Looking to escape the chaos of Hanoi’s Old Quarter for an afternoon? Truc Bach is one of the coolest and most interesting places in Hanoi. Here’s my guide to Truc Bach Lake and neighbourhood—including the very best things to see, eat and drink.
The lakeside suburb of Truc Bach (Trúc Bạch) doesn’t enjoy the same reputation as Hanoi’s Old Quarter or the French Quarter. But it’s on-par in terms of being one of the oldest, most historically significant parts of the city. First settled in the 17th century, Truc Bach has a similar feel to the Old Quarter but is much more residential and laid back, and much less touristy. In fact, it’s one of the few places I feel like I can go in Hanoi to get some peace and quiet.
You might recognise the name from your modern history books—Truc Bach Lake was where John McCain crash landed after being shot down over Hanoi in 1967. A rather macabre concrete monument commemorating the event on Thanh Nien Road is one of many US-Vietnam war memorials dotted around the Truc Bach area.
Truc Bach is home to Hanoi’s oldest pagoda, a vibrant marketplace, and a swathe of beautiful temples. Come hungry, because Truc Bach has an excellent range of lakeside cafes, restaurants and bars. This is the best place to try phở cuốn and phở chiên phồng, two specialty dishes that have their roots in Truc Bach. The area even has its own brew, Truc Bach Beer.
Location & getting there
When people say Truc Bach, they’re usually referring to Truc Bach Lake (Hồ Trúc Bạch)—a small body of water sectioned off from the much larger West Lake () by Thanh Nien Road. Truc Bach island sits on the eastern edge of the lake and is connected to the mainland by two roads. Part of District, the Truc Bach neighbourhood includes the island and Truc Bach Road, and extends east almost to the foot of Long Bien Bridge.
Truc Bach is located about 3.5km north of Hanoi Old Quarter. To get there from Hoan Kiem Lake, you can either walk directly north (passing through Dong Xuan Market), or veer north-west (via the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ba Dinh Square and Phan Dinh Phung Street). A Grab car from Hoan Kiem Lake to Truc Bach costs approximately 35K VND, or slightly more for a taxi.
Phan Dinh Phung is one of my favourite streets in Hanoi. It’s not technically part of Truc Bach, but because of its proximity, I’ve included it in the ‘things to do’ section below.
Things to do in Truc Bach
Whenever friends visit Hanoi, I encourage them to spend a morning or afternoon walking around Truc Bach. It’s the perfect place to escape the chaos of the Old Quarter and experience a slightly different, much more relaxed side of Hanoi. Here are my favourite things to do in and around Truc Bach, including the best markets, temples and walking streets.
Truc Bach Lake & West Lake
Hanoi didn’t get the nickname ‘City of Lakes’ for nothing. There are natural and man-made lakes in almost every neighbourhood—the largest being West Lake, which is north of Hoan Kiem Lake. As mentioned, Truc Bach Lake is a small section of West Lake, split from the rest of the lake by Thanh Nien Road. Before the road was built, a dyke divided Truc Bach Lake, making it a good place to raise fish—the main local industry. It’s still a popular place for fishermen, who congregate around the lake’s edges in the mornings and evenings.
Other popular lakeside activities include eating ice cream and paddling a swan boat. Truc Bach is usually thronging on Sunday afternoons, when families and young couples congregate on the promenade. Truc Bach is a natural lake, but it’s not the kind of place you go swimming (it’s one of the most polluted bodies of water in the city).
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Hanoi’s oldest pagoda is Truc Bach’s main tourist attraction and always packed with tourists. Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chùa Trấn Quốc) sits on a lip of land off Thanh Nien Road, jutting out into West Lake. It’s in pretty good nick considering it was constructed in the 6th century. It’s free to walk around the temple grounds and admire the bodhi trees, the various sanctuaries and shrines with their curling incense sticks. There’s no strict dress code, but I recommend you dress conservatively (covered knees and shoulders for women).
