Above: The Long Bien railway bridge crossing the Red River in Hanoi - ADOBE STOCK

Unforgettable Private Tours in Hanoi

The Long Bien railway bridge crossing the Red River in Hanoi - Adobe Stock

I asked an Andrew Harper travel advisor to help arrange some private guiding during our time in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and one of my favorite cities in the entire region. Our Travel Office’s preferred ground operator in Vietnam, Destination Asia, offered an enticing selection of half- and full-day tours. I regretted that we had time to try only two!

Street-Food Tour

Taking cyclos to the Old Quarter, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Elaborately decorated egg coffees, Café Dinh, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Serving up some banh khuc, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Beef pho in a private home that turns into a restaurant each afternoon, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Banh mi chao, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Banh duc, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Taking cyclos back to the hotel at night, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor

There is no shortage of companies offering street-food tours in Hanoi, but most of them follow similar (rather unexciting) routings. We spent a little more money to reserve a private one led by chef Ai, who made it to the top five in Vietnam’s 2014 season of “Top Chef.” In addition to more expected options, such as artistically decorated egg coffees and banh khuc (sticky rice filled with pork and mung bean), we tried items we would have never found on our own. According to Ai, we visited the last maker of bahn duc in Hanoi. This wonderful soup contains ground pork, mushroom, fresh cilantro and a dollop of rice paste too thick to incorporate but too thin to qualify as a noodle or dumpling. The slow cooker containing the paste resembled a cauldron of bubbling white lava. Later, we entered an unmarked building and walked upstairs to a private home. Each afternoon, it turns into a restaurant serving delicious beef pho. For the four hours of this tour, we felt like Hanoi insiders.

Bicycle Tour

Ly Thuong Kiet Temple, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Our guide, Dinh, leading us through Bac Bien, on the opposite side of the river from downtown Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Flower vendor near the Long Bien Bridge, Hanoi -Andrew Harper editor
Fruit in the Long Bien wholesale market, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Our guide, Dinh cycling through Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Crossing the Long Bien Bridge, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor
Artist Dinh Thi Tham Poong in her home and studio, Hanoi - Andrew Harper editor

Anyone familiar with the traffic of Hanoi thought I was crazy to book a bicycle tour. I admit that this experience would not be ideal for a first day’s exploration, nor would it be suited to those uncomfortable with urban biking. But I loved it. Our guide led the charge as we pedaled from our hotel to the Long Bien wholesale market, as innumerable motor scooters wove around us. En route, we biked up an on-ramp to join an eight-lane highway. I could do nothing but laugh. “This would never be allowed in the United States,” I exclaimed, with equal measures of glee and trepidation. The sprawling market was fascinating but certainly not beautified for tourists. After crossing the nearby 120-year-old Long Bien Bridge over the Red River, we explored a quiet temple compound before sitting down to tea with acclaimed artist Dinh Thi Tham Poong in her studio. We had a fascinating chat with her about her work, which is influenced by both her Muong heritage and Western painters such as Gustav Klimt. Following an egg coffee-making lesson, our good-humored guide ensured that we would return to our hotel unscathed. It was exhilarating to bike around Hanoi and, as on the street-food tour, we had access to places and people we never would have otherwise.

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Above: The Long Bien railway bridge crossing the Red River in Hanoi - ADOBE STOCK

Read More from Our Trip:

Beyond Street Food: Fine Dining in Hanoi New Vietnam Hotels Luxury Hotel Discoveries in Vietnam Deliciously Unusual Coffees in Hanoi Small-Ship Luxury Aboard Ponant  Cruise Charters With Gohagan & Co. Scenes From Our Cruise in Vietnam