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Hanoi, Vietnam 72-Hour Vacation

Heavenly Hanoi


Day 3: French Quarter, Hanoi Local Life and Nha Tho

Locals exercising at Hoan Kiem Lake

Hanoi’s appeal lies, above all, in the way the locals approach life. Take your final day to soak up the rhythms of the street and embrace Hanoi in all its old, new, traditional, modern and quirky ways. Begin the morning along with the Chinese tai chi devotees on Hoan Kiem Lake. After days of battling humming motorcycles and honking trucks in traffic, the lack of automobiles will amaze you—and so will the fact that the traffic seems to flick on like a light when the last badminton birdie is picked up.

Coffee drinking and café culture are an essential part of the Hanoi fabric. Hang Bo Street in the Old Quarter bottoms into a small area where little cafés host mobs of party cadres, artists and students. Vietnamese are very chatty and intellectual, and these are the beehives and outlets for them. Chairs are small, literally child-sized, sometimes blue plastic or painted wood. The tables are covered with glasses of ca phe den (black coffee) or ca phe sua da (iced coffee), which come with their own picturesque drip top. Something more upscale? Au Lac by the Metropole has, when quiet, the kind of leafy atmosphere that might have drawn Catherine Deneuve types in times past.

French architecture

Whether you want local coffee accessories, handsome furnishings or contemporary versions of the ao dai (long flowing traditional gown) worn by the fetching Vietnamese women whipping by on motorcycles with white gloves, there’s bountiful shopping in Hanoi. Nha Tho Street is an ideal starting block with names like Song, Voi Boutique and La Boutique and The Silk specializing in fabrics and women's ready-to-wear, while shops like Mosaique and Red Door Deco update the Vietnamese aesthetic for the urbanite. This short street with a long shopping list features St. Joseph Cathedral at its end. Loop around to its right and on Ly Quoc Su Street there's another bevy of shops like Zinj, which produces excellent modern lacquer ware, and Sapanesque, which sells ethnic tribal fabrics.

The national noodle dish of pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a beef or chicken stock with star anise, ginger, slightly garlicky aromatics and a showering of herbs. There is barely an hour of the day when locals are not eating this specialty, and most visitors get addicted to it all on their own. Some of the best in town is sols at Mai Anh on Le Van Huu Street and tiem Pho on Pho Hue—places locals and any drivers will know by name and probably by taste. Another lunch alternative is Hoa Sua. Vietnamese chefs, waiters and bakers train here in their youth to pay for their education. The food is hit or miss, but the villa courtyard setting and cause correct any shortcomings.

Puppet show at the lake

Hire a cyclo and spend the late afternoon riding through the French Quarter. Built in the Southern part of the city when the nation was known as Tonkin, the quarter's wide boulevards and tree-canopied streets will remind you of films like Indochine. Colonial-style mansions and villas are set back behind walls, and the air seems to hang sweet and heavy with grandeur in the whole area, which is experiencing a revival as new diplomatic corps move in. This is also a ride well worth doing at night.

There should be only one choice of cuisine for the last night: Vietnamese. There are plenty of options with Emperor, in a bijou villa, with its lengthy menu of classics from around the country, or Brothers Café, a converted temple with fashionable surroundings and a buffet based on street food, and Hue Restaurant for a taste of the cuisine from the former Imperial seat of power, said to have the most elegant of all flavors, in the central regional capital of the same name. End the night in style—dining or wining—at the eclectic Vine, the home base of chef Donald Berger, with sleek wine racks, a communal table and loungy sounds floating about.


Ho Chi Minh Museum
3 Ngoc Ha St.
Ba Dinh Dist.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Cotner of Hang Vuong and Le Hong Phon St., Ba Dinh Dist.

Ho Chi Minh's Residence
Hung Vuong St., Ba Dinh Dist.

Fine Arts Museum
66 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
Ba Dinh Dist.

Museum of Ethnology
Nguyen Van Huyen St.
Cau Giay Dist.

Ngoc Lon Temple
Dinh Tien Hoang St.
Hoan Kiem Dist.

Temple of Literature
Quoc tu Giam St.
Ba Dinh Dist.


Suzanne Lecht and Art Vietnam
30 Hang Than St.

Apricot Gallery
40B Hang Bong St., Hoan Kiem District

Hanoi Studio
13 Trang Tien St., Hoan Kiem Dist.

Red River Gallery
11 Trang Tien St. Hoan Kiem Dist.

Van Gallery
25-27 Trang Tien St., Hoan Kiem Dist.

*Fruit vendor, bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Residence and puppet show images courtesy of Julie Fay

* Old Quarter, Gate to Old Quarter, Sculpture from the Fine Arts Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake and French architecture images courtesy of

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