For my parent’s generation Northern Vietnam is a scary place and conjures up memories of the Vietnam War (or the American War, depending on which country you’re in). For us it’s a romantic place, where one is transported back in time. It’s a place where big box stores and fast food chains aren’t found on every corner.In fact, there was not a single Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, or much of anything resembling the Western World to be found in Hanoi. Other than Apple. You can find an Apple store anywhere it seems! This was part of the appeal of Hanoi. On our return to Hanoi, 5 years later, Western chains have indeed encroached on the colonial charm of the city. Thankfully, it’s been done tastefully and I didn’t find it to be too much of a distraction!
Hanoi is busy and relaxing all at the same time. Just crossing the street is an obstacle course with cars, bikes and cyclos whizzing by in all directions. There are barely any traffic lights, and no one pays attention to the ones there are anyways!
Alternatively, a languorous stroll around Hoan Kiem lake is beautiful and relaxing, making it easy to forget that you’re in the middle of a busy city. This is in stark contrast to wandering the streets of the Old Quarter, enjoying Phung Hung Street art. The variety in this city is incredible!
Our visit to Vietnam was spurred by Randy’s desire to go eat Pho, his favourite food. We didn’t have much of an itinerary beyond eating! And eat we did. There’s SO many incredible places to eat street food in Hanoi.
The sidewalk stalls were perfect for us. We could just roll the stroller up to the table and Kacela could stay in it. That rarely happened though, as someone usually scooped her up before the stroller was fully parked.
The little stools were the perfect size for Calais so no extra high-chair was needed.
Randy’s long legs had a hard time fitting. But he survived…he was eating fresh Pho! It was worth it.
We did tour the city a little bit. We needed something to fill in time between meals!
The very first thing we did upon arriving in Hanoi was take a tour with Hanoi Kids Walking Tours. We had two lovely university students take us to the Temple of Literature, and for an Egg-Coffee. These tours are free! The students got to practice their English, and we got an afternoon tour and Egg-coffee with a view. Typically more is fit into an afternoon however we had two little ones in tow so we went a bit slower than most!
One of our favourite things to do was walk around Hoan Kiem Lake. We stayed in the Old Quarter, just north of the lake. It was only a few blocks away and an easy walk for us. We visited the lake every day, often getting ice cream along the way!
Our days were busy, but with the young girlies in tow our nightlife in Hanoi was almost non-existent. Almost.
We did manage a night-time cyclo ride around Hoan Kiem Lake. A bit of advice; negotiate the price and route of your cyclo ride before getting in. I’m sure we paid more for our ride than necessary, but it’s one of those Vietnam “must-do’s”.
We also went to an early-evening Water Puppet performance. Both girls sat completely mesmerized throughout the entire one hour show.
Randy enjoyed Hanoi. I loved it! I loved the old-world feel of the city, and the hustle and bustle with little pockets of quiet. The random side-alleys where local life carried on felt like a secret world. I could have spent weeks just wandering the streets here, constantly discovering something new. Randy would be happy to move to Vietnam, and I don’t think I could get tired of Hanoi! But, for this trip, there was the rest of Vietnam still to explore.
Where we stayed: The Romance Hotel
Where we ate: On the street!! We found the street food in the Old Quarter to be fantastic.
What we did: Hanoi Kids Walking Tour, a Water Puppet Performance, Cyclo Ride, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake, wandering the Old Quarter, Randy got a suit made (he wants to go back just to get another one!).
Things to do in Hanoi with Kids.
1. Book a Hanoi Kids Walking Tour before you go. These can book up quickly and it’s a must-do, in my opinion. You don’t want to miss out!
2. Take in a water puppet performance at Thang Long theatre. It’s located on the north side of Hoan Kiem lake. It’s easy to find, and easy to check performance times and pick up tickets earlier in the day.
3. Stop for ice cream at the restaurant on the west side of Hoan Kiem lake. There’s ice cream for the kids and iced coffees for the adults! Make this a part of your stroll around the lake.
4. Get lost in the Old Quarter. Part of the fun is just discovering the city by getting lost in it. The Old Quarter is a maze of small alleyways that feel like a different world. It’s worth seeing what you can find hiding down these alleyways.
5. Eat Pho on the streets. This was one of our, and Calais’, favourite things to do in Hanoi. Actually, it was one of our favourite things to do in Vietnam.
**Update – as of 2014 Vietnam has relaxed it’s restrictions on investments and there are now Starbucks, McDonalds, etc to be found in Hanoi and HCMC. I fear the old world charm is quickly slipping away! Hurry up and go!