Hanoi | The City in 48 Hours

11:03:00 PM

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

I had three full days (or 72 hours) in-between my flights but I really only spent two days in Hanoi city proper. I went on a side trip to Hạlong Bay on my second day, which technically doesn't count because it's in the Quang Ninh Province—leaving me, relatively, the days after my arrival and before the return flight to explore Vietnam's capital.

Previously, I gave you a list of reasons to visit Hanoi and while that is more a consensus of what I and other people have loved about the city, today I'm sharing how I actually spent my time there.

(This post does not include hotel and food reviews, but that's coming up next!)

The first 24 hours

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

The purpose of taking on this leave from work (and life as a whole) was to find time for absolute rest, and so I made sure not to plan my trip around the pressure of seeing or doing everything given the limited time, and only include the things I really, really wanted to see. I skipped the temples and historical sites, mainly out of disinterest—I'm just not big on history—but also because it was a Sunday and some establishments were closed.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila
Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

Instead, I took to people-watching and enjoying the cool, biting breeze (16 degrees) as I walked around Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning, and warmed up a bit with a pho ga at a side street noodle house.

The lake itself was sizable and the pagoda at the center wasn't much of a sight, honestly speaking, but the abundance of colorful flowers around it, the bright red bridge (reeked of new paint when I came closer) and the dampness of the weather added a charm to Hoan Kiem.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

The area is always populated—I noticed this as I kept coming back to Hoan Kiem to find the hotel—though never too crowded for those who are needing respite.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila
Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

If you're lucky, you can find an outdoor art display by the lake. It just so happened that over the weekend, there was an exhibit of cityscape photography.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila
Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

After an hour in Hoan Kiem, I decided to make my way to the Tet Art Fair, which was what I most looked forward to on my first day.

On my way I found myself in Trang Tien street, where all the luxury goods are and saw that it was also where L'Espace is. I wanted to see a photography exhibit there but the gallery was closed. On the same street, I saw Hanoi Opera House, a string of smaller art galleries and a theater, face-to-face with luxury stores like Christian Loubotin.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

Unlike Old Quarter (pictured on top of the post), the streets in this area were less populated and quieter. Old Quarter and the surrounding smaller streets, like Tho Xuong where my hotel is, are always buzzing with people and scooters.

When I couldn't find anything else that was interesting in Trang Tien, I set out for Hanoi Creative City. It was an exhausting 30-minute walk to Luong Yen but it was worth it. (I got around with the help of a downloaded Google map of Hanoi.)

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

The sight of the graffiti-painted, high-rise building was like a light at the end of a tunnel. At some point in that long walk from Trang Tien, I thought I'd gotten myself lost. But I made it and saved a couple of dongs in the process.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

I reached Hanoi Creative City before noon and I was surprised to find that, apart from two kids playing on the small skate ramp, there weren't a lot of people in the compound. Maybe because it was a Sunday or maybe it was too early to come out and play? Who knows, but I definitely expected that it would be abuzz for the event.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

I looked around for a while and admired the clothing stores housed inside re-purposed shipping containers. From that, I made the conclusion that Hanoi Creative City is probably where Hanoi's hipsters gather for fun.

Before coming up to the art fair, I had my caffeine and WiFi fix (second of the day, first was in the hotel) at Cong ca phe—an Instagram-worthy spot at Creative City. Even its comfort rooms, which it shares with another cafe out front, were conceptualized.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

The Tet Art Fair, wrapping up its second year, was on the fifth floor of the tower. It was like a smaller version of Art Fair Philippines, but the size of the location didn't make it less of an experience.

A photo posted by Danielle (@awsmchos) on
I love looking at contemporary art. I'm not very fond of historical items—I appreciate things that are made during the time that I'm alive. I find it easier to relate to, and relatable* culture (regardless of whether it's pop or indie) is always the best kind.
*not a real word

When I had my fill, I went back to the hotel. I road a taxi to Hoan Kiem (it's the easiest landmark) and walked from there. On the way, I passed by Old Quarter and scouted for souvenirs. I came back with hand-painted cards from a gallery in the Old Quarter for a dollar each (or 20, 000 VND).

Then I bummed in my room for a few hours and went out only to get me some banh mi. As I was walking to the nearest banh mi shop, I was stopped by a Russian expat who (and I'm pretty sure about this) hollered something crude in Vietnamese. Apparently, he thought I was a local and for the next hour, he walked with me, throwing trivia about a few curious spots in the area while he was at it.

He was good-looking and quite a talker, but he reeked of bad habits (figuratively, literally) and he was massively rude to other people. Thankfully, I managed to shake him off but not after he showed me where to get the best banh mi in town.

The last 24 hours

My last day was actually a lot more relaxed. I was beat from the Halong Bay excursion, so I allowed myself extra time in bed.

I went out before noon and the only thing I wanted to accomplish that day was to try Vietnam's famed egg coffee. There are only a few known establishments that serve it in Hanoi (though the one around the corner from my hotel has it too) and my eyes were set on Giang Cafe in Nguyen Huu Huan, where the drink was first concocted.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

It's almost at the far end of the shopping areas, a little past the streets with stores selling scarves and headstones. In all its chaos, Hanoi is organized this way. It's like one big, campy department store in that you'd know where to go if you need to shop for a particular item. I passed by a street devoted for eye wear, too.

Giang Cafe is in the street where most other eateries are, though it's the hardest to find. There's not a big sign that leads up to it. You just have to find this narrow alleyway with this sign and hope that it's not as jam-packed, so you can enjoy your cuppa joe comfortably inside what is considered a pilgrimage site for coffee-lovers. Tuesday around noon wouldn't be a bad time.

I didn't take too long at Giang. Soon after I was finished with this heavenly treat (semi-spoiler: egg coffee is the bee's knees yo), I found myself chowing down bun ca at a nearby restaurant.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

Souvenirs were next on my itinerary, and it's not so hard to choose unique take-home gifts from Hanoi. I got good-quality scarves for myself, my sister and my cousin for around 30, 000 to 250, 000 VND (1.5 to 11 USD), socks for the boys (10, 000 VND or half a dollar each) and wooden chopsticks (80, 000 VND or 3.5 USD) for friends. I also bought a bag of great-smelling, ground coffee for 180, 000 VND (8 USD). Among other things you can buy, there are silk kimonos, handcrafted dinnerware and cloth art pieces.

Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila
Hanoi in 48 Hours | Awesome in Manila

I still had enough time to catch a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater (100, 000 VND or 4.5 USD) and I'm glad I didn't miss it. It was the taste of traditional Hanoian culture that I had ignored when I arrived, and now I can say that it's the one thing you can't leave out of a Hanoi itinerary.

The shows are an hour-long musical on Vietnamese legends and folk tales, performed using water puppets. The movements are artistic and, at some points, risky—using fire and electric current when the scenes call for it. The music is performed live by a talented troupe who have played in other parts of the world. They put on an amazing show—don't miss it!

After that, I went straight back to the hotel and waited away the rest of the day as I started to feel a little homesick.


And there you have it. This was how I chose to get to know Hanoi. I didn't get to see the top touristy spots but I'm happy that the city revealed itself to me in the ways that I'm most comfortable with.

Up next: Hạlong Bay, a hotel review and Everywhere We Ate!

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