Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam

Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam

Experience

On arrival in Hanoi, I knew I wanted a local experience. Around the ‘banana pancake trail’ of Southeast Asia, it’s easy to get sucked into all the touristic activities and miss out on seeing the local life. I’d been busy moving from place to place every few days until Vietnam so I decided to set up camp for a month in Hanoi. I volunteered in a kindergarten where I hoped to have new experiences, do some good and get to know a few locals.

As it turned out, I got what I hoped for and lots more. In my first week, the class held a careers session and invited some of the kids’ parents in to talk about their jobs. A little girl in the class named Bon Bon invited her mum, whose name was Tiny Ivory. I learned that although Vietnamese people have local names, many have a ‘Western name’ which they’ll use when meeting foreigners. After the class, Tiny Ivory and I got chatting and I realised just how incredibly friendly the Vietnamese people are.

Tiny Ivory and her adorable five-year-old daughter, Bon Bon, quickly became firm friends of mine. They showed me around Hanoi, helping me dodge the more touristic spots and introducing me to some authentic, local foods. I learned a lot about the city and its history through them. Here are a couple of lesser-known facts about the Vietnamese capital:

* Hanoi means ‘city inside rivers’ (there are nine lakes in and around the city).
* Local foods Westerners might find unusual are snail noodle soup and roasted dog meat.
* At the beginning of the 20th century, Hanoi was made up of just 36 streets – now there are hundreds if not thousands!
* Property tax is Hanoi is based on the width of buildings – hence why you see so many tall, skinny buildings in the city.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Binh Minh Jazz Club

Binh Minh Jazz Club

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Egg Coffee at Ca Phe Trung

Egg Coffee at Ca Phe Trung

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural 2

Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Local Hanoi Streets

Local Hanoi Streets

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - My Hanoian friends

My Hanoian friends

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Walking through the Railway Village

Walking through the Railway Village

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GO – Getting There

Hanoi is easily accessible from the rest of Southeast Asia. You’ll find the cheapest flights to and from Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. If you’re in Vietnam already, there are plenty of cheap internal flights or cheerful buses and trains that run up and down the country daily.

WSE Travel - Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam - Map

Get Off the Tourist Trail in Hanoi, Vietnam – Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

My Hanoian friends took me to some slightly lesser known attractions in the city – something I was really excited about! my favourites included:

HANOI CERAMIC MOSAIC MURAL

This colourful attraction in the north of the city runs for four miles. It was built in 2007 to celebrate the city’s 1000th anniversary and adds a real splash of colour to the city. It’s along the main road so you’ll need a dose of determination to embrace the symphony of blaring horns!

TRY EGG COFFEE

I’d never heard of egg coffee before – and when my Vietnamese companions told me about it I was initially sceptical. What I came to love about egg coffee is that it doubles up as your caffeine dose and a tasty dessert. Strong black coffee is topped with sweet, creamy foam made from a whisked egg – a bit like meringue or cake mix. It sounds strange but the combination works perfectly – it’s so creamy and flavoursome. You’ll find it on menus as cà phê trứng.

LONG BEIN NIGHT MARKET

Night market’ usually refers to a chilled out evening street art market where you can pick up your souvenirs. Long Bein is a totally different kettle of fish as it’s the centre for produce in Hanoi. The ingredients of most your restaurant meals will likely have been picked up in the early hours from Long Bein. Oh, and it’s HECTIC. The market starts just after midnight and wraps up around 6am meaning a good time to visit is around 4am. Expect it to be slippery, busy and a representation of the real Hanoi!

BINH MINH JAZZ

Jazz as you know it is about to be thrown on its head. This bar offers a local take on the music and you’ll get to experience Vietnamese jazz at its finest. It’s not every day you can say you did that! Visit from 9pm for the daily performance which goes on ’til late.

THE RAILWAY VILLAGE

There’s nowhere better to see the lives of the Hanoian people than along the tracks of the railway. Travellers have begun catching on to this unique area of the city but you’ll find plenty of undiscovered spots. Locals use the tracks to wash, conduct daily life and sell produce… Until a train comes along, that is! When it does, they pack up their belongings and let it pass. It’s a really special spot to explore.

With these incredible local attractions under my belt, I couldn’t have been happier I ditched the tourist trail and got immersed in the real Hanoi!

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Stay – Accommodation

Signature Inn is a great shout for backpackers. For VND 150,000 ($6) you can bag yourself a dorm bed, breakfast, coffee and free beer each night.

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Eat – Restaurants

THE STREET FOOD

You’ve probably heard of pho already but there are so many other amazing lesser-known foods. Look out for more Vietnamese food; bun cha (slow cooked pork balls in a broth with a side of noodles), phở cuốn (rolled rice paper with beef, onion, lettuce inside) and Bò bía (a coconut and honeycomb dessert).

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

The peak seasons for a visit to Hanoi are September to November and March to April. In this period the weather is pleasant – it’s lovely and warm without being too sticky. In the winter it can get very cold and in the summer it gets uncomfortably hot!

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Safety – Possible risks

I always feel very safe visiting Vietnam. As a city, Hanoi has less crime than Ho Chi Minh where bag snatchings can be common at night. In Hanoi, the odd iPhone is swiped by a local on a scooter – but as a whole, you’ll feel secure and safe.

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

Vietnam is a very affordable country to visit as a whole, and Hanoi can be especially cheap if you avoid the tourist crowds and do what the locals do. Dorm beds start at around $4 a night and you can get local food for around $1 -2 per meal.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

There are Westerners who visit Southeast Asia and act like the locals are there to serve them. Treat local people with kindness, respect their customs and thank those who provide local service – preferably with a ‘cảm ơn’ (which means thank you).

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Hanoi is hectic with a capital ‘H’. Expect scooters to buzz around you at all times, and no one to be afraid to invade your personal space. It’s just the way Hanoi works – don’t be afraid! Be brave when it comes to crossing the road: for the most part, the locals are highly skilled at noticing obstacles and driving their scooters around them… but it can’t hurt to keep a watchful eye on where you’re going! Persevere through the madness and you’ll love busy Hanoi.

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?

Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!

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