Jan 21, 2014

Authentic Experiences WithLocals

I was clicking through iPhoto to find some pictures for my latest blog post, when I stumbled upon my Hanoi Trip album. The trip happened almost a year ago, but I still remember the fun that Mumun, Vindhya, Acul and I had! I’m not just talking about shopping at the night market *cough* or the Halong Bay cruise, but also our dinner in the Old Quarter, local style.

Mien, Vindhya, Mumun, Acul, among the locals.

We met up with Mien, a Hanoian travel blogger that we knew from Malaysia, at the hostel we were staying in at Old Quarter. As tourists who wanted to have some local experiences, we asked her to decide on where to have dinner.
She then took us to this simple diner, only a few blocks from our hostel. It’s the kind of diner that doesn’t stand out and was packed with locals. Turns out, they provided a DIY hotplate, which was kind of trending among Hanoian youth. Old Quarter, which is THE backpacker hub in Hanoi, turns out to be also where the local cool kids hang out.

We cooked the meat and veggies with the spices that only Mien knew how, chomped them down while exchanging stories with each other. Sitting low on the small stools like any Vietnamese would, at a table placed on the sidewalk, we were really having a local experience.

Afterwards, Vietnamese coffee awaited. I’m not a coffee drinker, but what’s a Vietnamese experience without slurping its coffee, right? Once again, Mien was being an awesome host by taking us to this coffee shop, that we wouldn’t even imagine existed! She led us to that big building across Hoan Kiem Lake, where KFC is located – this finger lickin’ good restaurant is so visible, even first timers would know where it’s at. But! She then walked past the KFC, and took a left turn into what seemed to be a random alleyway. I wouldn’t have guessed there would be anything worth visiting in that small and arguably unattractive alley!

“Lake View Café”, a sign was hanged halfway the alley. We followed Mien through, and voila! A house! With stairs that led us 2 stories to the rooftop!

Up to the rooftop.

“Omagah! We can see the lake from up here!” I said ecstatically, pointing at the famous Hoan Kim Lake, an icon on Hanoi city, that reflected the city lights around it.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Most of the tables were occupied by young people, who dressed up nicely but casual enough for coffee shops. We were lucky to get a table exactly for four. Then our conversation continued while sipping all different kinds of coffee. I had the lightest one, which was mixed with milk, as I am not built for coffee, seriously. I usually tremble and lose my energy after a cup of coffee, even if it’s mixed with milk, but this was the second time I had a Vietnamese coffee, in Vietnam, and I felt totally fine!

Ambience-wise, Lake View Café was superb! Rooftop, a lot of laughs, light coffee, and the feeling of being one of the locals. It felt like I was accepted in Hanoi, like I belonged there. That might sound a bit dramatic, but seriously, it was a feeling that I would definitely want to experience wherever I go!

Next time I’m going on a trip, I might look up the withlocals for a chance of meeting and doing stuff that usually only the locals do. I’m not against touristy stuff or anything, heck, I’m a tourist! It’s just that local experiences can be so much different, somewhat authentic, therefore unforgettable. This withlocals thing is not for free, though. But what is, right?

There’s some fee that I’ll need to pay the locals that provide the activities, may it be dining, city tours, or other activities, which is only fair. The great thing is that I get to share with the locals, in the rate that they themselves determine. Sharing activities, sharing-economy, dude, who knows, I might share a long lasting friendship with them, too! *this is where you say Aaaaawwwh…*

I’m totally supporting this new concept and I might even sign up to be a host someday! Or I might start signing up as a ‘guest’ for my coming trip to Yogyakarta. Yeay!!! And this is the kind of activities I’ll probably do there:

(picture taken from withlocals' official website)


  1. tiap kali traveling, sebisa mungkin aku juga nyari tempat makan yg banyak locals nya daripada turisnya :D.. Jadi inget pas di phnom penh. ga sengaja juga kita nemuin tmpat makan yang cuma ada org2 lokal. mereka nyajiin seafood yg sumpah enak bgt dan MURAAAAHHH. Sayang kita nemuinnya di hari terakhir.

    hanoiblm prnh aku dtgin, cuma HCMC nya aja.. tp dr dulu Hanoi, Halong dan Sapa udh masuk wishlist ku, dan hopefully thn depan hrs bisa kesana ^o^

    1. wah, semoga bisa terwujud yaaaa.. segera! amin..