Many people miss the charm of Hanoi. Most travellers use it as a jumping point to Sapa, Halong Bay or the airport and skip the city. It is a shame because it is a great city to explore.
One thing I noticed is that hassle is a minimum. We only were asked once to buy something by any vendor or cyclo (rickshaw) drivers and once we declined, they moved on. This is so refreshing from cities like Bangkok or Siem Reap.
The old quarter is very much a working quarter still. You will find shops adjacent to each other that will sell only shoes, or metal fabricators, or woodworkers. But you will also see handicraft stores, or art galleries with artists at work, painting away.
The market is moving goods at a flury. Packages of shirts, pants are being unloaded or loaded. The streets are filled with motorcycles with goods piled to the sky and spilling off to the sides. The police roam the streets to disperse the mobile merchants. These are older battle-worn ladies carry goods on yokes or can be a mobile restaurant too, a tiring thankless job.
On every corner and spaces between stores are also mini restaurants serving street food to diners on plastic stools. This is a familiar sight for those who have been to Thailand, Malaysia and other South-east Asia countries.
On weekends, a street is closed to traffic and pedlars come to sell the latest fashion clothes & accessories, iPhone and iPad covers and cheap goods from China. Nothing here is of interest to tourist and caters to the locals.
We did not see the tourist sights like the mausoleum or temples. For us wandering the streets of Hanoi was fascinating because of it largely ignores tourists as a cash grab and goes about its own business.