There’s a common question that many friends and travelers ask me once they finish their amazing visit to Halong Bay: “What can I do once I’m back to Hanoi?”
Most of them arrive to the hotel after lunch, take a quick shower and relax, trying to find what to do during that afternoon/evening. Some of them ended up walking in the city center looking for the authentic essence of Hanoi. If this sounds familiar to you, you would be able to see a big number of disoriented tourists with the same problem.
Here’s the big secret: The real Ha Noi is outside of the city center!
There’s so much life and hidden gems in other local areas where you can see how locals really live, which is a must do if you want to get a better understanding of the reality in this city. But how you get to those areas?
You need a bike for sure (main transportation in Hanoi) but it’s quite dangerous if you are new and you still have to find those place so my recommendation would be: Hanoi After Dark tour (18-22h) of Vespa Adventures. You won’t have to deal with Hanoi’s wild traffic and just seat and enjoy on a vintage Vespa.
With some other expats we gave it a try. We started in a rooftop with Saint Joseph’s Cathedral views for a quick welcome drink; after that we go to the first hidden gem: A little bar inside the train tracks where we were able to do a rice wine tasting and try dry Buffalo from Thai ethnic. Surprisingly delicious! At 19.30h we saw the train comes by in front of us. As a European, I was just thinking this kind of situation is completely unseen in my country.
After that, we visited two restaurants: Bun Cha (I’m quite familiar with this dish, ask about Obama’s story with this dish), the second one was Pho Cuon – a more local alternative of the well-known Pho. With our bellies full, we head to Old City Gate (Last gate remaining) and Opera House, before arriving to our last spot; a jazz life music played by locals. The story of this place owner is quite spectacular: he has to run away from the police as Jazz was regarded as American propaganda here.
Definitely a must do if you have short time in Hanoi but you still want to get a “real” concept of Hanoians lifestyle.