girl on moped hanoi vendor

During our amazing 3 week itinerary in Vietnam, Hanoi was our first stop.

Our first impression was one of surprise, and we realized, as we left the airport, that we were in for an incredible time.

What an effervescent city! We set out to explore the best of Hanoi not really knowing which way to turn.

Hanoi became the capital of Vietnam in 1976 after the reunification between the North and South.

It’s located in the north and has become a hustling bustling city with a rising economy.

But this city is also full of contradictions.  Modern ways and ancient traditions cohabitate side by side in unorganized ease.


best of hanoi street vendor sitting in an alley hanoi
Street vendor, Hanoi. Image: UrbanPax



To get a glimpse of the best in Hanoi, keep your eyes open.

Colonial architecture and skyscrapers blend.  Beautiful ancient temples and pagodas are neighbors to trendy shops.

Make sure to visit the older museums as well as contemporary exhibits to understand a bit of Vietnam’s history.

Explore the best of Hanoi in tiny spaces right on the street, or in cramped apartments over small shops.

And of course with locals and vendors who push their carts daily selling everything from flowers to meat.

That’s how you get that Hanoi vibe.



woman with plants in bicycle hanoi
Woman selling plants, Hanoi. Photo: Urban Pax


tuk tuk driver with hat hanoi
Hanoi, Image: Urban Pax

For us, the best part of Hanoi was walking the streets and taking it all in.

On almost every corner the smell of food blends with the sound of traffic and the traffic is mostly nonstop.

street cook woman hanoi
Woman cooking Hanoi Photo: Urban Pax

To escape the noise and the rain we took a side alley and ate with a family who cooked up a feast with almost nothing.

What a delight!

Between finger pointing at foods we knew nothing about and smiling, laughing at how impossible it was to communicate, we ended up making a friend and enjoying a delicious lunch.

We got as comfortable as possible on the small low stools and kept asking for more.


Hanoi is a very walkable city.

Explore different neighborhoods and side streets, it’s really the best way to get the feel of how locals live and understand a small part of their way of life.

Everywhere people work or sit on the sidewalks and shops overflow with an enormous amount of products crammed into extremely small spaces.




Hanoi hat shop two girls walking
Hanoi shop. Image: Urban Pax


.Although the noise level was often overwhelming, we did find a few quiet spots throughout our day, especially at Lake Hoan Kiem and private courtyards.t


man on bicycle with flowers in the back hanoi
interior court doors hanoi
Hanoi, Image: Urban Pax


I wouldn’t say the best of Hanoi are motorbikes.  Quite the contrary. 

But it’s a fact they’re everywhere and majority rules! One wonders how they manage to weave in and out of what seems like chaotic driving – without causing any major accidents. 

But by some unexplained method, it works.

Except when tourists try to cross the street!

After hearing lots of the same advice, here is how we attempted to cross the street properly.


haoi lots of mopeds on street
Traffic Hanoi, image: Urban Pax


Walk at an average pace, keep walking.

Don’t stop, even if you see motorbikes coming at you from different directions don’t slow down or speed up and don’t stop.

They will go around you naturally.

If you panic in the middle of the road, then they will be forced to stop and that gets dangerous, as this will force those behind to do the same.. and it all becomes a scary mess.

So hold hands, keep going together at a steady pace, and you’ll get to the other side safely!

Related Reading: How To Have Fun In Charming Mai Chau


Hanoi can be a confusing city with a long list of things to see, but once you get your bearings, you’ll discover a whole different way of doing things.

It’s impossible to cover it all in a short time frame, but below are a few things that we enjoyed during our week in Hanoi, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!


best of hanoi street vendor posing with fruits on back of bike
Street Vendor Hanoi. Image: Urban Pax

The best of Hanoi resides in the old quarter, which is in the Ba Dinh District.

On the narrow streets and back alleys, you’ll find lots of street food, small eateries, restaurants, and shops.

