Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, can be difficult to get to grips with, which is why I found touring with a local guide so helpful….
Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is a real assault on the senses and can be difficult to get to grips with, which is why I found touring with a local guide so helpful. You get to see all the famous sights like the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake but the guide will also tailor the experience to your interests. If you want to know more about the country’s hero Uncle Ho, you can visit his mausoleum and palace, war history buffs can go to the Hoa Lo Prison and if you love temples, the guide will take you to beautiful Buddhist pagodas.
I really wanted to get a feel for local life in Hanoi, so my guide, Son, took me through the Old Quarter, which offers incredible photo opportunities. I loved the beautiful colours at a local food market and seeing people just going about their business. Vendors were wheeling bicycles of flowers and people were cooking up vats of pho in street-side restaurants. It was fascinating to learn that each of the Old Quarter streets specialises in a particular product, from herbal medicines to clothing, silver and stationery.
Son also took us to areas of Hanoi that you probably wouldn’t go to on your own, for instance, we stopped on a railway bridge to really take in all of the motorbikes whizzing past and appreciate just how busy Hanoi really is. You’re often walking in the road because the pavements are so clogged with parked motorbikes, shop fronts and stools, so it’s quite hairy and I was grateful to have Son leading the way.
At one point, we came across a wedding in the middle of the street. The family had set up a gazebo for the evening celebration and we saw the wedding party being driven through town in a cyclo, like a wedding car in the UK, while guests turned up on their motorbikes to celebrate. Son could tell it was a very rich wedding because of the type of flowers being used to decorate the gazebo.
One of the best stops on the tour was Café Giang, where we got to try some traditional egg coffee, which was first invented here by Mr Giang in 1946. We sat on tiny stalls in this crumbling colonial building, which you access via a narrow alleyway. You can watch the staff mixing up the egg, sugar, milk and coffee for you, the drink was incredibly sweet like a tiny dessert.