As September approaches, Hanoi is about to welcome the fall season. No more tremendous heat from the sun, only the breezing winds sweeping on your face, yellow leaves falling down the pavements, and the sweet smells of milkwood pine flowers on every street you stroll.
Booking.com has recently released its top six cycling destinations, one of which is Hanoi. In a city “known for its centuries-old architecture, lakes, parks, and over 600 temples and pagodas,” cycling might be the best transportation choice to explore the city in depth and at your own pace. In this article, we’ll take you on a day-long cycling tour from the famous West Lake at sunrise to the beautiful Quang Ba night market at dawn, which promises to offer you a fully immersed experience in terms of food and culture as well.
Let's kick off your day with a long ride around West Lake. Although you can choose any time to cycle here, most locals often ride in the morning since there is less traffic and you can take in the fresh air and enjoy the cool weather in the early morning. A full ride around West Lake is 18km, equal to an hour ride.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
You can stop by Tran Quoc Pagoda on your ride around West Lake. Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, dating back to the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De (544-548). On the grounds of Tran Quoc is a Bodhi tree taken as cutting of the original tree in Bodh Gaya, India. In addition, Tran Quoc is a small museum of priceless antiques dating from thousands to hundreds of years ago.
57 Tho Nhuom Sticky Rice
For your breakfast, 57 Tho Nhuom sticky rice is a must-try because they offer lots of protein, preparing you for a long day ahead. The shop is now owned by Ms. Phuong (daughter of Ms. Thu - the original owner), who has been serving the locals for the last 30 years. Besides the white, steamy, sticky rice, the toppings include caramelized pork, eggs, pate, sausages, and Vietnamese pork ham. A bowl of sticky rice here ranges from VND 30,000 to 70,000.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
More than 1km from your breakfast spot is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. The site was inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in 2010. In the past, Thang Long (Hanoi nowadays) was chosen as the capital of Vietnam, starting from Ly Dynasty. Since the citadel was still being built by many dynasties after that, it was a comprehensive architectural work, carrying the history of hundreds of years. The entrance to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is VND 30,000/person.
Bun cha Huong Lien
If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because bun cha Huong Lien is where former US president Barack Obama had a meal with famous chef Anthony Bourdain on his trip to Vietnam in 2016. Currently, there are two stores in Hanoi, but the original address is 24 Le Van Huu. The Obama combo (based on his meal that day), including one bun cha, one fried seafood roll, and 1 Hanoi beer, is available at VND 85,000.
Hoa Lo Prison Relic
Hoa Lo Prison, built by the French colonies, was formerly known as "Hell on Earth," "School for Patriots," and "Hanoi Hilton hotel." Today, this historical site allows tourists to come and learn about the war's legacies. Recently, they open a new night tour called “Nighttime at Hoa Lo.” These tours are often sold out very quickly and might be booked months in advance. However, for in-day visits, a ticket only costs VND 30,000.
More than half of a day has passed, rest yourself at the local café - Giang with its specialty - egg coffee. The creator of Giang coffee was a bartender for Sofitel Metropol Hanoi. Seventy years ago, milk used to be an expensive item, so he came up with the idea of replacing milk with eggs to create a cup of coffee. You can find Giang Coffee at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan, with a price range from VND 25,000 to 50,000.
Bat Dan Pho
Hanoi can have many places to eat pho, but only a few serve traditional pho, one of which is Bat Dan Pho. This is a pho shop with over 100 years of experience. It is such a popular spot that rarely can you see the shop without customers. Sometimes, you must wait in line to get a bowl of pho. In the evening, Pho Bat Dan is open from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm. Although it is only VND 40,000 to VND 50,000 per bowl, you will feel full for the rest of the night.
Hanoi Old Quarters
After dinner, continue your adventure with a trip into Hanoi's Old Quarters. Be careful not to get lost in this entangled maze of streets. Each street in the Old Quarters specializes in a particular type of product, such as Hang Bong with specialization in cotton, Hang Ma in paper goods, or Hang Dao with cloths. On weekends, there is also a walking street in the area and around Guom Lake, where people can stroll along the streets playing games or taking pictures.
Ba Dinh Square
The last stop for your ride is Ba Dinh Square. This is the place where former president Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. If possible, try to reach Ba Dinh Square around 9:00 pm for the flag lowering ceremony. Afterward, you can still join in with locals, chilling on the green grass field surrounding the square.