Nov 20, 2017

Vietnam Travelogue: Exploring The Streets Of Hanoi.

Sometime in October, I made a short trip to Vietnam, where I spend two days at Hanoi and another two days at Halong Bay. I did not go alone this time round, but with three other good friends of mine. It was a nice change to have some company, after my solo trip to Beijing, the month before.

To be very honest, Hanoi was not a place that I had planned to visit. However, my short endeavor turned out to be unexpectedly enjoyable. There's just something about the new-culture and old-school charm in Hanoi that never ceased to amaze me.

For the most part, I realized that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (which I have visited previously but wasn't quite fond of), were so different and unique on it's own way - apart from the weaving traffic that is.

Traveling Time
I traveled to Hanoi & Halong Bay for 4D3N, on the 28th Oct - 31st Oct 2017. I spend 2 days in Hanoi and 2 days in Halong Bay. The best time to travel to Hanoi would be in Autumn (Sept/Nov) and Spring (Mac/May), where temperature hovered at a cooling 21°C. Weather was excellent while I was there.

Read Part 2 of my Vietnam Travelogue: The Breathtaking Beauty Of Halong Bay.

Flight Tickets
At about one month before my trip, I booked my air tickets via Air Asia, at RM350.00 return, excluding insurance, luggage and meals.

I stayed at Zim's House Hostel & Homestay, located at Old Quarter, throughout my stay in Hanoi. On the 29th, I went on a 2D1N Halong Bay Cruise experience. I booked my stay a week prior to the trip, at RM30/night.

Halong Bay Tours
I booked a 2D1N Halong Bay Cruise excursion, via

Photographs in this write-up was shot using Panasonic Lumix GF1 20mm f1.7 pancake lens, and Samsung S7 Edge.

*The holiday was paid for on my own. None of the travel experience was sponsored in this post*

That day, I took the earliest flight that I have taken. Ever. Our flight from KL to Hanoi departed at 6.25am and arrived at 8.40am, in Hanoi. I have no problems sleeping on flights, and had a good 3-hour snooze time on the plane.

The entire process of checking out from Hanoi International Airport (Noi Bai) was a breeze. It took merely 15-minutes from plane to door. I think it was one the most effortless checkouts that I have ever experienced. Plus, there were no queues in sight.

We requested for an UBER, who chaffeured us all the way to Old Quarter, Hanoi, at a rate of VND235,000. It was a pretty interesting 45-minute car ride, passing through some of the narrowest and skinniest architectures I have ever seen.

We couldn't wait to kickstart our very first agenda of the day, to have egg coffee, at the famous Cafe Giang.

Giang Cafe
Address: 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: +84 98 989 22 98
Opening Hour: 7am-10pm Daily.
Popular for: Egg Coffee (VND20,000) - highly recommend.

Imagine having an espresso with creamy egg custard on top. Who would have thought that such combination would work so well together?

Green Tangerine
Address: 48 Hang Be Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: +84 4 3825 1286
Opening Hour: 10am-11pm Daily.
Popular for: We had the 2 Course Set Lunch (VND275,000) that came with a two picks of either appetizer, main course, or dessert.

Just a stone's throw away, we walked to our next destination, for food. Lunch was at Green Tangerine, a modern European restaurant, serving a fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine.

Proclaimed as one of the best French restaurant in Hanoi, my overall experience was sadly lacking a little in terms of authenticity and flavors. Creativity was evident but there was no special oomph.

I would, still recommend the Pho Bho Salad, Pork Rib Ratatouille and Seabass in Basil Sauce.

Appetizer: Pho Bo Salad. Marinated Salmon.
Main Course: Pork Rib Ratatouille. Seabass in Basil Sauce. 
Main Course: Chicken Breast in Curry. Sliced Duck in Orange Sauce.
Dessert: Red Fruits Mousse. Frozen Yoghurt.

Havn't had enough coffee just yet, I grabbed an Americano (VND15,000) on the way to our next stop. Coffee shops like these were everywhere in Hanoi.

It was a nightmare - my sandals decided to die on me. 

