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Hanoi's busy Old Quarter. (Photograph by Shawn Hughes, My Shot)

Tranh Ha’s Hanoi

Twenty-five-year-old Hanoi native Tranh Ha Nguyen began to realize what she loved about her hometown after spending time abroad in Japan. “Hanoi is so youthful and animated,” she says. Now working as a translator, Thanh Ha spends her free time showing visiting friends around the Vietnamese capital. For those of us who can’t personally join her (at least not right now), here are a few of her favorite things about Hanoi.

Hanoi is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Hoan Kiem Lake, a beautiful lake in the heart of Hanoi.

Autumn is the best time to visit my city because the rains have passed, the city sparkles, and you can experience the wonder of the season through all your senses.

You can see my city best from the terrace at Café Pho Co. You’ll have to climb an old, narrow staircase to make it to the top, but it’s worth it. It’s the ideal way to see Hanoi (unless it’s raining). At night, the scene turns especially fancy.

Locals know to skip the small shops in the Old Quarter and check out the boutiques in outlying areas like Vincom, Doi Can, and Parkson instead.

Streets in the Old Quarter are the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like Trinh Cong Son, My Linh, and Tran Thu Ha have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology because, aside from the main exhibits, the museum contains an array of culture and history, like Dong Ho art.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that you can rent a motorbike. Ride around Hanoi and see it like a true local. The city is, after all, abuzz with them.

The best places to spend time outdoors in my city are Bach Thao Park, the botanical garden, or at the fishing spots near Gia Lam (which are the perfect places to have a picnic with friends).

My city really knows how to celebrate spring. May Day, Liberation Day , and Ho Chi Minh‘s birthday are an important part of the season.

You can tell someone is from my city if they are romantic, humorous, radical, and love all things antique. And if they consider dried fruit to be Vietnam’s specialty, you know they’re from Hanoi too.

For a fancy night out, I head to Dao Duy Tu Street for the pubs, the bars, and the karaoke. Don’t forget to buy tra chanh lemon tea from a vendor and sip on it while socializing with some friends, just like the locals do.

Just outside my city, you can visit Ha Long BaySapa, and Ha Giang.

My city is known for being rough, but it’s really an effervescent place, full of culture and open-hearted people.

The best outdoor market in my city is Hang Be Market.

The restaurants along Doi Can are my favorite places to grab breakfast, and the areas around Dong Xuan Market  and Hang Bong are the spots for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Vietnam News.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I ride around West Lake and soak up the sights.

To escape the crowds, I find a quiet café around West Lake, too.

The dish that represents my city best is bun cha, and tra chanh lemon tea is my city’s signature drink.

Keangnam Tower is my favorite building in town because it’s the symbol of Hanoi’s progress.

The Hanoi Opera House is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out the New Square nightclub.

In the spring you should visit the Temple of Literature, the various flower markets, and the vendors selling goods for the Lunar New Year.

In the summer you should jog around West Lake, enjoy Vietnamese noodles and seafood, savor ice cream at Trang Tien, and feel the night breeze as you whisk through Hanoi on a motorbike.

In the fall you should take photos on Hoang Dieu street. The picturesque Thang Long Imperial Citadel sits here. Or, if you’re in the mood for some entertainment, see a show at the Hanoi Opera House.

In the winter you should take advantage of December shopping sales and indulge in the season with some fried corn or sweet potatoes.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the game center inside the Keangnam Tower.

The best book about my city is Thuong Nho Muoi Hai for those who understand Vietnamese.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “60 Nam Cuoc Doi.” 

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s the center of Vietnamese charm, it’s incredibly welcoming, and tourists will be greeted by friendly service no matter where they go.

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