In my mind, romance is something that grows as a date progresses and the outcome largely depends on the person you are with and what you are doing. You could be on a date with the coolest and most fantabulous person in the world, but if you choose poorly when deciding what to do, such as taking in a water puppet show, you will both be bored out of your minds and you can kiss your romantic evening goodbye.
Nothing is going to be considered romantic if both of you aren’t enjoying your time together and having fun. So, assuming you have completed Step 1 and found a person of interest to spend time with, here, in descending order, are my Top 7 romantic things to do in Hanoi. But, then again, I’m just a guy so what do I know?
7. The Movies
This suggestion may seem a bit trivial, but trust me, taking your lady to a cinema in Hanoi is worth your time. The norm for going to the movies in America is putting on your comfy clothes and pigging out on a bucket of popcorn and a few litres of soda. This is not the case in Vietnam. Women in Hanoi get dressed up for a movie like they were going to the Oscars. I have never seen a larger selection of heals and mini-skirts as I did at the 9pm screening of ‘The Life of Pi’. With all of the couples filling up the cinema it was hard not to join the crowd and get a little frisky.
6. Swan Boats
Paddleboats are not for everyone, but paddleboats shaped like a swan certainly are. Not only do they give you a work out, these boats also give you the opportunity to get away from all of the noise and distractions of the city. Drifting in the middle of a lake is one of the few places you can truly escape Hanoi and be alone yet still be completely surrounded by it. Out of the many lakes that offer this attraction, I suggest either Truc Bach or West Lake for your paddling pleasure. I recommend an evening departure so you are able to position your swan boat in the perfect spot to watch the sun slowly turn into a glistening mirage and sink behind the skyline. It might get a little chilly too … the perfect time for a snuggle.
5. Pump up the Adrenaline
Paintball. Yes, paintball. Take your date to a place where you can shoot at each other. Nothing gets the hormones going like getting pinned down behind an old oil drum while attempting to avoid a barrage of pink and yellow balls of paint. If you are on the same team, protect her like it’s a real gunfight and take a few bullets for her. Who knows, maybe your bravery will get you somewhere. If you end up on opposite teams, do not, I repeat DO NOT, shoot her. Just shoot at her and miss, then let her pump you full of bullets and then guilt trip her like there’s no tomorrow. Because, Ouch!, those bullets really hurt.
4. Hoan Kiem Stroll
Sometimes it’s good to get down in the crowd and there’s no better place to do that than Hoan Kiem Lake. It has basically everything to offer right around its perimeter. Bars, restaurants, shopping, ample parking, at least ten newlyweds taking photos, and even a Post Office should you have the sudden urge to send off a package. Evenings are best for this adventure, as this is when the true character of the city emerges. Because of the larger than average amount of space, this is a popular place for people to work out in groups or join dancing lessons, along with every kind of vendor imaginable trying to sell you their products or services. But watch out for the people claiming to fix your footwear for cheap, because they will take your shoe and hold it for ransom. For the best results, start wandering slowly and take breaks often. Ice cream, tra chanh, and beer stops are encouraged but not mandatory.
3. Rooftop Dinner
There’s nothing like a view from above. Scratch that … there’s nothing like enjoying a view from above while in the company of a beautiful woman. In a city like Hanoi there are countless restaurants to choose from that offer outstanding views of the city. The Lotte Center offers the highest rooftop experience you can get, at 65 storeys high, but that’s actually a little too high up for my taste. I like being a little closer to the ground so I don’t feel like I might be struck by lightning or blown off the edge by a gust of wind. There are plenty of three- or four-storey rooftop options to take your date to on the shores of Truc Bach or West Lake and even more around the Old Quarter.
2. Festivals and Fireworks
If there’s one country that knows how to party, it’s Vietnam. They know it isn’t about fancy clothes or expensive hors d’oeuvres, but rather about the company you are with and having an endless supply of booze. There are plenty of festivals in Hanoi, but the Granddaddy of them all is, of course, Tet. The atmosphere and vibe in the city during this time of year is amazing in itself, but experiencing it while on a date is the absolute best this country has to offer. Now, top that experience off with viewing fireworks exploding above the city from several different locations simultaneously and you might just get some fireworks of your own.
1. Spontaneous Adventure
Some of the best dates I’ve ever had in Hanoi were ones where nothing was planned. There is so much activity in Hanoi, and because of this it’s a perfect place for an unorganized couple. There will be something to do in any direction you decide to go, so just pick a random spot on a map, hop on your bike, and see what happens. If you want a suggestion on a direction, Long Bien district is a great place to start. The Long Bien Bridge, to me, is the best place to drive in the city. The bridge itself is a staple of Hanoi, with its abstract architecture and long history, but the views it boasts are just as good. As you cross you realise it’s not only a way to get across the river but also a marketplace and a hangout spot, and most likely you will once again witness a lucky couple as they get photographed for their wedding day.
As you make your way across, be sure to take it easy so you can observe the slow trudge of overloaded boats carrying a bunch of sand and farmers doing their thing on the river’s edge. But also go slowly because it’s not a super safe road … lots of bumps. If you want to take it really slow, stop and enjoy some corn on the cob and have a chat with the tra da lady before exploring one of the parks or temples on the other side of the river.