You can get anything you want here, including changing money, travel agencies and of course hotels ranging from hostels to 5 stars.



outdoor eatery crowds hanoi
Nightlife Hanoi

.In the evenings, locals are out eating, drinking and socializing sitting on small stools laid out on the sidewalk.

The area is touristy but also incredibly vibrant. The church is worth a visit and Hoan Kiem lake is close by.


seamstress working in shop hanoi
Seamstress shop, Hanoi. Image: Urban Pax


food shop people outside hanoi
Small eatery, Hanoi: Urban Pax



hanoi neighborhood cafe
Hanoi outside eatery neighborhood. Image: Urban Pax

Hanoi street food umbrella image urbanpax

woman making street food hanoi
Street cooking, Hanoi Image: Urban Pax


The old quarter is a chaotic labyrinth.
Over the years people moved here from other parts of Vietnam hoping to make money and provide for their family by selling their goods. 

But it’s all done in such a disordered way one wonders how it’s even possible.

While you walk the streets, you can find everything from live ducks to cheap rain ponchos to chic restaurants to street food.

Not to mention the useless gadget shops plus a multitude of things you didn’t even know could co-exist together.

It’s actually fascinating.

The Old Quarter was once called 36 Streets.

souvenir shop with woman outside hanoi
Hanoi shop. Image: Urban Pax

  It’s one of the best areas to explore in Hanoi. You can view first hand how trade and shop owners worked back in the days.. 

  Each street represented a particular trade. 

  As an example, you have a street with shops selling only musical instruments on Hàng Trống, (Drum Street).

Or silk on Hang Gai Street (Silk Street) and so on.

Merchants (hang) selling only silver (bac) are located on Hang Bac (silver street). 

Most of the 36 streets are named accordingly.

If you want to buy something specific, whether it be jewelry, fabrics or car parts, there’s a street for that.



girl looking at musical instruments shop hanoi
Drum Street, Hanoi. Image: Urban Pax


It’s still like this today in spite of the plethora of tourist-geared shops that have popped up everywhere.

Look deeper, and go further down the street for authenticity.

Don’t stop at first impressions.



boys at corner shop on street Hanoi




gray facade of Temple of Literature hanoi
Temple of Literature, Hanoi. Image: Urban Pax


The Temple of Literature is just amazing and one of the best and our favorite place to visit in Hanoi.

It’s dedicated to Confucius and the art of learning. And it is here that the first university in Vietnam came to be in 1076.

Made up of several symbolic sections and five courtyards, each is worth spending some time to observe the details and understand that particular period.



two red confucius statues
Statue Confucius Temple of Literature. Image: Urban Pax


burnt incense in front of wood altar
Burning Incense Temple Hanoi. Image: Urban Pax


Only royal families and aristocrats were allowed to learn here, but with time the university eventually opened its doors to all. 

Successful students who were highly recognized had their names engraved in stone. It was a really big deal back then!


old structure temple of literature hanoi
Temple of Literature Image: Urban Pax


red facade with double doors simple hanoi
Temple of Literature Hanoi Image: Urban Pax


Walk through the different pavilions, dedicated to ceremonies and admire the symbolic statues.

Learn about the rich history of this temple and notice how ancient Vietnamese architecture has held up throughout the years.



roof top angle temple hanoi
Temple of Literature, Hanoi Image: Urban Pax


On the plus side, walk around the beautiful garden that includes a large basin filled with plants and lily pads.

This place is a beautiful, poetic refuge, giving off an extreme sense of peace within the chaos of the city.


path in garden temple of literature hanoi
Garden Temple of Literature Hanoi Image: Urban Pax





yellow hoa lo prison facade hanoi


The French built la Maison Centrale around 1890.

Through several conflicts and wars the name changed, and today it is ironically called the Hanoi Hilton.

It’s on the best of Hanoi list so that we don’t forget the past.

This very small museum is shocking as it shows life-sized models of prisoners as well as dungeons and death row.


prisoners shackled hoa lo prison hanoi
Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi Image: Urban Pax


You can read the history on the walls, but some say it is not all accurate and may even a bit biased.

