Hanoi is a city full of fascinating tourist attractions and the main mecca is the Old Quarter (a.k.a. French Quarter) where the streets are full of life. Old Quarter is not to be missed if you travel to Hanoi for its famous beer street, central location for most of the famous sites and as well lots of shops and restaurants and more.
As Vietnam is well-known for the insane traffic of motorbikes, Hanoi is number 2 on the list after Ho Chi Minh city. Old Quarter being a popular spot not only for travellers, but also for many young locals, it is usually packed all day and night. You could get a relief from the horns and bikes dangerously passing by when it’s Walking Street on the weekends, but there’ll be people on foot filling in the streets.
As I hang out in the Old Quarter a lot, I have a list of beautiful hidden gems where I go for coffee protected from the noise on streets. I shared the list in my previous article, so go check them out here.
There’s another awesome alternative I’d like to share with you, which is to discover a local neighbourhood not too far from the Old Quarter. Spare a morning or an afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the city’s tourist centre and get ready for a relaxing and scenic getaway.
Only about 3km down south from Hoan Kiem lake, which is the centre of the Old Quarter, there’s a beautiful park called Thong Nhat Park or Union Park in English. You can take a Grab or Be ride from where you are to any of the gates of this park.
It is the largest park in the city centre with hundreds of green trees surrounding and protecting you from the roads outside. With a huge lake in the middle, watching the still water is just soothing. I go for a walk here often especially these days while the weather is excellent and I love every spot and corner and how different they are from one another.
It takes about half an hour to go one round if you walk at a slow pace and there are many benches where you can sit, relax and take in the tranquility and beauty of the lake, trees and people watch.
Another amazing thing is that there are many little street cafes scattered throughout the park selling simple drinks. I like to seat and order a sugarcane juice by the lake to sit down and appreciate the mesmerising beauty of the park.
My favourite time to go for a walk is just before the sunset, which is around 4-5pm these days because the sunset glazed onto the streets, grass and the lake is quite a scene to admire.
Then there’s another small lake across the railway street from Thong Nhat Park called Hồ Ba Mẫu. ‘Hồ’ means lake, ‘ba’ means three and ‘mẫu’ is a measuring unit and the lake inside the park is named Hồ Bảy Mẫu because it is a size of seven mẫu units.
This baby sister of Thong Nhat park’s lake is surrounded by local homes in a local neighbourhood. There are several restaurants along the southern side of the lake. For a quick lunch, I recommend two local restaurants adjacent to each other and they have tables by the lake. These restaurants do not appear on Google Map, but it is near where it’s marked on the map above.
They have two menus only; bún đậu mắm tôm (platter of fried tofu, spring rolls, meats etc with fresh rice noodle) and bún chả (sweet BBQ-ed meat with fresh rice noodle). These two are prominent dishes in Hanoi and countless number of restaurants sell these. But these two restaurants are my favourite bún đậu in town.
After the meal, you can head to one of the cafes along the same street. You can enjoy the same view over the lake as in the restaurant. I love going here to spend a good afternoon here to read a book.
A walk in the park and a lunch or coffee by the lake is definitely a highly recommended getaway from the busy centre of Hanoi. There’s not only the precious serenity to be found, but the peaceful and ordinary lives of local Vietnamese.