Exchange rate: 1 GBP = 30,523.50 VND
We arrived in Hanoi on the 1st October and were immediately stunned by the volume of moped traffic in the city. Not only that, but the seemingly non-existent road laws here, and the incessant beeping (something I’ve already developed a real annoyance for)…….. When we arrived, just crossing roads was terrifying and in complete contrast to Thailand where even if you crossed in an unmarked area, vehicles would slow and let you across. Here however, walking across a marked road crossing will earn you a cacophony of shrill and blaring beeps and what feels like several near death experiences as mopeds and cars try to squeeze their way around you.
All this aside, we are incredible excited to be here. The people are lovely, the markets are amazing and the knock off stalls are everywhere (and very convincing). However, the highlight of my time in Hanoi has to be the food. Simply put, it has been unbelievable! Before I get too carried away with that however, I should talk about the hostel we have been staying in, because it has been an incredible base from which we have planned our daily excursions.
ABOUT VIETNAM CHEERS HOSTEL (FORMERLY V HOSTEL 2)
Cheers Hostel is located at 28 Nguyen Sieu, in the old town of Hanoi just a short walk from the all the best restaurants and an even shorter walk from its famous “beer street” where a bottle of Honoi or Saigon beer will set you back around 10,000 Dong. If you look for any maps, you will have to search for V Hostel 2 as this was the name up until three weeks ago.
The owner is a guy called Kevin who has been the most helpful person in terms of making us feel comfortable, booking tours and any tickets that we have needed. All the dorms are modern, with each bunk being provided with a socket, a reading light, an overhead fan, and even a headboard cupboard. Visitors are each given a spacious locker in which to store their belongings and – here comes the best part – breakfast is included! Between the times of 7-10am, guests select between Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup breakfast), fried or scrambled eggs, pancakes or omelettes (there are more options but I can’t remember them).
All this hostel luxury is available to you at a rate of £3 p/n on Hostelworld!
TOP THINGS TO DO/SEE
1. Hoàn Kiếm Lake
This lake sits in the centre of Hanoi Old Town and is a large visitor attraction. The surrounding park is always filled with people – tourists and locals alike. If you are brave and looking for transport, there are always Grab Cab moped taxis in the area.
Tháp Rùa (Turtle Tower) is easily visible in the centre of the lake. Apparently constructed to commemorate one of the greatest heroes (Le Hoi) of the Le dynasty, it now stands in the centre of a bustling Hanoi old town as a reminder of times gone by.
2. Vietnamese Women’s Museum
I wasn’t sure what to expect when Maria suggested that we visit this famous museum but it really was an amazing experience. There a series of floors, all dedicated to women’s contributions to society in Vietnam, from their positions in families, to their efforts during the French and American wars.
1st Floor – This floor took an in-depth look at women’s position in society, exploring traditions of marriage, childbirth, home life and inheritance. It was particularly interesting to hear the accounts and experiences of women in matrilineal societies, something that is so very different to our own societies (historically speaking) at home.
2nd Floor – Dedicated to women in history and their contributions to Vietnam. Here we learnt about the many women who aided their country’s war efforts, first for independence from France and then in the war against America.
3rd Floor – This floor showed the differences in women’s’ traditional fashion through time and between tribes. Different tribes have different traditional colours and patterns associated with them, and it seems to be the women of societies who preserve such traditions.
3. Lotus Water Puppet Theatre
There are two recommended shows in Hanoi – both within walking distance of Hanoi old quarter. Thang Long is located just north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, whilst Lotus just west. We opted for the Lotus Theatre as truth be told, we had no idea that that there was another when we booked tickets. However, we weren’t disappointed. We were thoroughly entertained and may even have produced a chuckle or two. The show was a combination of traditional Vietnamese storytelling, music and water puppetry, and though we didn’t understand any of the dialogue, the narration was enough for us to get the general gist of the story. I’d highly recommend this theatre as a source of your evenings entertainment.
4. One Pillar Pagoda
Regarded as one of the two most iconic temples in Vietnam, this is an instagrammers dream. Along with the Ho Chi Minh Museum, this particular attraction is well out of the old city, and you will probably want to take a taxi. However, if you are stubborn and keen to work off those amazing Vietnamese dishes from the night before (like us!), you may enjoy the walk.
The Pagoda itself stands in the middle of a large pond and was built between 1028 and 1054 to represent a lotus flower blossoming from the water.
FOOD AND DRINKS
1. Banh Mi 25
Undoubtedly one of the food highlights of our trip so far. This little sandwich shop (there are three of them within 100 metres of each other) has a lovely charm about it and is incredibly cheap! You won’t have to fork out more than 40k Dong unless you really go for it and order extras of everything. I would recommend the sauteed beef with cheese or any one of the ones containing the sauteed mushrooms.
2. Fanny Ice Cream Parlour
Some of the best ice cream you’ll get in Hanoi! It’s just a short walk from the old town and can provide you with an amazing opportunity to cool down after a day spent strolling the city streets.
3. Dream Beans Coffee
Undoubtedly the best cup of coffee I’ve had since I arrived in SE Asia. I’m no coffee expert but the flat white I had here was better than most of the coffee I had whilst in Italy and England. The guy who owns this wonderful shop understands that Vietnamese coffee tends to get a bad reputation from westerners, but wants to show that it can be different. You can tell that he really cares about his coffee by his attention to detail and his incredible service. Any coffee lovers should definitely take the time to visit!
4. Circle Coffee (Hàng Quạt, 49;53)
Situated in the old town, this quaint little coffee house transforms into a really hipster bar at night. It was formerly a tailor shop so there are little relics of this period in its history all around the place. They serve amazing egg coffees, as well as cocktails and a beer will set you back just over £1! The staff are amazing – so so friendly and helpful.
This bar doesn’t have a big sign hanging over the entrance so it is relatively difficult to spot unless you are looking for it. There is a small, relatively inconspicuous doorway which will lead you down a long hallway with fairy lights across the ceiling and into the bar itself. Be sure to use Maps.me or Google Maps as you will probably end us walking around in circles otherwise.
5. Hong Da Market
Whilst also a great place to restock your wardrobe with believable fakes, this market has some great food! It opens in the evenings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week so if you get a chance, give it a visit.
6. Ta Hien Street
This is a beer lovers dream. What I mean by this is that is is a binge drinkers paradise with dozens of streetside bars selling beer for as little as 8k Dong. However, if you fancy something a bit more upmarket, you’ll have to fork out a MASSIVE 15k Dong (this equates to a little under £0.50 – hence the sarcasm) for a Saigon or Hanoi beer.
This is an amazing burger joint with great staff who all speak incredible English. The burgers here were… I honestly don’t know how to describe them – they were that good! I’ve no idea of the name of the burger I had, but it had macaroni cheese cooked in truffle oil between the burger and the bun. If you see this in the description, BUY IT!
Its relatively expensive here, but really worth it if you fancy something different from the traditional food around you.
I much preferred Hanoi to Bangkok. I use this as a comparison because its another SE Asian capital city, and also because I was expecting it to be similar. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Hanoi is far more compact in that everything you could want to see is in walking or short car rides distance of the old town. The cuisine here is far more varied, and the air seems less thick and stuffy – maybe due to the lack of heavy car traffic. Finally, there are many more green open spaces. Whilst it was obvious that we were in a big concrete capital city, there was a chaotic and natural beauty about it that we didn’t see in Bangkok.
We loved it, and would definitely go back (and have been)!