Street Food, Cyclo Rides, and a Mid-Autumn Festival in Hanoi, Vietnam
Plan a trip to Hanoi August through November for the ideal conditions. | Photo by Anh Hoang on Unsplash

Street Food, Cyclo Rides, and a Mid-Autumn Festival in Hanoi, Vietnam

Walking through Hanoi, travellers will find their eyes drawn to French colonial architecture, their appetites ready for the street food, and their wallets pulled toward locally made crafts. Local expert Son Dang is ready to show them around.

Hanoi, Vietnam – Upon Arrival

Upon Arrival

After a visitor arrives in my city, I always recommend going straight to the Old Quarter of Hanoi because of its liveliness, and it contains many historic sights: temples, pagodas, shops, restaurants, hotels, and assembly halls.

The best time to be here is from August to November. That’s when the rainy season ends, the sky is clear, and the sun is not too intense. This is also the time for more outdoor activities, interesting events, and celebrations such as the full moon festival.

I tell first-time travellers to buy items made in Vietnam representing Hanoi’s rich cultural heritage.  Historically, Hanoi has 36 streets and guilds, such as Jam Street, Sugar Street, and Salt Street. I also tell them to avoid buying stuff from the big supermarkets and shopping malls, which sell a lot of Chinese-made items.

People from here know better than to eat Western-style food, which has become popular in the last couple of years. Instead, they would rather eat local street food. As you stroll through the town, you’ll find yourself spoiled with choices for street food options such as Phở (beef noodle soup), Bún chả (grilled pork with noodles), Bánh canh (noodles), Gỏi cuốn (spring rolls), and Bánh tôm (shrimp cake).

The best museum to start your journey and get a good sense of this city is Van Mieu, the Temple of Literature. Here you will learn more about Vietnamese culture because this temple is dedicated to Confucius in Hanoi. Built in 1070, it was also host of the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university.

Parents should take their kids to many parts of the town because it is family-friendly and safe. Our city may not be filled with family attractions like theme parks and zoos, but there are loads of cultural places to go and things to do to keep the kids entertained such as food tours, cyclo rides, and water puppet shows.

Food from the Heart

Among the food (or dishes) my city is most proud of, Phở (beef noodle soup) is an absolute must. I like to go to many restaurants in town to really enjoy the different taste of Pho but I especially like the Pho Thin near the Hoan Kiem lake.

When we get together to celebrate the autumn outdoor activities, the traditional rice wine is what people here traditionally drink. I like to gather my friends and go to eat at a friend’s house, especially on the weekend, but we also eat at one of the street stalls in the old town.

When I eat completely local, I will go to Cau Go restaurant just in the heart of the Old Town. I know the food here is fresh, traditionally cooked, and served in the local style.

Another two classic, iconic restaurants include Hanoi Garden and Uu Dam Chay for tasty Vietnamese cuisine and vegetarian dishes like lotus root chips, which is a great option for vegans.

The part of town where locals come for traditional food are Tong Duy Tan and Hang Manh streets, which are located inside the Old Town. They are musts for travellers looking for more authentic traditional food.

Hanoi, Vietnam – Shopping Locally

Shopping Locally

My city is known for making Ao Dai, a traditional long dress for women. The gown is worn with trousers and has become the symbol of the Vietnamese feminine beauty and the pride of the Vietnamese people and culture.

The best outdoor food market in Hanoi is Long Bien, just right at the top of the Old Town and by the famous Long Bien bridge built by the French. And the best outdoor markets to buy everyday items are the Dong Xuan and Hom markets, both walking distance from the heart of town.

I always take visitors to the shops in the Old Quarter to buy real, locally made souvenirs. The products are mostly handmade with local materials, and the vibe is very proud because the shop owners know they are selling our locally and traditionally made items. And we know to avoid many big shops outside the Old Town because many of the items are imported from China, and there are even items made from endangered species.


Getting Deeper into Hanoi

A great book to learn more about my city is “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh, a great Vietnamese writer. The book is about the war in Vietnam from the perspective of a North Vietnamese soldier. 

Most people know about Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, built in 1886 by the French colonialists in the Old Quarter, but Cua Bac Church should also be visited because it is a Roman Catholic church in Hanoi. It was originally named Church of Martyrs’ Lady and was built in 1932 by the French administration of Indochina as a part of the Hanoi’s urban plan supervised by Ernest Hébrard.

My city is a place people are attracted to because of its colourful Old Quarter full of restaurants, cafes, bars, with a great atmosphere. A very colourful Mid-Autumn Festival in the Old Town is full of star-shaped lanterns, masks, princess hats, unicorn heads, and all kinds of toys. During the event, you can find shops and stalls filled with local food and drink.

