Hanoi, a city that you either love or hate. If you ask people in Southern Vietnam, they will tell you that it's dirty, polluted, expensive, with much more traffic than Saigon and closed minded people. If you ask foreigners, they will tell you that it's a romantic and beautiful city with lots of things to do and the best North Face shops. We could see all of these things, so we agree with everyone!

Beautiful Christmas decoration at the Cathedral

Some days we hated the city (especially when the pollution/fog was so much that we couldn't see anything) and some days we loved it (especially when we found good vegan places and beautiful spots to chill). So we can say we experienced the good and the bad.

Hanoi, where are you??

After being in Hanoi many times, we can say we love the city! The truth is that, despite the high pollution levels and the huge amount of traffic, Hanoi has a special charm that makes it a unique place like no other in the world (or even in Vietnam). This is in part due to the French influence: exquisite colonial buildings and gorgeous cafés are all around the city to give it a delightful touch. And I think the new generations have also a big role: many artsy places, second hand shops and cozy coffee places owned by young Vietnamese give another special touch to Hanoi. 

Here is the list of our top 6 things to love about this very special city:

1. Lakes
The most romantic side of Hanoi: the lakes. Nothing feels more romantic than walk by a lake in the afternoon, enjoying the views and the peaceful atmosphere. The most famous is probably the Hoàn Kiêm lake (by the Old Quarter), where all the touristic places are and all the fun things happen. It's a small lake, but has a beautiful atmosphere, even if it's super touristy; there is a small temple right in the middle of the lake, Ngoc Son. If you sit around the lake don't be surprised if Vietnamese kids come to you and start asking questions in English; they want to practice their English and they take advantage of the spot! You will make them very happy if you chat with them for a bit.

Sunrise by Hoan Kiem lake

The other famous lake in Hanoi is the Hô Tây (better known as West Lake), the biggest in the city. In the east part of the lake you will find the 'expat' area (where the Westerners live), therefore it's an expensive area with fancy restaurants, schools and shops. We love to go there for all the vegan options we find, expensive but delicious, and the second hand shops (like Sleek Hanoi, Halo Plus or Thriftin'ell). The West side of the lake is a bit more affordable and has hipster coffee places and vegan restaurants.

Besides these two, there are so many more that feel less touristic and crowded, like the Bay Mau Lake, close to the famous Train street, with a big park to walk around and a night market.
And by the Dong Da lake there are sooo many vegan restaurants, so we have been there a few times :)
Something especially nice about the lakes are all the cool coffee places that you can find alongside. They offer amazing views, the usual drinks (Vietnamese coffee, tea, juice, smoothie) and the most romantic spot.

Tea pot by West Lake the lake on a foggy day

On Christmas Eve we went to the Than Tho Lake, far away from the centre (only locals go there) with some nice bars by the lake to have a drink with beautiful views. We had a drink at the cute The Coffee Flower very cozy, rustic look and good choice in music. 

2. Street flowers
Something I really love about Hanoi: the flower sellers on their bikes, with the huge bouquets of flowers on the back. So colorful and special view that made me smile on those days when the city looked especially grey. The colors are simply beautiful, and the women on the bikes ride fearless amid the crazy hanoian traffic. 

3. Vegan food
One of the things we enjoy the most in Hanoi! Luckily there are a lot of vegan places, so you can try a different place every day and never get bored. Check our post about the best affordable vegan places in Hanoi. Most of the places are buffet style, so you can eat as much as you want for 2 or 3 euros! And after the meal, have a vegan dessert! There are many places with vegan cakes, muffins, brownies... Some of my favorite places to have a sweet treat are Lovegan (best brownie for 30k), Roots (amazing cheescake), Là Studio (cinnamon roll and the most generous smoothie bowl), Song Linh Food & Drink (cupcakes for 30k) and Jalus Vegan Kitchen (carrot cake with cashew cream, yum!).

4. Temples
All around Vietnam there are magnificent Buddhist temples that can be visited for free. I love going inside the temples because you find immediate tranquility. Even if the temple is located in a very noisy street, once inside you forget about the outside world and enjoy a peaceful moment. Temples are usually rich in decoration, so you can spend a lot of time observing all the details or simply closing your eyes and meditate for a moment before going back to the craziness of the city :) 
Something I like about Hanoi is that there are many little temples spread around the city, so everywhere you go you will find these little hidden gems. Monks and workers are usually very nice and welcoming, so don't be afraid of stepping in. 

5. Street dance
Wow, they have style! If you walk by Hoan Kiem lake you will probably find one or more groups of young locals with very impressive dancing skills. Some streets around that area are closed to the traffic in December and January (during Christmas and Tet holiday), so you can walk without the stressful motorbikes riding everywhere. Amazing choreographies and very talented youngsters performing in the middle of the street, surrounded by curious tourists and locals.

During Christmas holiday we even saw a group of Vietnamese people dancing tango by Hoam Kiem lake, what an experience.  In  most of the parks and a squares we have visited we see groups of dance crews practicing their moves.  Set up in any open area available and usually with a portable amp.  They don't seem to mind having an audience so it's usually fine to find a nice spot to view and enjoy the show!

Cool kids

6. Coffee places
The last, but definitely not least, Coffee shops! Coffee is a huge part of Vietnamese lifestyle, there's more coffee places than any other business! There are mainly two types of coffee places: the old, small and traditional ones, where you will find old men drinking their Vietnamese coffee, and the modern, hipster coffee places, beautifully decorated and filled with all the Vietnamese cool kids who hang out and take photos there. Both types are very interesting to learn about the local lifestyle. 

Some of the coffee places are sooo charming that I just want to live there! 

And that's what we enjoy the most in Hanoi! Let us know your thoughts :) 


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