Hanoi Itineraries: Exploring the Old Quarter (Eastern Circuit)

If you are visiting Hanoi, chances are that you will be staying in an accommodation located in the famous Old Quarter which resembles a maze composed of 36 streets each named after the commodity which used to be sold along that road back in the olden days. During my visit, I was unaware of this fact and was thus perplexed as to why all the shops along one street would want to place themselves in a huge flurry of competition to sell the same item – but now I guess it’s just uniquely Hanoi. 




Hoan Kiem Lake

Here's a lovely view of the Hoan Kiem Lake from Ngoc Son Temple!

Hoan Kiem Lake offers the much-needed tranquillity and picturesque landscape amidst all the hustle and bustle in the Old Quarter surrounding it. In the day, many newlyweds visit the lake to have their gorgeous wedding photographs taken against the backdrop of the calm waters. During the night, the lake is brightly lit and gets especially crowded when locals and foreigners alike enjoy the cool breeze and chill out with Hanoi Beer on the benches all around the lake. Overall, a lovely place to relax and unwind.

The lake is brightly lit at night, giving a rather romantic atmosphere, don't you think?

Sightings of large softshell turtles have occurred on multiple occasions at this very location, which further reinforces the locals’ beliefs in the legend that had landed the lake its name. It is commonly believed that the Dragon King had bestowed a magic sword to Emperor Le Loi during his revolt against China, after which a Golden Turtle deity emerged from this lake to claim the sword for its master when the Emperor was on a boating trip. Therefore, this lake is aptly named the Lake of the Returned Sword to commemorate this very event. 

Ngoc Son Temple
Entrance Fee: VND 30,000
Opening Hours: 0800h – 1800h

After crossing the bright red Huc Bridge, you'll be welcomed by the Ngoc Son Temple!

When entering the Ngoc Son Temple, you will be able to admire beautiful artwork engraved in stone and stroll through little stone gates engraved with script in Chinese characters, once again reflecting the influence of China’s 1000-year reign on Vietnam today. This modest temple sits on the Jade Islet in the Hoan Kiem Lake, offering the most spectacular view of the lake. 

Sculptures of a tiger and a dragon are seen protecting the temple at its entrance.

You will also be able to view an exhibit of a gigantic turtle which was believed to be the same one which claimed the magic sword from Emperor Le Loi in the legend of the Hoan Kiem Lake. Besides these, the temple was rather dull to me as it was understandably small in stature and had little on display to view unlike the other temples I visited.

Cho Dong Xuan
Opening Hours: 0700h – 1800h

Cho Dong Xuan is brightly lit at night with numerous stalls set up along its perimeter daily.

The fa├žade of Dong Xuan Market resembles the cold Soviet architecture, but its interior is busy with activity selling a wide array of items including souvenirs and accessories. Its wet market area may not be as surprising to us Southeast Asians who have an abundance of those at home, so you may wish to head up to the upper levels where you may be able to pick out a few Vietnamese souvenirs to remember this trip by.

A local lady serenades us with Vietnamese folk songs next to Cho Dong Xuan.

If you are unable to make time for this due to your packed schedule in the day (which is understandable, as the attractions close relatively early here), do not fret. There are little stalls set up by vendors along the perimeter of the Dong Xuan Market which offer similar merchandise on sale, so put your haggling skills to the test and get your goods at surprisingly low prices – I know I did!


Hanoi Night Market
Opening Hours: 1900h – 2300h (Fri – Sun)

The entire Old Quarter is magically transformed into a huge night market!

The night market has to be the most amazing things in Hanoi and you will definitely not want to miss this! Even if you are not a shopaholic, you will definitely love the atmosphere here with the warm hospitality of the local vendors. You can find almost anything you want here – from electronic gadgets to trendy apparel, from Vietnamese souvenirs to local produce and fruit. 

Check out those mountains of food items on sale and ready to head onto the BBQ pit!

You may also want to try some local delicacies here like the splendid banana sticky rice or savour the aromatic barbecue (where they can grill anything and everything). If you want something filling, just stop by one of the street-side stalls for a main course before heading back in for dessert to satiate your appetite!

This banana sticky rice is heavenly - no wonder there were so many people queueing!

On days when the night market is up and running, the roads surrounding the Hoan Kiem Lake will be closed to vehicles and the entire region is instantly transformed into a pedestrian mall with brightly lit stalls all over. I was dazzled by the wide array of cultural performances including local musical acts and dances, but what surprised me the most was yet to come. 

It's a pedestrian mall, but there's still lots of human traffic - watch out for your valuables!

I stumbled upon numerous huge crowds gathered in circles and was curious what they were watching. The first few crowds had music serenading couples who moved from the crowd into the circle to dance and groove to the beat. As I headed down the streets, I saw teenagers skipping rope at jaw-dropping speeds while others were singing their local pop songs with their melodious voices. There were even individuals of different ages and nationalities playing chapteh together. 

