Hanoi simply buzzes with life. At almost any time of day, you can walk outside, watch various types of delicious street food being made (more on that later), find a place to sit down on a toddler-sized stool on the sidewalk to enjoy a coffee, lemon tea, or draught beer, purchase almost anything you can think of from specific streets dedicated to selling specific goods (e.g. "silk street"), or try your luck at crossing a multi-lane avenue while dodging the motorbikes. Everywhere you look, a different aspect of everyday life is unfolding on the sidewalk and spilling out onto the streets.
By the time we got to Hanoi, we were officially uninterested in sight-seeing. We did not visit a single museum or the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. What we did was spend hours walking around various neighborhoods and trying to live like a local. We took a seat at sidewalk food stalls and ordered two of what everyone else was eating.
We started our mornings with a Vietnamese coffee, took a break in the afternoons with a tra chanh, a sweet lemon tea drink taken as a snack along with sunflower seeds, and ended our evenings with a $0.25 bia hoi, or draught beer. We walked down the street where buttons and zippers are sold, the pvc piping block, the kitchenware streets, and the Made in China clothing avenue.
We dodged saleswomen aggressively pushing vegetables and fruits from their fully loaded bicycles. We sat by the lake and watched the endless stream of motorbikes zip along the road, convinced that some of them must just be riding around in circles for fun, because this many people couldn't possibly always have to go somewhere.
In short, we didn't visit any "sights" but instead enjoyed all the everyday scenes and smells of Vietnamese life, and we loved every minute of our eight days in Hanoi.