Pho, Parks, and Pedestrian Only Streets in Hanoi
Our last stop in Vietnam was Hanoi. We spent 5 days navigating the busy streets and eating all the pho we could find. We stayed in the historic French Quarter because it was very central and we could walk around easily to the places we wanted to visit.
Hanoi is almost as big as Saigon, but since we spent most of our time walking around the historic area, which had smaller streets, it felt busier. The streets were packed with cars and motorbikes honking, and people gathered around little blue tables at street food vendors.
There were practically no sidewalks in Hanoi, so most of the walking we did was in single file on the street, dodging motorbikes and bicycles everywhere.
There is a narrow street in Hanoi where a train passes twice a day. According to the internet it passes at 3PM and 7PM, we went around 4PM and the train arrived! We were taking some pictures when we heard shouting and locals directed us to step into a doorway and the train came right past us! Talk about the ultimate shared street. Train, walking, and motorbikes all in one street.
Street Food and Pho
When motorbikes weren’t parked on the sidewalk, then street food vendors would set up shop. Street food is a huge deal in Hanoi and we had some of our best meals from these places. Many would set up shop in the middle of the sidewalk in the evenings. They always had tiny blue chairs and tables, so that children can join comfortably.
On one occasion we went to a street food vendor for some pho, which I think was some of the best pho we had, and were quickly interrupted by the police. Everyone picked up their tiny tables, their chairs, and their food and dispersed. We all awkwardly waited around for a few minutes while the police went around the corner. After the police had left, everyone brought the tables and chairs back and resumed eating as if nothing happened. We asked what happened and they said that they aren’t allowed to set up on the sidewalk so the police go around the city, but they never kick anyone off the sidewalk they just want to make themselves seen.
Hanoi has an impressive amount of beautiful parks with tall green trees and lakes or ponds. We were lucky to visit three during our time in Hanoi. It was a nice way to take a break from the bustling city.
After we went to the Train Street, we looked on GoogleMaps to see what was in the area and saw that there was a large park about a 10 minute walk away. We had to pay a small fee to get into the park but were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed walking around the park. There was a lake with men fishing and running around for exercise. The park was well maintained and there was a little cafe where we got some Saigon Beers and met a couple puppies.
West Lake is a huge lake that we were told by a family friend who lives in Hanoi and is an art collector. We were lucky to visit the lake at sunset. There were even some swan peddle boats you could rent and watch the sunset.
Haon Kiem Lake
Haon Kiem Lake is a small lake right in the historic french quarter. In the middle of the lake is a small pagoda and you can walk around the lake in 30 minutes on large wide sidewalks and boulevards.
Pedestrian Only Zones
Every weekend during the summer the area around the Haon Kiem Lake is closed to vehicles and open to people to walk, dance, and play.
Near Haon Kiem Street there is a street called Ta Hien Street, or “beer street” as some backpackers call it. It’s a cute street that is too narrow for cars, lined with yellow buildings and bars and restaurants filled with both locals and travelers. It’s calm during the day but at night it is packed with tourists.
When we weren’t walking around Hanoi, we took a Grab. Grab is a ride-share app that is easy and reliable to use. When you requested a Grab, you could choose if you wanted a car or a motorbike. There were Grab motorbikes everywhere with their signature green jackets and helmets. Grab was always reliable. When we left Hanoi we booked a van with the hostel but it was 45 minutes late and ended up never coming. We requested a large Grab taxi and within 10 minutes it arrived and was cheaper than what the van would’ve been!