The Gritty City of Hanoi with Kids
5 Must-Dos in Three Days
After our whirlwind exploration of breathtaking Halong Bay, we returned to absorb the culture in the gritty city of Hanoi. There is no easy way to get from A to B. The Vietnamese countryside is crazy back and forth, back and forth. We also shared a van with a few other random travelers with no air conditioning and a manual stick drive.
As you can imagine, it took a lot for us to stomach the 4 hour ride back to Hanoi. But we made it. There are other more efficient (albeit more expensive) ways to reach Hanoi from Halong Bay, but we are notorious for making a dollar stretch as far as possible and still mostly travel like backpacking college kids. The situations can be tough with little ones sometimes, but we keep our cool and make it work.
"It's all part of the adventure!"
Speaking of making the dollar stretch as far as possible, we generally stay at AirBnBs or similar type properties we find on Booking. We discovered The Golden Sun Suites Hotel on Trip Advisor and it also included breakfast. Such a gem in the heart of the city.
Your morning will also melt into magic when you can walk out of your door and buy fruit off the back of a bike or head down the street for a delicious food cart...why would you want to stay at a boring resort?
By the way, these people aren’t homeless. Every alleyway has pop-up food stalls and stools/benches beside them, so patrons can have a place to sit and enjoy their meal. The next two photos are streets. Perfectly normal humans- sitting, chatting, eating away. That would not be possible if they reopened.
"Genius, if you ask me!"
~A Few Things To Do In Hanoi~
1.) Engage With The Locals!
Whether it is waiting on food to cook or stopping by a souvenir stall, strike up a conversation as best as you can. You will be fascinated walking away. This lady adored the boys, and even though we aren't huge on collecting souvenirs, we each bought a hat from her.
(see end picture)
The pictures below depict a very valuable lesson to teach your children at a young age - treating everyone with respect, even if you cannot understand them. Don't shy away or whisper talk about them. Respect them, their culture, and language. Even try saying something to them. This has happened in a few foreign cities. But I watched from a safe distance and let Jack mingle with the local kids. In this example- they were playing a game, and he wanted to join in. It took about 2.5 seconds for all the kids to realize they didn't speak the same language. But that didn't stop them from figuring out how to communicate and play together. It's a heart-warming thing to witness.
2.) Hoàn Kiếm Lake-
Travel days are always exhausting, and the previous day had us zonked. After our super calculated trip in Halong Bay, we were craving some relaxation. No tours. No deadlines. Much needed free time to explore at our own pace. We meandered a few blocks over to this gorgeous lake near our hotel. Evan could toddle around, and Jack could burn his ball of energy. Perfect! There is also a temple on a small island reached via a wooden bridge & a tower on another island. Visible behind Jack.
Find this lake, though, especially if you have kids with you! There is a plethora of simple things to keep them busy. No playgrounds, but they can run, watch birds, pick flowers, play hide and seek, climb benches, etc. The walking path is massive, wide, and outlines the entire lake. I say this because in our western mindset, it's easy to get trapped in thinking our kids need a specific "thing" to entertain them. They don't. They need space. Lots of space.
3.) Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Theatre-
One thing I recommend you pay to do in Hanoi is the water puppet show. It's a cultural must if you want to experience a local thing! This tradition has been going on for over 1,000 years. Be aware that some kids might not do well with it, though. I had to take Evan out towards the end, because he got scared. I recommend going, but be mentally prepared for it. The flashing lights, live music, and foreign language can be a bit much for a little one. Jack was fully entranced though. I think it's the age, but also depends on the child as well.
4.) Vietnamese Coffee-
Even if you are not a big coffee drinker, I will still tell you to put it high on the list. You will not find coffee quite like this anywhere else in the world. It's strong, sweet, and delicious! I'm typically not big about having sweetener in my coffee, but this...this is different. The mixture of flavors is indescribable. I mean, the concoction includes sweetened condensed milk!
In case you return home with a hankering for the good stuff, here is a recipe I highly recommend from MokaBees!
5.) Visit a Temple-
If you are in Asia, there will be a temple. Lots of temples. Everywhere you turn, there will be a temple. The ones in the city center are smaller but still loaded with culture. Great lesson for the kids and easy sight-seeing stop for the adults.
#1 Tip: Bring a shawl or scarf. As is typical upon entering temples, you must cover your shoulders. Some are stricter and require full-length coverage, even for guys. Josh and I both had to purchase flowy pants and borrow a robe to gain access to the Golden Buddha Temple in Bangkok. Be prepared to fork over the funds for entrance into the temples if you aren't carrying adequate accessories for coverage.
#2 Tip: Keep your head up always. If it is your first time visiting southeast Asia, a major heads up would be to keep your head up and be aware at all times. The most affordable (and therefore widely used) mode of transportation is the motor bike. Not a motorcycle...don't call it that. Ha! It's a motorbike through and through. These things will whiz around a corner and take you out if you are not careful.
Hanoi is an incredible city!
I hope you can fit it into your travels one day. I'm definitely glad we took a few days to absorb a bit of city life in Vietnam instead of passing through only to explore Halong Bay. The culture, food, and historical ruins all A+. Hanoi is a great city to ease into southeast Asia if you've never visited. It's not overwhelmingly massive, yet not too far from the countryside either. Great location and enough to keep you busy for a few days.
Be sure to read about our glorious time in Halong Bay just days before this. It is packed with information on what to do and the best time to visit as a tourist!
I’ll close with these thoughts...
1.) As American passport holders, Josh and I were both warned of traveling to Vietnam for pleasure. These fears solely stemmed from the Vietnam war, which fueled all through the 1960s and came to a halt entering the 70s. Historically, this wasn’t very long ago. Many men lost their lives and tensions ran high for years following the war. In our experience, we were never threatened and didn’t have any negative reactions when people asked where we were from. Actually, a lot of folks were intrigued and were full of curiosity about the US.
2.) We also experienced the same warnings about traveling with our sons. Foreigners, in general, are an anomaly in most of Asia, especially when traveling through rural areas. Most residents have never seen blonde-headed/blue- eyed human beings. Oh cool...wrong! It makes you feel somewhere between an alien and a celebrity. It’s VERY common for people to stare, take pictures, and touch your children (on the head or cheeks). Although, I had a few friends warn me of taking my fair-skinned, little blondie/redheaded babies to Vietnam due to the high risk of kidnapping. One lady even told me they would fetch a high price tag for child trafficking. Say what?!? Why would you tell someone that?? Of course, I was on guard the entire time but not once did we ever feel threatened. I've felt uneasy in other countries before but felt okay here. There are certainly countries I wouldn’t step foot in for obvious reasons and I’m not naive to bad people being in the world, but I’m also not going to stay in my regional bubble for the rest of my life. There is a great, big ol world out there, and I want my children to experience the beauty of different cultures and landscapes. Wherever you travel (even in the US), you have to be vigilant and keep an eye on your kids.
In the end, I am incredibly thankful we didn’t listen to the nay-sayers. We would’ve missed out on many incredible experiences. We also met other fellow Americans while in Hanoi and Halong Bay. One family was from California and traversing several cities in Vietnam with their three young kids in tow. All little blondies and the youngest around Evan’s age. My momma advice– don’t be naive, but also don’t live in fear. YOU know best! Listen to your instincts, and you will be just fine.
Have you been to Hanoi? Is it on your future list?
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