Hanoi,Vietnam Day 1: Souvenir Shopping, Hoan Kiem Lake Tour, Cyclo Ride
After eating a sumptuous breakfast at Lakeside Palace Hotel’s on-site restaurant, we decided to start our Hanoi adventure (a.k.a walking in the nearby streets of Old Quarter).
A few days before our trip, Hanoi was experiencing bad weather because of a typhoon so the gloomy weather and occasional rain showers were not a surprised to us. The drizzle did not dampen our spirits, instead we came prepared with our umbrella and raincoats.
From our hotel in Hang Hanh street, we walked going to Hang Gai Street (also known as Silk Street). Hang Gai Street is a bustling and busy street with many stalls and souvenir shops. If you are looking for souvenirs, bags, clothes, and silk items, this is the perfect place to go.
After buying some souvenirs, we decided to explore the adjacent street, Luong Van Can Street or the famous toy street. It is interesting to note that the streets in Old Quarter are well known and sometimes named after one type of product. For example, you can buy silk items in Hang Gai street known as silk street. In Luong Van Can Street or toy street, they sell mostly children’s toys.
We did not find any interesting item in Luong Van Can street, so we decided to go back. We stopped at L’Amore (42 Luong Van Can, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi) – the first ice cream parlor that we saw. The place is small with few tables. We also saw some tourists inside the shop. Staff speaks English so we did not encounter any problem communicating our orders. We loved their ice cream especially the Yogurt and Blueberry flavor. Their baked products also garnered a positive approval from my mother.
After resting and eating at the ice cream shop, we proceeded to explore the other side of Hang Gai Street and bought more souvenirs like T-shirts and Vietnamese coffee packs.
By then, our stomachs were already growling from hunger. It’s our cue to go back to Hang Hanh Street because in our itinerary we have to eat our lunch at Rainbow Restaurant, a dining place located a few meters from our hotel.
After our delicious meal at Rainbow Restaurant, we headed back to the hotel to rest a bit before our tour. We have scheduled a half day tour with Hanoi Kids and our tour guides were supposed to arrive at 2 pm.
Prior to our trip, I have read that there are organizations offering free tours around Hanoi, one of them and the most famous is Hanoi Kids. Hanoi is the only destination I’ve been to which has this type of volunteer group that offers FREE TOUR. For DIY travelers, it’s the perfect way to explore the city without spending more. You don’t need to pay anything except for the guide’s admission fees, meals and transportation fees.
Hanoi Kids is a non-profit volunteer organization which provides tours (half day or full day tour). The organization consists of students who serve as travel guides with the objective to improve their English skills and at the same time share Hanoi’s culture and tourist attractions. Hanoi Kids is very popular so it is recommended to book your tours in advance (4 months before your trip). I emailed them last July for our October trip and requested student tour guides for three days but unfortunately, they were fully booked on our second day. They only granted my request for half day tours on our first and third day.
At 2 pm, the hotel staff informed us that the tour guides were in the lobby. Hanoi Kids sent two female tour guides named Trang and Abbey.
Since the weather was not good (it was drizzling the entire day), I told Trang and Abbey to tour us around Hoan Kiem Lake, one of Hanoi’s tourist attractions. The lake is the center of the city and a walking tour around the lake is perfect especially for the gloomy weather.
A little bit of history from Wikipedia:
Hoan Kiem Lake is also known as the Lake of the Restored Sword/Lake of the Returned Sword. According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magic sword. The emperor concluded that the Golden Turtle God had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King had given Lợi some time earlier, during his revolt against Ming Dynasty. Later, Emperor Lợi gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese. Emperor Lợi renamed the lake to commemorate this event, from its former name Luc Thuy meaning “Green Water”. The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) standing on a small island near the center of the lake is linked to the legend.
Our first stop was the Temple of Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) located on Jade Island in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake. Tickets are priced at VND 30,000 per person if you want to visit the temple.
From the ticket counter, you need to cross the beautiful red painted bridge – The Huc Bridge to reach the temple. The weather wasn’t cooperative that day which explains why we did not have pictures.
Photos below were taken on our last day in Hanoi. No need to pay the entrance fee if you’re only going to see the red bridge.
I wasn’t able to capture the beauty and surroundings of the temple because of the rain. The Ngoc Son Temple is a popular tourist spot in Hanoi. It is a picturesque destination surrounded by water with Vietnamese Style architecture. Please take note also that the temple is a place of worship so dress code for tourists is strictly implemented. We also saw a preserved tortoise specimen inside the temple, probably the largest that we’ve seen. Our guides explained that Giant turtles are considered sacred in Hanoi and symbolizes intelligence, longevity, and strength.
After exploring the Ngoc Son temple, we continued walking north of the lake and passed by the water puppet theatre. According to travel blogs, the water puppet show in Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is a must for first time Hanoi travelers but sadly we did not get the chance to watch the shows.
Another tourist attraction that we saw is the Ly Thai To Po Park. The main attraction of the park is the large bronze statue of Emperor Ly Thai To, the famous emperor who founded the Ly dynasty and made Hanoi the capital of Vietnam.
My mother and daughter were too tired to walk any further so we rested for a bit at the park. At some point, we saw a bunch of tourists riding the cyclo and they looked like they were enjoying the ride. My mother eagerly said that she wanted to try it too so we agreed to ride the cyclo going to our next destination.
Our next agenda is to try some Vietnamese grilled street food to which our tour guides suggested that we try near the famous cathedral. From Ly Thai To Park to the cathedral, the cyclo drivers initially quoted a high price. Our tour guides tried to bargain and negotiated to lower the price to VND 90,000 per cyclo. We hired three cyclos and paid VND 270,000 for the short cyclo ride.
For first timers, the leisurely cyclo ride is a must for anyone visiting Hanoi. It is not cheap by all means but it is a great way to see the city, observe people and experience the crazy traffic in Hanoi. You get the best experience without getting tired or wet (especially when it’s raining).
As soon as I positioned myself in the cyclo, I grab my camera and captured photos from the front row seat.
Trang and Abbey lead us to this small alleyway near the cathedral. According to them, most students and young adults prefer this place to relax and catch up with friends because it’s cheaper than other dining places or fast food restaurants in the area. There are no tables, only small plastic stools which serve as chairs and tables.
This stall has only 3 items on their menu: Nem Nuong ( Vietnamese grilled pork sausage made of ground pork), Nem Ran (fried pork) and Khoai Chien (fried sweet potato)
There are no utensils so you might wonder how to eat them. Just make use of the skewers. In our country, we call this “tusok-tusok” style of eating.
At first, we did not know what to expect but the grilled pork, fried pork and sweet potatoes were all delicious! The chili sauce is super spicy so it is best to try a small amount first.
Without a doubt, eating street foods in small alleys with only plastic stools is an unforgettable experience. We got to try an authentic dining experience, as most locals do in Hanoi.
After our meal, we just walked back to our hotel. Along the way, we saw some interesting sights as part of Hanoi culture.
Our Day 1 Hanoi adventure was really an unforgettable one, full of many firsts for us. First time to tour while raining, first time to have FREE tour guides, first time to ride a cyclo and first time to experience the local culture of eating in alleyways with small plastic stools.
I commend our tour guides from Hanoi Kids, Trang and Abbey. They are both friendly, knowledgeable and they speak English well. They are kind enough to assist my mother and daughter during our tour. The tour was smooth and easy despite the weather and it’s all thanks to Hanoi Kids.
Please stay tuned for our 2nd and 3rd day stories in Hanoi. Happy travels!