Huge crowds gathering around to watch this girl jump rope at amazing speeds!

It was evident that everyone here had in common, which was that they were all immersed in the joyous atmosphere. It made me really ponder on how simple being happy can be and how much it takes for us to be happy back home in our metropolitan nation (and even then, whether we were really as happy as this bunch out here).

Coming up next, I'll be introducing 5 different wacky dishes which will bring out the daredevil in you - a dish made of something unborn and one that resembles snakes on your plate. Nevertheless, they all share one similarity - they're really sumptuous, despite how weird they may sound and look! Are you game to try these local fare?

Are you inspired to visit Hanoi after reading this post? If so, please feel free to check out the wide range of accommodation options which have been made available by Booking.com in the link below. You will have the opportunity to choose from stunning vacation homes and luxury resorts to apartments and amazing B&Bs where you will be hosted by local families - to make your holiday the most amazing one you've ever had!

Booking.com

Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking at no extra cost for you. Thank you for your support!

Comments

  1. There are so many places to go in Hanoi. Sometimes I get confused but these itineraries help me out a lot. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Linh! I prefer to plan the tourist attractions based on geographical location and preferably, with a theme for each day. Hope this is able to structure your trip and make it more organised! :)

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  2. I really want to visit Hanoi and the Old Quarter seems like a great place to know more about this capital.. Definitely looking forward to checking out the Night Market. I do love the energy of such places not to mention the cool things to see and the yummy food to try!

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    1. Hi Marvi, absolutely! While it may look touristy, locals do outnumber tourists and it will offer you an authentic experience where you will be able to interact with locals and learn more about their way of life. After all, that's one of the reasons why we travel, right? :)

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  3. The night market here looks so amusing. I think one definitely manages to get everything there. :)

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    1. Hi Ridima! Yes, it definitely gives great vibes and energy - stock up on your food and souvenirs, and venture along the gigantic night market which doesn't seem to end! :)

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  4. The night market looks amazing! I would love to try banana sticky rice. And I love that first photo of the lake lit up at night!

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    1. Thanks Linda! The lake is really beautiful and cooling with the occasional breezes - I loved strolling along the perimeter taking in the sights and sounds of Hanoi! Indeed, the night market was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Hanoi with so much to offer: food, souvenirs and a local experience!

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  5. The old quarter in Hanoi seems like a must exploring place, Shiok! I love your itinerary and it seems very practical. Hope to use it soon. When's the best time of the year to explore Hanoi?

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    1. Thanks Agness, I'm sure you'll be able to visit Hanoi really soon :) The capital experiences dry wintry weather from October to February, which I prefer as rainfall levels are much lower! :) More here at http://shioktravels.blogspot.sg/2017/12/introduction-to-hanoi-motorcycle-capital.html?m=1

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  6. Oh god, these photos make me want to return to Hanoi for at least a month! I LOVED my stay in Vietnam and how cool are those skippers? Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Poorna! How long were you in Hanoi for? It's a really charming city which never fails to draw you in :)

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  7. Interesting. When we lived in Vietnam, there wasn't a night market in Hanoi. Great to see you can experience all the street food there. We sat and watched that lake for hours, and never saw a turtle!!

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    1. Hey there! The night market in Hanoi only takes place in the evening on Fridays to Sundays, so it's not a daily event. Yes, plenty of street food to satisfy one's appetite and a chance to interact with the friendly locals! :)

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  8. I would love to check Hanoi out but for me, the lake looks like its the special place to go to for a romantic stroll, especially at night. Love the photos.

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    1. Thanks Danik! The Hoan Kiem Lake is beautiful both in the day and at night. It's really cooling with the occasional breezes, so you can just chill out with a Hanoi Beer with your travelling partner as well :)

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  9. The old quarters of Hanoi seem to be full of life and quiet vibrant. The views of the town from across the Hoan Kiem Lake is just amazing. The temple architecture is so unique. And the street activities full of life. Definitely worth the exploration it seems!

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    1. Hi Neha, indeed, exploring the Old Quarter really gives us a sneak peek into the livelihood of the locals. With the short walking distance from most hotels in Hanoi, it's really easy to visit these attractions! :)

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  10. The lake does have a lovely day and night feel to it. The Ngoc Son temple entrance looks nice and I love the bridge. The night market looks really cool! Hanoi seems like a nice city filled with culture and history.

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    1. Hi Christina, the best part is looking upon the Huc Bridge to Ngoc Son Temple above the Hoan Kiem Lake. The view is spectacular!

      Hanoi does have lots to offer from natural landscapes to historical monuments and not forgetting, mouth-watering local fare. Do visit this charming city when you have the chance! :)

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  11. This looks great! I want to go! And I love a great street market and that one looks great! Thanks for sharing the beauty and your experience in Hanoi!

