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Vietnam’s capital buzzes with energy; throngs of crowds, busy street-hawkers, and streets awash with restless scooters. Claire balanced the bustle by meeting up with friendly locals over Vietnam’s famous coffee, strolling through courtyard gardens and taking a tiny pew to slurp her favourite pho on her 24 hours in Hanoi.
24 hours in Hanoi
Breakfast overlooking Hoam Kiem Lake
There’s no denying that Hanoi is a massive assault on the senses: motorbikes zooming in all directions, street vendors plugging their wares, sweltering lunchtime humidity… so get up early to make the most of the calm before the storm.
Hoam Kiem Lake is surprisingly peaceful first thing in the morning, so take a stroll and watch the reflections of the sunrise dancing over the water. It only takes around 30 minutes to walk around the entire lake and is a great opportunity to snap that picture-perfect shot of the iconic Huc Bridge (without hordes of tourists getting in the way).
Once you’re done, take a seat at a shore-side coffee shop for a well-deserved cup of the black stuff and take a moment to watch locals engage in a spot of tai chi.
Enlist the help of a local
There are countless guide books on Hanoi, but if you’re short on time, one of the best ways to get to grips with a new city is to enlist the help of a local.
In Hanoi, there is a fantastic programme called ‘Hanoi Kids’; set up and run by a group of local university students seeking opportunities to improve their language skills in exchange for a personalised tour of Hanoi. It’s a win-win – tourists get an authentic insight into the daily life of a Hanoian for free (excluding expenses and entrance fees) and the volunteer guides get a chance to make new friends and connections.
Walk through the Temple of Literature
Ask your Hanoi Kid to take you to the Temple of Literature – the site of Vietnam’s first university and an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of this frantic city.
Wander through manicured courtyards and observe the intricacies of ornate architecture. If you’re lucky, you may even chance upon a graduation ceremony in the fifth courtyard – the Temple of Literature remains a revered site of learning in Hanoi.
Try coffee with egg (honestly!)
By this time, you’re probably in need of a refreshment. In Hanoi, there’s only one thing to drink and one place to go – it’s time to hit the famous Giang café in the Old Quarter for coffee with egg, which can be served either hot or cold.
Forget skinny milk or lactose-free alternatives. In Vietnam, the best coffee is always thick and deliciously creamy, thanks to the addition of condensed milk and a lightly whipped egg white. Don’t be deterred by the prospect of knocking back raw egg; in truth, it is essentially coffee flavoured ice cream and tastes absolutely delicious.
Even with just 24 hours in Hanoi to play with, it won’t be your last.
Shop in the Old Quarter
Upon leaving the Giang café, you’ll be right in the heart of the Old Quarter; the perfect time to start exploring and pick up a few souvenirs.
Traditionally, the Old Quarter is said to encompass 36 streets (although the heritage area has significantly expanded over recent years) each dedicated to a particular trade. There’s Hang Dao, the street of silk, or Hang Bac, the jewellery street. Rest assured that whatever you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it somewhere in the maze of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
If you’re not interested in shopping, just wandering through the streets is an experience in itself; from attempting to reach the other side at the crossroads, to the sights and sounds of street food cooking on every corner.
Eat pho on the street
After a day of exploring, you’ll be getting quite hungry. There’s no shortage of restaurants to choose from, but if you want a truly authentic experience, pitch in with the locals, pull up an undersized plastic stool on a street corner and slurp down a delicious bowl of pho.
It’s perfectly normal to falter for a moment as you contemplate whether the stool will actually take your weight – squatting to sit down at this level will also stir some startlingly clear pre-school memories that you weren’t even aware you had – but you’ll soon be brought back to the present day with the first mouthful of pho. Wash it down with a swig of cold Bia Hoi – there’s nothing quite like it!
Sip cocktails and watch the sunset
If you’re partial to an evening tipple, make your way to The Rooftop bar for panoramic views of the city and signature cocktails. The cocktails can be fairly pricey by Vietnamese standards and idyllic sunset views aren’t always guaranteed in Hanoi, owing to frequent overcast weather, but it’s a great way to top off the day. Another great option is the Sofitel hotel.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling more energetic, head a little further out of town to catch a glimpse of the sunset over tranquil West Lake.