xin chào hà nội!
25 Jan 2013 § 1 Comment
We just got back from a 4d/3n trip to Hanoi that was booked a year ago thanks to Air Asia’s cheap flights deal. Considering this was the least researched trip we’ve been on as I was too busy in the weeks leading up to the trip to start my usual OCD planning, we did manage to do quite a fair bit of eating and walking, thanks to the itinerary and detailed maps I’d discovered at Savour Asia’s website.
For me, Hanoi can best be described as chaotic, no thanks to its traffic. It’s a stark contrast to laid back Chiang Mai which we visited more than a year ago. Here in the Old Quarter, the streets are busy at all hours of the day, honks can be heard frequently and crossing the street is a game of stop-and-go as you try to dodge the never-ending river of motorcyclists and cars.
As a friend remarked, “Avoid the cars and the motorcyclists will try to avoid you.”
Four way traffic, a very common sight
The Old Quarter is charming with its winding streets and little alleyways, but best explored with a map in hand. Each street is named after the products that are traded there…so you have streets where you will encounter shops after shops selling silver, tin, haberdashery and even bamboo – although with modern times, some shops have changed their trade and we’ve even come across a street that sells wedding invitation cards, heh. Coupled with tiny phở bò, phở gà, bún riêu, bún chả and little tea and coffee shops that seem to pop up at every corner…you can rest assured that you will never run out of things to shop or eat.
Bamboo products at Hang Buom
Makeshift stalls everywhere
Hanoi’s cafe culture
The weather during the four days we were there was nice and cool, albeit cloudy. Our hopes of watching the sunset over West Lake as we sipped coffee at the Summit Lounge of Sofitel hotel were dashed as the fog literally swallowed up the sun, leaving only a faint orange ball in the sky instead of the spectacular sunset reflected in the waters below as we’d hoped to see.
View of Hanoi’s streets from the Summit Lounge
Sunset at West Lake
The hotel we stayed at, Church Boutique Hotel, was conveniently located at Hang Gai (the ‘silk’ street), which was a stone’s throw away from Hoàn Kiếm lake. Just two streets down from the hotel was Ly Quoc Su street which leads to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, another popular tourist spot, and Hang Manh which houses one of the more popular bún chả spots (#1 Hang Manh).
Our room at Church Boutique Hotel
A popular bánh mì stall along one of the alleys leading off Ly Quoc Su street. We bought one from her every day!
Eating was certainly a fun experience as we were determined to do as the locals do…sit along the roadside on the rickety plastic stools with our knees up to our chin as we savour hot bowls of noodles. I was careful to only eat at places recommended on Savour Asia, basing my assumption on the fact that if the author did not suffer any bouts of food poisoning after his/her meal there, we should be fine as well (and we were!).
Bún chả: rice vermicelli, grilled pork and pork patties in a sourish soup, fresh greens and fried spring rolls
Phở bò @ #49 Bat Dan street
Bánh mì: absolutely awesome here in Hanoi. Crunchy on the outside, soft as a pillow on the inside.
A streetside vendor serving all sorts of fried food (I tried the banh chuoi / banana fritters and it was yummeh!)
Sightseeing around Hanoi was limited to the usual touristy spots: a walk around Hoàn Kiếm lake, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum (extremely tight security…seriously guys, no one’s going to make off with his embalmed body, really), Temple of Literature, Hanoi’s Opera House and a stroll down West Lake. In our meanderings, we did stumble across a popular wedding photography spot near Sofitel Metropole hotel…so popular that the maitre’d told us that on good days, he has seen up to 120 couples queuing up to pose for their wedding photos!
Hoàn Kiếm lake
The Opera House
A popular wedding photography spot in front of Sofitel Metropole Hotel
Fly fishing at West Lake seems to be a popular past time
The imposing Ho Chi Minh mausoleum
At the Temple of Literature
Most of our four days were spent exploring the Old Quarter after having paid our dues at the obligatory tourist spots on the second day. The foodie highlight of the trip for me (apart from consuming copious bowls of bún chả), was discovering ‘Chicken Street’ or Lý Văn Phức…a small alley off a main road that serves nothing but grilled chicken! If you ever plan to go there, head straight for the end of the alley to the last shop…you will see buckets of skewered chicken parts waiting to be grilled, a huge box of bánh mì, and plenty of locals enjoying their meal with beer. It’s an experience not to be missed…we had chicken wings, chicken thighs, chicken breast, and four incredibly delicious flattened bánh mì that was honey coated before being heated up on the grill and it only costs us VND250,000. Truly a hidden gem!
Grilling it up at Lý Văn Phức
With a late flight out of Hanoi on our last day, we extended our check-out time to 6pm and spent the afternoon shopping for souvenirs for family and friends. I managed to find two lovely pieces of silk fabric which I plan to make into qipaos and a handmade stuffed pony for the little one.
We definitely plan to come back for another visit, hopefully with a trip to Halong Bay, Sapa or Da Nang slotted in as well…but if not, the promise of bún chả itself is definitely worth a trip back!
In the meantime, here is a list of the places that we’ve tried during our short trip there, most of which are marked on Savour Asia’s Hanoi maps anyway:
1. #49 Bat Dan street. Serving from 6AM-11:30AM, then resuming again at 6PM. They serve three types of meat: chin (sliced well-done), tai (sliced rare), nam (flank).
1. #6 Le Phung Hieu. A short walk from the back entrance of Sofitel Metropole at the intersection between this street and Tong Dan street.
2. #1 Hang Manh, a local favorite and always crowded during lunch time.
Coffee/tea with a view
1. Café Pho Co @ #11 Hang Gai. Go down the alley and up the spiral stairs to the highest floor and you’ll be rewarded with a view of Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
2. The corner cafe right in front of St. Joseph Cathedral at the intersection of Nha Tho street and Ly Quoc Su.
1. #52 Ly Quoc Su near St. Joseph Cathedral for bánh gối, bánh rán ngọt and bánh rán mặn.
2. A small roadside stall at the intersection of Hang Dieu and Bat Dan for bánh chuối and bánh khoai.
Street food from all regions of Vietnam
1. Quan An Ngon Restaurant @ #18 Phan Boi Chau