Not wanting to go barefoot, I was literally limping and dragging my broken sandals down the block. There were no shoe shop in sight nor were there any roadside shoe stalls around. Then, it was as though my cry for help was heard, at the corner of my eye, I spotted a lady pushing a cart of slippers.

This purchase was undeniably one of the most important one I made the entire day. A basic pair of uncomfortable flip flops, that was two sizes smaller than my feet. I gleefully wore it for the rest of the day. I also found out later, that the nearest shoe shop was a good 30-minutes walk away. Having rant all of that, I felt thankful.

We went on with our planned agenda.

On our way to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, we walked pass Catholic Cua Bac Church. There were a handful local Vietnamese people taking wedding pictures outisde the church. Apparently at that point in time, there was an ongoing wedding ceremony being held inside the church.

Unfortunately for us, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was under renovation when we were there. We couldn't photograph nor see much of the attraction behind the blue construction nets.

When we got to One Pillar Pagoda, it was packed with throngs of tour groups and tourists, noted as one of the top places to visit in Hanoi. 

Trung Nguyen Legend Cafe
Address: Thái Hà, Trung Liệt, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Phone: +84 168 988 8884
Opening Hour: 7am - 11.30pm Daily.
Popular for: Vietnamese Coffee (VND81,000).

According to my friend, this cafe serves one of the best Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi. For me, the coffee was aromatic and smooth no doubt, but it wasn't exactly the best I've had. It was a good try nevertheless, but for the price paid, I do not think I will come back.

After our coffee stop, we took an UBER to Saint Joseph Cathedral, smacked at the centre of town and situated very close to Hoan Kiem Lake. I also had a chance to go inside the cathedral. It was beautiful and serene, I'd highly recommend dropping by.

There were plenty to see and do at Hoan Kiem Lake, a very popular hotspot for food and shopping. Here, we watched a talented musician play; we browsed around for several Vietnamese souvenirs; we also had dinner here that evening.

At the center of the Hoan Kiem Lake, was Ngoc Son Temple.

Long Vi Dung
Address: 23 Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (a corner shoplot just opposite the lakes)
Phone: +84 90 465 67 08
Popular for: Hanoi Street Food - Dried beef salad, Dumplings, Roasted bird, Fried fermented pork rolls (VND400,000)

Seated on a stool, the dinner I had at Long Vi Dung was an interesting treat, quite the contrary to the phos and the rice paper rolls that I was more accustomed to. Our meal was delicious and delightful, though we probably paid tourist price for the entire feast.   

Dried Beef Salad. Dumplings.
Roasted Bird. Fried Fermented Pork Roll.

Next, we walked to the nearest Pho shop for a quick slurp of rice noodle soup.

The Hanoi Weekend Night Market only opens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 7pm to 11pm. We didn't explore much of the night market, but spend most of our time at the food and drinks section only. 

Our first day at Hanoi was not only fun but also fulfilling all in all. For the most part, we covered most of what we had planned for. We started the day wee early in the morning, and ended quite late into the evening, with barely any rest throughout the day. 

Days were short in Hanoi. The sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm. Although it was just 7pm, my mind was already telling me that it was 10pm.We were tired but we were unquestionably excited for the adventures planned ahead.

The next morning, we departed for Halong Bay, where we went on a 2D1N Halong Bay Cruise Excursion (read about it here), and only returned on the evening of the third day. We arrived back at Old Quarter Hanoi, at slightly pass 6pm.

Going for drinks were the first thing that struck our minds.

Barett Craft Beer (Bia Thu Cong - Mon Viet)
Address: No2 Bán Đảo Linh Đàm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: +84 97 660 72 72
Popular for: Craft Beers (VND45,000) - highly recommend.

At Barett Craft Beer, we got to sample almost the entire range of craft beers they have in store, before deciding on our orders. Great.

While we were enjoying our drinks, there were a handful of street vendors that approached us, attempting to sell us some of their goodies, ranging from local street snacks to the traditional non la, which my friend was succesfully persuaded in the end. One thing's for sure, sitting at the entrance, people watching, definitely made my drinking experience much more memorable than already is.

We eventually revisited the this bar again, later on that evening.