Most people think of my city as a place to connect to other beautiful sites in the north of Vietnam, but really this is a destination to learn deeply about Vietnamese culture and customs, and see French-Vietnamese cultural blending in the architecture and creative fine arts of Vietnam.

This is one of the best places in the world to experience the French colonial influence on Vietnamese culture. Locals are proud of that because of its charms and elegance mixed among the other Vietnamese architecture.

Hanoi, Vietnam – Getting Deeper
Hanoi, Vietnam – Getting Around

Getting Around Hanoi

One thing you should know about getting around my city is that it is easy to walk to most of the famous sites of the city. If one locale is too far and you want to use an eco-friendly means of transport, you can catch one of the cyclos on your way back to your hotel. 

The best way to travel in my city to have as little impact as possible is to use a cyclo ride, which you can use to stroll through hidden alleyways and bustling markets. Shuttle buses to different sites are also a good choice if you want to hop on and off.

Outside the City

To get away and into the outdoors, I like to hike up to mountain Soc Son, which is a one-hour drive from the centre. There are many trails to see different parts of Hanoi from above, and to reach the peak of Hanoi.

For a day trip just beyond my city, I like to visit the famous city called Ninh Binh, a two-hour drive south (there are buses running daily from Old Town). While there, you’ll visit most of Ninh Binh’s best sceneries by boat. A paddleboat tour in Trang An or Tam Coc is an essential Ninh Binh experience.

Many people will head to Halong Bay in northeast Vietnam, which is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands, but locals know to go to Bai Tu Long Bay, an ideal choice for visitors who want similar landscapes with less tourism.

I really enjoy the view of my city from the Hanoi flag tower. There is a staircase inside that leads to the top with a panoramic view of Hanoi and the courtyard to the Vietnam Military History Museum next to it.

Hanoi, Vietnam – Outside the City

Hanoi, Vietnam – Connecting with Locals

Connecting with Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out in my city, I visit one of many parks around the town. We have many green spaces where you can do everything from running to camping. In Yen So Park, for example, there are kiosks serving local food as well as Hanoi’s local beers.

To hang out with my friends and go to a real insider spot, I go to Giang cafe in Hang Hanh street for the famous egg or to the Kumquat bar, where I can meet friends and listen to different kinds of music and enjoy various kinds of Vietnamese beers and cocktails.

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town is the local guide book CityPass Guide, which has continually updated information about new places to eat, drink, and events around town.

When I want to enjoy my city without spending much (or any) money, I walk along the Ta Hien Street in the Old Town. There are lots of local beer stalls. A beer costs around 60 cents and snacks are relatively cheap.

Binh Minh jazz club is my first choice for music because this place supports local musicians and is just a few minutes from Hanoi’s central lake Hoan Kiem. And when I feel like dancing, I go to the Opera NightClub for great DJ music and local acts.

Finding Solitude in Hanoi

When I want to go somewhere to sit and meditate about my incredible city, I go to the Tran Quoc Pagoda or the Botanical Garden, which is not too far from the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. You can catch local buses easily from the Old Town to those places. You can find private corners, with views over the lakes, for peaceful meditation.

If I chose the one place that makes me most proud of my city, it would have to be Hanoi’s Imperial citadel because of its traditional architecture, sites, and trees surrounding this beautiful quad. Others I also suggest are Hanoi’s Fine Art Museum, the Women Museum, and the lovely Museum of Ethnology.  

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam – Finding Solitude

Hanoi, Vietnam – Finding Solitude

When the Seasons Change, This City Shines

Spring (February-April) is the best time to take a walk to the top of Soc Son mountain. There are lots of trails for walking or even running there. It takes about 45 minutes by bus from Hanoi’s centre.

I always recommend visitors come to Hanoi in the summer (late April-late August) because there are fewer tourists. It can be a little hot but bunches of blooming yellow flowers add a brilliant glow to many streets.

The fall (September-November) here is magical when you walk around the Old Town to the West Lake.

The winter (December-February) is a great time to enjoy Hanoi’s cool temperatures. It is a great time to ride a bike in the outskirts of Hanoi, visit a local host, and have lunch cooked by one of the local homestays.

Son Dang

Local Expert

Son Dang is the motivator of the Footprint Travel team. His work ethic is unsurpassed with drive, desire, determination, and discipline. Son co-recreated Footprint Travel and Puluong Retreat, and continues to pursue his dreams in the travel industry. He believes that life and travel are one in the same and take his ideas of learning and sharing into everything he does. The notion of responsible travel has been and always will be a big part of Son’s work and life.

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