Hanoi’s 5 best kept secrets

Two years ago, Lonely Planet labeled “egg coffee” in Old Quarter as “The best kept secret of Old Quarter”. Since then, hundreds of people have had the chance to navigate along a very small typical lane of Hanoi old town, immerse themselves within the ancient architecture and refreshing view of Hoan Kiem lake as sipping smooth “eggy” texture of that cafe.
 Despite many Tripadvisor users raving about how “touristy” it has become, to me it is just positive. Those kinds of secrets being revealed help balance out various experiences and travel styles of people coming here, blending themselves more deeply to local community, creating a better picture of Hanoi in the hearts of people who just come here once or twice in their lives.
 This post is dedicated to that spirit from personal viewpoint and information gathered from Vietnamese travel communities.

Long Bien Bridge

Long Bien (the side of dragon), the rusty steel bridge built in 1899 has been a history connector to Hanoians. February 2014, when the Ministry of Transportation proposed the plan of destroying Long Bien to build a new one, people almost went crazy. To us, Long Bien is much more than a kind of commuting.

It is where hundreds of young couple solidify their love with cute small locks, where young volunteer groups gathering, playing guitar, eating grilled corns together, singing like no one is listening. Long Bien is probably the best place in the city to hunt sunrise and sunset, a favourite place of photographers.

You can get to Long Bien just by 10 minute walking from Old Quarter. Being there at any time of the day is nice, yet the feeling of watching Red river at night does give you a serene state of flow.

B-52 lake

Ngoc Ha village, 1972. A striking moment of anti-American war (known internationally as “Vietnam War”). After 12 days of consistent defending, 34 B-52 planes were shot down, marking a victorious moment of the “Dien Bien Phu on air” campaign.

One of the planes fell down into a small lake of Ngoc Ha, a peaceful village. A part of the remnant is brought to showcase in Military History Museum on Dien Bien Phu street, the body is still kept there. Very close to Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, you may ask your driver or tour guide to stop there after paying a visit to Uncle Ho.

An obvious scar of war blends harmoniously with the peaceful rhythm of a small village, making me speechless the first time I had a chance to go there.

Catching “sun fish” from Sunset bar of Intercontinental, West Lake

Many people would probably argue that this is not a secret at all, let alone a local experience. Well, “live in culture, stay in comfort” will be contemporary slogan of travelers. After hours venturing in small lanes of Hanoi, treat yourself with a drink, contemplating while the sun goes down. Sun set bar is seperated from Intercontinental hotel, which makes it a truly spacious location to relax. Spoil yourself and your camera at the same time. A potential competitor might be Summit Lounge of Sofitel Plaza, where the views opens to Thanh Nien, the most romantic street in the city.

Cruising West Lake

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Combining “Vietnam” and “Cruising”, people would think of the classic Ha Long bay, not West Lake Ha Noi. Yet that somewhat ridiculous idea turned out to be a pleasant experience. Out of 28 lakes in Ha Noi, West Lake is the biggest one with a peremeter of 14 km. People come here to fish, to swim, to kayak and to enjoy windy, fresh summer nights. Until now Potomac Cruise seems to be the best choice with their good service and regular promotion programs.

Dining out while cruising West lake is definitely not a bad idea if you are short of time in a business trip.

Eating “Bun dau” in Phat Loc lane, Old Quarter

People coming to Vietnam and Hanoi rarely know about anything else other than “Pho”. To them, “Pho” of Vietnam is like Sushi of Japan or Kimchi of Korea, a “signature dish”. I don’t deny that. However, to us, Bun Dau may express even better characteristics of Vietnamese Cuisine.

“Bun” means “rice vermicelli” and “dau” means “tofu”. Made of cheap and available ingredients, “Bun Dau” was originally made for poor workers who can’t afford more costly dishes. Over time it has become a favourite choice of most of Hanoians. Luke Nguyen, a Vietnamese-Australian chef once commented

Vietnam cuisine is all about balance

“Bun Dau” reflects that very obviously: the smooth texture of rice vermicelli, the crispiness of just fried tofu slices, the freshness from various kinds of herbs, the exotic taste of “shrimp taste”, altogether creating a hard-to-forget street dining experience. You can eat Bun dau just at any street, yet the vendor in no 55 of “Phat Loc” lane, Old Quarter sets itself apart thanks to delicate selection of ingredients and hustling, vibrant atmosphere you would expect in a truly local favorite dining area.

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