After our happy hour treat, we walked some 30-minutes away to our dinner location, at a place near Hoan Kiam Lake. The hustle and bustle of the streets of Hanoi were indisputable. Motorcyclists here have great coordination.

Bun Bo Nam Bo
Address: 67 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Phone: +84 24 3923 0701
Opening Hours: 7.30am-10.30pm Daily.
Popular for: Dry Pho (Bun) - highly recommend.
We had the Grilled Squid with Salt & Chili (VND120,000), Rice Noodles with Grilled Pork (VND55,000) and Rice Noodles with Sauteed Beef (VND60,000)

Though it was a bit of a walk to Bun Bo Nam Bo, we really enjoyed our dinner here, especially the dry pho. The rice noodle portion was substantial, good enough for two to share, and flavors were on point.

Gio Cha Uoc
Address: 91 Hang Dieu, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Popular for: Ban Cuon (VND30,000) and Wantan Noodles.

We stopped and had Ban Cuon at a roadside stall after that.

Ban Cuon, also known as steamed rice rolls or rice cakes, is a common Northern Vietnamese delicacy. Imagine having Hong Kong Chee Cheong Fun, but with ground pork fillings instead.

Pho 10
Address: 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Phone: +84 124 722 5586
Opening Hours: 6am-10pm Daily.
Popular for: Pho (VND60,000-VND85,000) - highly recommend.

I guess we were on a serious food streak that evening, hopping from one restaurant to another, wanting to try it all. Our next dinner location was at one of the most popular pho restaurant in Hanoi, Pho 10. My friend claimed that this was the best pho she has ever had.

After all of the food, we took a break and walked around the area in search of some souvenirs to bring home. I ended up buying a pack of coffee and also had some local sweets along the way.

We spend the rest of the night drinking at Ta Hien Street, where most of the budget-friendly bars and pubs are located, in Hanoi. Despite being a Monday, the place was crowded. 

This was my first time having drinks seated on a stool, back-to-back and very close to the person sitting next to me, and being nudged on the shoulder everytime someone stood up. Don't get me wrong, it was a fantastic first time experience, but to be very honest, it was really uncomfortable. I think I still prefer sitting on a chair.

We had a taste of some of their local beers, Saigon and Hanoi Beer. I don't remember the exact prices but I do remember it being really cheap. It was only about midnight when we decided to call it a night.

The next morning, I woke up feeling a grave sense of deja vu. The feeling of being there have not even sunken in just yet, but it was already time to go home. It was as though I just arrived yesterday. 

The cooling weather was the other thing that I really enjoyed. The temperature hovered at 20°C on the last couple of days, an overnight change from 25°C on the first day. I really didn't mind the added breeze.

We had a couple more hours to spare before leaving for the airport. We packed and went straight out, in search for breakfast. First, I really needed my morning dose of coffee.

Along the way, we made a quick stop for a serving of Ban Cuon.

I have a food dilemma - on tasting new food and trying new things, especially while traveling. For one, I have always had the urge to taste everything that I come across, with good intentions of - just trying. Yet at times, I do find it quite rude to take up a table of four and order just a serving for one. What's the optimum order to share?

Bami Bread (Banh Mi Hoi An)
Address: 98 Hàng Bạc Hàng Đào, Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, Hàng Đào, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Phone: +84 98 104 31 44
Opening Hours: 7am-10pm Daily.
Popular for: Banh Mi (VND25,000).

Breakfast was an old-fashioned Hoi An Special Banh Mi sandwich, at Bami Bread, comprising of grilled pork and pickled salad fillings. The most basic and traditional type of Banh Mi would be one that was stuffed with fried egg and pickled vegetables. Bahn Mi is available everywhere in Hanoi, be it in shops like this one, or at food stalls setup along footpaths.

We slowly walked back to the hostel, and had fresh juice at a cafe, right before leaving for the airport.

We requested for an UBER ride and arrived at Hanoi International Airport, slightly earlier than planned, at slightly pass noon. Similar to our check-out experience few days before, checking in was a breeze. 

In this short trip, I had so much fun Exploring The Streets of Hanoi, so much so that I vouched to return again very soon.

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