Hanoi is a vibrant city, full of bustling life, bright colors, loud noises and distinct smells. It’s an easy city to get around, by either taxis or just walking. But if you truly want to experience the Hanoi of the Vietnamese, you have to see it on two wheels.
Motorbikes rule the road of Hanoi, often creating chaos out of crosswalks. But it’s how the locals move, and it’s how we wanted to experience Hanoi too. Although we are experienced motorbike drivers from our years navigating around Indonesia, we opted to try a motorbike tour when visiting Hanoi, and it was a great decision.
We chose Vietnam Vintage Vespa Tours, simply because I’ve long dreamed of owning a Vespa and navigating crowded city streets. These Vespas are not the sleek and shiny, but the vintage silver and loud. It brought a certain authenticity to the experience. It was 8am and we were paired up with drivers, setting out to see Hanoi from the back of a Vespa.
Hanoi is so much larger than the Old Quarter, where most backpackers spend their days & nights. Choosing to tour Hanoi by Vespa was definitely the way to see most of this fascinating city.
Our first stop of the tour was the Hanoi Opera House. This beautiful building is an iconic structure in Hanoi’s cityscape. The Hanoi Opera House is modeled after a Paris opera house, the Palais Garnier. It’s a great stop to capture some of Vietnam’s beautiful architecture.
As we drove to our next location, we passed by one of Hanoi’s most artistic attractions, the Mosaic Tile Wall. This colorful & creative landmark stretches for miles along one of Hanoi’s busiest highways. Sometimes the mosaics depict creative patterns or historical events. It’s a sight to see, especially if you aren’t the driver!
We next stopped at Long Bien Bridge, a historic & landmark bridge in Hanoi city. This is one of two bridges in Hanoi’s skyline, but by far the most distinct. Built in 1903, the bridge has seen tremendous wear and tear over decades of use and war, but remains functional and intact as a passage for trains, mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians. Cars & trucks use the nearby Chương Dương Bridge. Definitely a unique piece of Hanoi’s history.
We continued on to two religious structures, Phu Tay Ho Temple and Van Nien Pagoda. Not being a follower of the Buddhist religion, I never really understand the difference between a temple and a pagoda, other than the shape. On the tour, I learned that spirits & ancestors are worshipped at the temple and the Buddha is prayed to at the pagoda. When we visited Phu Tay Ho Temple, we happened to observe a family ceremony in progress, full of centuries of tradition. Van Nien Pagoda was a serene place with a beautiful view of West Lake, which various representations of the Buddha and even Buddhist prayer flags.
Probably my favorite part of this tour was the drive around the West Lake. This huge lake, just north of Old Quarter’s Hoàn Kiếm Lake, is not part of the touristy party district, but is surrounded by apartments, restaurants, open spaces, luxury hotels, water parks and more. It’s a beautiful drive. The best stop around the lake was the Twin Dragons. Much of Hanoi’s cultural storytelling involves dragons, and these two dragons at the edge of West Lake are pretty spectacular. Local fisherman work nearby, and it’s a bit off the main road. It’s truly a cultural landmark.
Another interesting stop on the tour was a bit of a war relic. Pieces of a B52 bomber that was shot down during the Vietnam War, or as it’s known there the American War, landed in a small city lake and remained visible. Today, homes and businesses have been built up around the lake and it’s war memory, but the bomber remains.
We continued driving through the beautiful French Quarter, past Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and other important buildings in Vietnam’s government, and eventually ended at the City Gate.
The tour was vast & inclusive, and the guides were informative. We toured until lunch time, finishing our time with our guides at a local pho restaurant with tons of yummy dishes.
Overall, it was a great tour and I’d highly recommend it as a way to see Hanoi. I will say that I did this tour 9 weeks pregnant, and found the ride a bit uncomfortable at times. Sitting on the back of a Vespa is not designed for people with short legs and nausea. Although the lead tour guide was informative & fluent in English, the other drivers, whom were friendly, relied on him to communicate the tour information. The vintage Vespas were certainly romantic, but lacked a bit of comfort But even so, it was a good tour and I’m glad we did it!
This post was sponsored in part by Vietnam Vespa Tours , but as always, the opinions are entirely my own.