Both of which were Vietnamese, speaking English with a British accent. Very confusing for our westernized brains, as you can imagine.
The coffee shop overlooks the lake. So after your coffee, take stroll. That’s exactly what we did.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a central point in Hanoi. It makes for a lovely activity for tourists and locals alike.
Take a stroll around the lake, see the red bridge, the hanging tree, and the iconic Turtle Tower. It was an aggressively misty day when we were in Hanoi. But I much preferred the 65-67 degree weather to a warmer temp. Plus I kind of like the mist on the lake.
As you make your way around the lake from the coffee shop, you’ll see the red bridge almost immediately, keep walking and you’ll come to the hanging tree, then several look out points for the Turtle Tower. Just meander around the lake, stop in shops if you like, and enjoy the relaxing vibe in the midst of a bustling Vietnamese city.
We happened to be in Hanoi during a Vietnam-Japan Celebration of some kind. Didn’t research what it was. Still have no clue. But we were not mad about.
To the left, across the road from the lake, there was a huge flower garden of sorts. And the outside read, “Japan” and “Vietnam.” Most of the people inside looked to be in a specific attire. I assumed this is traditional wear, but can’t say for sure. One thing I do know is that it was beautiful and people wanted photos with the Americans (that’s us).
That’s the best thing about world travel. Planning and being prepared is great. But often you run into a local holiday, celebration or festival. This was the case for us on more than one occasion.
If you’re in Vietnam, and you’re not consuming a diet of 50% Banh Mi and 50% Pho, what even are you doing?
There are about fifteen trillion Banh Mi spots in Hanoi. We can vouch for Banh Mi 25, pictured below. They aren’t “pretty” sandwiches. But don’t let that push you away from their heavenly goodness. The bread is like no bread you’ve ever experienced; and you can’t beat the simple, yet delicious flavor combos they come up with. These were egg, beef, carrot and pickled cucumber I think. So simple. So. Freaking. Good.
BANH MIS ARE SO GOOD. EAT SOME.
If you’re looking for some overstimulation, head to the central market in Hanoi. You’ll find copious amounts of clothing, tailors, knick-knacks, food and more.
This might be a bit much to take in if you’re fresh off a large time difference. But worth seeing if you’re in Hanoi for at least 48 hours.
Around the market, you’ll see foods you’ve likely never seen, and vendors of all types. Support local and get SOMETHING while you’re here. It’s all part of the adventure.
Egg coffee is a very sweet egg concoction (like a cream would be) mixed with a very bitter coffee. The bitter coffee cuts through and balances out the sweetness of the egg.
We went to Old Town Garden Cafe. It was this adorable, hidden-feeling spot, right off the road. You’d never know it was there. This is typical of establishments in Hanoi. Literal hole in the wall that opens up to a functioning restaurant, spa or hotel. The coffee here was delicious. And it was a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle for an afternoon break (caffeine hit).
The scooters you see below are INSIDE the cafe.
We ventured back to our hotel for a nap, woke up and got Pho at what turned out to be THE BEST Pho joint we experienced in all of our five weeks in Vietnam. I give you Pho Suong.
After finishing our pho, and telling the ONE chef, cooking outside on the street that words can’t describe how amazing his pho was, we walked back out to the lake to see the bridge lit up. You can pay to go across it but we were more interested in the Japan – Vietnam celebration we’d visited early. It too was lit up and had music playing. So we headed that way.
We certainly wish we had more than 48 hours in Hanoi. We didn’t leave the center. There was no need for the amount of time we had there. Whether you’re staying for one day or one week, Hanoi won’t disappoint. The people and food are amazing. We suggest staying near the center if you can.
We stayed at the Lakeside Palace Hotel, with a view of the Lake. Because of our limited time in Hanoi, we wanted to be in the CENTER of Hanoi, near the lake. While it’s not the nicest place we’ve ever stayed, it did the trick and the staff were incredibly helpful. It felt safe, was quiet enough, and was clean.
I’d recommend if you’re looking for a clean budget in an amazing location.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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