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    1. Hey there! Hanoi's night market is really impressive not just in terms of size but also the wide variety of food, souvenirs and accessories you'll be able to find. Most importantly, you get the opportunity to interact with friendly locals! :)

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  12. Your blog came in handy as I am about to visit Hanoi in these few months time. Interesting to see people gather at street and play rope jumping!

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    1. Great to hear that you found the post useful! I've got more tips and itineraries for Hanoi coming your way, so stay tuned to this blog! :)

      What really impressed me was how the locals were enthusiastic to include foreigners in their little games and other forms of entertainment. This inclusiveness is something lacking in our society nowadays.

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  13. Thanks for sharing! The street food looks amazing! I can't wait to go we definitely have it on our bucket list.

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    1. Hi Renata, great to hear that you're planning to visit Hanoi! :) There is indeed a mind-blowing array of street food up for grabs in the night market catering to every taste and preference.

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  14. Amazing posts! And I suppose the experience was even better! I love to visit old markets every time I visit a new place - it gives a little insight into the culture of the citizens. Soon planing to visit Vietnam so I'll keep reading your blog :)

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    1. Thanks Flavio for the support! I love taking a peek into the livelihood of locals through examining minute details which are part and parcel of their lives, and markets are definitely an essential channel to get in touch with them since you'll be interacting with plenty of locals not just when bartering but also while striking a conversation with them! :) Happy travels!

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  15. This is one of my favourite cities in Asia. You just brought all my memories flooding back. Especially of the street food! Yum

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    1. Yeah, Vietnamese street food is quite amazing in terms of how creative they are in combining local delicacies with foreign flavours like French crepes. It sure sounds like you enjoyed your stay in Hanoi! :)

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  16. I fell in love with Hanoi the minute we set foot in this lovely city. Sadly we had just a few days as I would have loved to explore more. Just reading through your list I kind of wanted to immediately go back and have a closer look at some of the things.

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    1. Hi Simone, Hanoi is indeed a charming city which is not merely about rich culture and heritage, but also offers an amazing natural and culinary experience. I'd love to go back and explore the city much more, because I feel like I've just scratched the surface during my 6 days in Vietnam :) Perhaps you would like to do the same as well!

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  17. Hanoi looks so beautiful and vibrant! The romantic lake view at night, lively streets, colourful markets and Vietnamese folk singers, everything has a vibe of its own. I would love to try that heavenly banana sticky rice dish. Love the fascinating art work of Ngoc Son Temple.

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    1. Absolutely, Hanoi has its own charm that is reminiscent of the olden days, yet modern in an odd way! It's a lovely place to visit :)

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  18. I am currently planning a trip to Vietnam. This article will definitely help me to plan. Thanks for sharing such an informative post about Hanoi.

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    1. Great to hear that you're visiting Vietnam soon! I'm sure you'll enjoy your stay there - do stay tuned to my blog as I'll be posting even more tips and itineraries which you may wish to take reference from whilst planning your vacation in Hanoi :)

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  19. The Old quarters look fascinating. Of course the Hoan Kiem Lake looks like an ocean of tranquility in the vibrant clutter of the place. I am sure the Lake is the centre of attraction. I find the Ngoc Son Temple too very intriguing and the stone carvings look so lovely.

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    1. Hi Sandy, the Hoan Kiem Lake is a lovely place to just chill and relax for locals and tourists alike, so it's more of a resting place (something like a park) rather than an attraction per se.

      Nevertheless, taking into account the history and myths revolving around the lake, one cannot help but visualise what happened back in the day when the sword was returned :)

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  20. I haven't been to Hanoi yet but I've heard about the night markets and amazing food. You're pictures are stunning btw, they're likely to make anyone want to visit Hanoi!

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    1. Thank you for the compliment, Samah! The night markets do offer a wide variety of local fare which will make your mouth water - and they are the best place to snatch up your souvenirs or accessories! :)

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  21. Nathan. The same practice is there in India too in Chennai. One whole area is full of jewellery shops. I think it gives the shopper one single area to bargain and buy. For some reason people still flock in droves and there is not much cannibalisation of traffic, but infact an increased human traffic in that one street. Is it the same in Hanoi too?

    I liked the temple and its surrounding environs of the trees. Looks like a peaceful place in the old quarters.

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    1. That's interesting! The centralisation of shops selling the same item does help to keep the industry competitive and allows consumers to have a one-stop place to search for an item. But won't it drive prices down?

      The Ngoc Son Temple and Hoan Kiem Lake indeed offer an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter! :)

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  22. Love your stories from Vietnam, I have never been but I have a huge desire to explore.

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    1. Thanks Unta! I sure hope that my tips and itineraries will come in handy to you when you decide to visit Hanoi in the near future! :)

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  23. Geez I miss Asian night markets, they are so lively with multitudes of offerings for everything taste and desire. Also love the Lost Sword legend, Vietnam is such a wonderful country to visit.