Other picturesque temples in the Truc Bach area include the 11th-century Quan Thanh Taoist temple , Chua Chau Long , a Buddhist pagoda, and Chua Ngu Xa , which is located on Truc Bach island.
Den Thuy Trung Tien is another island temple, located on the opposite side of the road to Tran Quoc and linked via a bridge lined with colourful flags.
Chau Long Market
Chau Long Market (Chợ Châu Long) is located at the southern junction where you cross the road to walk onto Truc Bach island. It’s a tightly packed, very local undercover produce market. What I like about this particular marketplace is that everything is set very low. Women sit behind tiled benches with piles of fresh veg and buckets of fish and eels artfully arranged around them. The tarpaulin ceiling is slung low, which can make the market feel a bit claustrophobic. Open from 8am daily.
Phan Dinh Phung Street
Phan Dinh Phung Street (Phố ) runs east to west from the top of Ba Dinh Square all the way to Hang Dau Water Tower. Named after one of Vietnam’s most prominent anti-French revolutionaries, it’s an absolutely gorgeous street, lined with huge, ancient trees that lay a carpet of yellow and orange leaves in autumn. Photographers flock to this street to take advantage of the dappled light. The expansive footpaths make it one of my favourite walking streets in Hanoi.
As you move along Phan Dinh Phung, you’ll see some fine examples of heritage architecture and French colonial buildings. Most are now crumbling but many are still used as government headquarters. Take note of any signs prohibiting photography, because they do exist. I recommend walking on the right-hand side of the street as you walk east—the better buildings are on the opposite side and you’ll get a better vantage.
At the eastern end of Phan Dinh Phung there are lots of nice clothing boutiques and cafes. The recently re-painted Cua Bac Catholic Church (Nhà Thờ Giáo Xứ Cửa Bắc) is located about halfway along the street. Cua Bac Pagoda (Cửa Bắc Thành) is just around the corner and also worth a look in.
Manzi Art Space
A bar, cafe and art gallery, Manzi hosts a program of exhibition and events throughout the year. If you’re interested in the arts, it’s worth popping in to see what’s on while you’re in the Truc Bach area. Open 8am–10.30pm daily.
Hanoi Cooking Center
If you’re looking for an organised activity to do in Truc Bach, Hanoi Cooking Center hosts some of the best-rated cooking classes and market tours in Hanoi. Advance online bookings are essential. They also have a cafe (open 8am–5.30pm daily) if you just want to grab a bite to eat.
More things to do in Truc Bach
Funnily enough, I often come up to Truc Bach to run errands. I get my hair cut at Em Hair Salon , a social enterprise run by local NGO REACH. Omamori Spa is also located in Truc Bach, and offers one of the better massages in Hanoi. Similar to Em, Omamori is a social enterprise that provides training and employment to visually impaired people.
Where to eat & drink in Truc Bach
One of the main reasons people visit Truc Bach is to eat and drink. There are a few local Truc Bach delicacies you have to try, as well as some solid international dining options and a handful of nice cafes and bars with lake views.
Pho cuon (phở cuốn) is Truc Bach’s signature dish. Roughly translated as ‘noodle roll’, it’s basically a big sheet of white rice noodle (the same kind you see in slivers in your pho soup) rolled with beef, fresh lettuce and herbs. Like many Vietnamese dishes, it’s fresh with subtle flavours; make liberal use of the nuoc cham dipping sauce. A serving of pho cuon typically consists of 10 rolls and costs around 50K VND.
If pho cuon is the fresh and healthy choice, pho chien phong (phở chiên phồng) is pure indulgence. It’s made by taking those same sheets of white rice noodle, cut into squares, and deep frying them to make delicious, crispy rice puffs. A bed of puffs is served with strips of pork or beef and greens tossed in a thick gravy on top. It’s ridiculously good.
Restaurants specialising in both dishes can be found in the centre of Truc Bach island, at the intersection of Mac Dinh Chi and Nguyen Khac Hieu streets.