But still, it’s worth taking the time to understand the treatment of  Vietnamese and American political prisoners.

It’s about a half-hour walk from the Old Quarter, or you could take a taxi here. The entrance fee is minimal.



outside of ho chi minh mausoleum with line

Located in Ba Dinh Square. The line to get in can be quite long long long as many Vietnamese people come here to pay their respects.

So if it is scorching out, beware and bring water while waiting.

If you want to come anyway, follow the path after entering, read about the history displayed on the panels – it all leads to Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place.

Uncle Ho as locals nicknamed him was and still is highly revered here in Vietnam.

People come from all over the country to pay tribute.

The one built for Lenin inspired the mausoleum, so just between you and me, it’s a little somber…



view of temple on lake hanoi



The best and the only oasis of calm we found in Hanoi. But do go very early in the morning for peace and quiet before all sorts of activities start!

Locals exercise and socialize around the lake before crowds appear.

There is a small coffee shop on site.

It’s a slice of morning life before the noise level rises, and people start crowding the area giving it a completely different feel.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake means Lake of the Restored Sword based on an ancient legend that dates from 1428.

If you are not an early riser, then try to come on weekends when part of the lake is off-limits to cars and mopeds.

It reduces the noise considerably.. but not the crowds!




Looking out towards the lake, you’ll see a small temple.

It’s Ngoc Son temple, and it sits on the small Jade island dedicated to Confucian and Taoist philosophers.

To reach the Temple of Jade Mountain, walk a bit and across Huc Bridge.



red bridge to ngo temple hanoi
Huc Bridge Image credit: Andre Lettau



path in green area ethnology museum


The museum located on the outskirts of the city helps us to learn the history from past to present times.

The indoor exhibit is ok, but the most attractive part is outdoors (personal opinion)., where you get hands-on experience by going through the reconstituted huts and homes.

It’s a great glimpse of how Vietnam’s ethnic groups lived.

Visit Website for more Info


art photo of women's museum in hanoi vietnam

Exhibits and displays on several floors.

Each floor represents a theme.

And each theme teaches about the role of Vietnamese women throughout the years and their commitment during the war and their struggle for independence.

There is a lot to take in here, pace yourself or choose the themes you are most interested in.

Audioguide is available.

Visit the website for more Info.


Initially built by the French this market underwent several transformations and is the largest covered wholesale market in Hanoi.

One of the best of Hanoi simply because it’s huge and keeps you captivated for hours!

Stalls tightly fit side by side on three floors, and whatever you need, you will find. From dried shrimp to hats to phones to piled mushrooms and flowers.

You sort of feel like a sardine in a maze while making your way through the aisles, but after all, that’s certainly what makes it a unique market.



.Once outside of the market, we saw a woman having lunch on a pile of woven textiles.

It looked so good that I tried asking where we could get the same thing.

With a big smile, she tried using hand signs pointing us in the right direction insisting it was “that” way… we said thank you and goodbye longer than it took for us to say hello, she was so lovely.

But, in the end, we never found the place and ended up eating in a tiny shop on a street corner.




best of hanoi tray with eggrolls and sauce
Food Tray Hanoi. Image: Urban Pax



Hanoi proved to be a busy, chaotic maze-like city with crowds everywhere.

Lots of Traffic and a very high noise level. 

But we still explored some amazing and worthy places that make Hanoi great. Like the Temple of Literature and the Old Quarter.

We also took a more in-depth look into local life around the lake and on the streets, which added to our experience.

The early mornings offered some quiet time before the business of life started to happen.

Unfortunately, we could not communicate well due to the language barrier, but we still met some wonderful people while in Hanoi.

We made contact by using hand signs and laughter, feeling happy to have taken the time to do so.



two girls with a hanoian grandmother
A sweet adopted grandmother. Image UrbanPax


The Hanoians we met, regardless of social class were in general quite reserved, but also very generous and proud to share their culture with us.


Our 3-week itinerary in Vietnam started in Hanoi, we then continued to Mai Chau.



Similar Posts