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    1. Hi Nathalie, I love appreciating the legends from different parts of the world, because they really reflect a lot about the culture and traditions endeared by the local people :)

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  24. Having visited Hanoi, I don't think I saw it all. That's an extensive list of things to do you have jotted down.

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    1. Hi Saakshi, we can never exhaust the list of things that can be done in a place, can we? You certainly tried some activities in Hanoi which I haven't experienced either!

      There's more than just the Old Quarter too, so you may wish to keep a lookout on the other itineraries I have posted and will be posting too! :)

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  25. Thank you for helping to discover Old quarters. Now, I would love to stay around. The maze of 36 streets looks easy now. I am looking forward to visit Vietnam this year. Hoan Kiem Lake looks lovely and the markets looks super inviting.

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    1. Hey there! That's what I thought about the maze when I was mapping out my route on Google Maps - but it turned out harder than expected because there may be "street-lets" which may or may not be demarcated on the online maps!

      All the best exploring Hanoi - I'm sure you will enjoy the experience as much as I did :)

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  26. I miss Hanoi! I lived there for two months last year. I have photos of sunsets over Hoan Kiem Lake, too. ��

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    1. Hey Rye, it must be a totally different experience living there as compared to just staying around for a week or two!

      Would love to hear more from you about how the experience went and definitely some sunset shots would be lovely too! :)

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  27. Naming of the streets after the goods sold sounds quite interesting. I am sure the couples would be getting lovely backdrop photographing at the Hoan Kiem Lake. I specifically loved the architecture of Ngoc Son Temple. In India, we do not get to see such colors in temple. The night life in Hanoi seems amazing. I would love to visit Hanoi and check out all these places. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hey there, you most certainly should visit Hanoi! It is one of the most vibrant and charming cities which balances tradition and development well :)

      The Hoan Kiem Lake seems to be there - through the romantic strolls when the couples date to the eventual wedding shots when they get married, don't you think? :)

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  28. Hanoi is a beautiful town. Lake, temple, market, it has something for almost all age groups and people who have different interests. The old quarters look charming. Thanks for the wonderful itinerary

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    1. Hi Neha, yes - and this is just what the Old Quarter has to offer! Venture beyond that and more adventure awaits in this charming capital of Vietnam! :)

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  29. Hannoi looks quite a cultural place with that temple and the colorful streets. I love the architecture of it - with the little Oriental touch. I know I would be happy to just discover and rediscover stuff here. Love the Hoan Kiem Lake as well. The market place seems perfect to discover local life. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. Hey Ami, great to hear that Hanoi's sights and sounds attract and intrigue you! :)

      It's most definitely a charming city where East meets West (the remnants of French colonial rule), which balances out just perfectly.

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  30. Wow awesome photos!!! I should go there one day ;) Excellent post too!

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    1. Thanks Iva! You most definitely should visit this amazing city - I'm sure you'll enjoy it tremendously! :)

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  31. Awesome! I am planning to go to Vietnam this May and volunteer in Hanoi. I am already excited and this post just makes me want to fly there immediately. I can't wait!

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    1. Hey Jen, great to hear that you're heading to Hanoi! I'm sure you'll have a fabulous time and I hope my itineraries and tips will be able to help you out :)

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    1. Hanoi was an amazing city with lots to see. A travel destination for 2018 possibly? :)

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  33. One of the first locations I always visit in a new town or city is the market. In my view they offer a microcosm of the city. It seems that way in Hanoi's old quarter as well, and both Dong Xuan Market and the night market seem to deserve a visit.

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    1. Hey Denny, most definitely! They give you a sneak peek into the livelihood of the locals and the opportunity to interact with some of these amicable individuals to get a better understanding of their heritage, culture and country in general :)

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  34. If I had to pick one thing to do (which I wouldn't because, let's face it, I'm visiting that market and eating ALL THE THINGS), I think it would be Ngoc Son Temple. It just looks like a beautiful transplant from the past.

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    1. Hey there! Even though I found Ngoc Son Temple to be slightly underwhelming (possibly because I visited it after the majestic Temple of Literature), the architecture there was fabulous and it offered a lovely view of the Hoan Kiem Lake. It's still worth the trip there though, so I'd say good choice :)

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  35. Such a shame I never got to visit Hanoi when I was there. It looks incredible, and I love nothing more than a night market! Those temples are awesome too!

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    1. Hanoi absolutely brings the definition of a night market to a whole new level, as I've never seen one of such large a scale. It's interesting to see how the roads are as busy as in the day - just that now it's the heavy human traffic!

      I'm sure you'll have the opportunity to visit Hanoi soon to admire its unique charm and check out the amazing night market they have to offer! :)

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