Pho Cuon Huong Mai
A no-frills local favourite, Pho Cuon Huong Mai serves both pho cuon and pho chien phong. My Vietnamese work colleagues have brought me here twice—which must mean it’s good. There are two branches located right across the street from each other. Open 9am–11pm daily.
Pho Cuon 31
Just down the road, Pho Cuon 31 is a slightly more up-market pho cuon join, with proper tables and chairs upstairs (although I much prefer sitting downstairs). I like the pho cuon here, but I do hear the ping of the microwave every time I order which makes me a bit suspicious! Generally, I think the pho cuon at Pho Cuon Huong Mai is fresher and tastier. Open 9am–11pm daily.
State-Run Foodshop No. 37
37 Nam Tràng
State-Run Foodshop (Cửa Hàng Ăn uống Mậu dịch số 37) is one of my favourite restaurants in Hanoi. The theme is 1970s Communist Hanoi—the era of food stamps and rations—and the whole place is done up retro VC-style. The menu can be a bit hit and miss—it’s old school, so there are some pretty funky proteins on offer. We’ve found the vegetable dishes are consistently good. You must order the ‘Foodshop fried rice’—a concave dome of crispy rice scraped off the bottom of a pot. Open 10am–2pm & 5pm–10pm daily.
59 Trúc Bạch
One of Truc Bach’s top international offerings, Foodshop 45 (no relation to Foodshop no. 37, although I do wonder who thought of the name first) is another go-to for us in Hanoi. Indian curries and naan breads are made the traditional way—we’ve never had a bad meal here. We usually get take away, but the waterfront location on Truc Bach Road, north of the island, is delightful. Open 10am–10pm daily (closed Sundays).
Chè & kem caramen dessert bars
Truc Bach has a pretty big sweet tooth, and the area is known for its chè (shaved ice and coconut milk desserts) and kem caramen (AKA creme caramel) shops. There are dozens of them on the streets just north of the water tower. I love the caramel flans at Minci Pudding and the coconut desserts at Kem Caramen Duong Hoa 29 . Most of these dessert bars are modest, hole-in-the-wall style with Vietnamese-only menus. I recommend doing a Google image search before you go and just pointing to what you want.
Tranquil Books & Coffee
One of two Tranquil branches in Hanoi, this cafe is accessed via a ‘secret’ staircase on the road behind Cua Bac Church. Seating is set over multiple levels in a very chic, newly renovated shop house. The coffee is fantastic, and they also do ‘spiked’ smoothies which go down rather well on a hot summer’s night. There aren’t many food options apart from the odd cling-wrapped croissant. Open 8am–10.30pm daily.
13, 19 Đặng Dung (📍location)
The coffee at Bluebird’s Nest is great—but the best thing is the view from the top-floor balcony. The cafe is sequestered inside a suburban block, so you basically look out onto the neighbours’ balconies and walkways. If you prefer to sit indoors, there’s a cosy room downstairs with on-the-floor seating. It’s a popular coworking space for young Vietnamese. Light meals are also available. Open 8am–10.30pm daily.
Bia Hoi U Phao
18 Trấn Vũ (📍location)
Nothing beats a good bia hoi, and Bia Hơi Ụ Pháo, at the bottom of Truc Bach Lake, is one of my favourites. The super-crispy pork belly is the best you’ll find in Hanoi. Open round-the-clock daily.
170 Trấn Vũ (📍location)
With 19 taps, fair to say Standing Bar‘s specialty is craft beer. Despite the name, there is plenty of outdoor seating, including a balcony with lovely lake views. Find it on the northern end of Truc Bach island. Open from 4pm daily (closed Mondays).
1 Thanh Niên (📍location)
Located on the 20th floor of the Pan Pacific Hotel, Summit Lounge commands impressive views of Truc Bach, West Lake, and the inner suburbs of Hanoi. Drinks are definitely on the pricier side; light meals are also available. Open from 4pm daily.
Have you visited Hanoi’s Truc Bach neighbourhood? What did you think? Have you ever stumbled on an interesting local neighbourhood on your travels?