Taking in the city of Hanoi (and the culture which comes with it) is almost a rite of passage when travelling to Vietnam. This recommended route goes through four of Hanoi’s districts: starting in the Old Quarter and ending at the West Lake; with the recommendation of returning to one spot to experience its nightlife.
Getting around Hanoi by bike is the easiest way. Before you decide your route, make sure you start your day with a bowl of Pho for breakfast (yep - for breakfast!).
Alright, you full? Let’s get started.
Your Starting Point at the Old Quarter
Don’t be put off by the busy streets in the Old Quarter, it’s possibly the busiest point on this tour and starting here is your best bet before getting on your bike. You’ll find street vendors aplenty in the Old Quarter and merchants down the many side streets. It’s quite easy to get lost in the throng of tourists and residents so keep your wits about you.
While you won’t easily be able to escape the crowds in the Old Quarter, it’s worth sticking with it to see the history at every turn. Shop fronts can clock up to being over 1,000 years old and residential buildings are easily a century or two since construction. If you consider what still exists on today’s high streets from that time, it’s incredible to think of the Old Quarter’s stories which locals will know.
A Quick Ride to the French Quarter
Getting to Hanoi’s French Quarter from its Old counterpart will take you no more than 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. It’s a good idea to see the French Quarter during the day for the busy markets, shopping centres, and museums, before returning here for the evening’s extravagant nightlife.
If you’re new to Hanoi, definitely start at the National Museum of Vietnamese History. Set in a beautiful French colonial building over two floors, there’s an array of Vietnamese artefacts discovered throughout the ages. From there, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum is a grand celebration of Vietnamese women’s contribution to this beautiful country.
For the nightlife, look no further than Binh Minh’s Jazz Club; which is right by the National Museum. Saying that Binh Minh’s Jazz Club is legendary might be underselling it slightly. It’s long been a staple of the scene in the French Quarter, and being owned by well-renowned Vietnamese Jazz artist Quyen Van Minh tells you all you need to know.
Onward to the Ba Dinh District
From the French Quarter, a 30-minute ride along the Kim Ma road takes you straight to Ba Dinh. A revered spot in Vietnam where Ho Chi Minh declared independence from the French in 1945. There’s a big emphasis on Vietnam’s military past here and both history buffs and those with a passing interest will be able to get a deeper understanding of how war has shaped the country.
By now you’ll be thinking about your stomach. Ba Dinh is also home to a collection of Hanoi’s best restaurants and you’ve got the choice of fine dining or a more humble eatery. If it’s fine dining you want, go to the Old Hanoi Restaurant, and if it’s a place more humble, try Highway4 Kim Ma.
The Perfect Picture at Hanoi’s West Lake
A mysticism washes over Hanoi’s West Lake, known locally as ‘Tay Ho’. It’s said to be formed from the drowning of a Dragon King, and Vietnam’s oldest temple, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, stands by with the subtle ideas of Buddhism resonating from within.
Away from the spiritual, looking at Hanoi from the vantage point at the West Lake is the place to get your ‘I was there’ photograph. Make your way to The Summit Lounge in the Pan Pacific and you’ll be greeted by a stunning panoramic of the city. Avoid their array of cocktails if you plan on getting back on the bike after.
Your ride to the vantage point at Tay Ho from Ba Dinh can go either right or left around the lake, giving great views whichever way you choose. If you’re feeling really up for the ride, take a full lap of Tay Ho, stopping occasionally to enjoy the way each different time of day brings out another side to the lakes sacred shoreline.
While cycling around Hanoi, please, stay safe. If at any time you feel you’re lost or overwhelmed, you can always swap your bike for a Rickshaw and have someone pedal for you!