Our final stop in Vietnam was its capital, Hanoi. When booking accommodation, we very quickly realised Hanoi options were a lot more expensive than the £6 a night we were on in Cat Ba, so we opted for the cheapest we could find that had decent reviews and we arrived to Hanoi Hostel Life and to the biggest bed we have ever seen. Turns out, it was two double beds pushed together… and directly by the road with no windows so after one sleepless night we moved upstairs, to a quieter room that’s only downfall were the cockroaches. Can’t win em all ey.
Anyway, we quickly fell in love with Hanoi’s bustling old quarter. It used to be the old merchants guild, so each street is named after a different trade, or Hàng in Vietnamese. So you will be walking down Hàng Bac (Silver Street, where the road is still lined with silver shops), Hàng Dao (Silk Street) or my personal favourite, Hàng Manh (Bamboo Screen Street). It’s very quaint. However it’s not hugely pedestrian friendly. The scooters are everywhere but the pavements are filled with food stalls or shops so you have to weave in and out of traffic.
Our three days in Hanoi were mainly filled with eating and walking. The city is known for being foodie heaven, so we tried many new dishes including Bun Bo, a beef noodle salad with a nut dressing, Bun Cha, a pork noodle soup with papaya and lettuce leaves, and Bia Hoi, possibly the world’s cheapest beer at £0.20 a glass. It’s brewed fresh everyday, so it is mainly available from around 4pm until it’s empty, usually around 9pm. Another highlight was these coffee buns, literally coffee flavoured bready buns filled with chocolate sauce, that every time you walked by had the most amazing smell luring you in. Upon recommendation we also tried 4ps pizza, probably one of the best we’ve ever had and certainly the best in the 9 countries we’ve seen so far this trip.
Katie’s love for Vietnam coffee culminated here with us purchasing what felt like half a ton to take home with us. Amongst our purchases was the Vietnamese weasel coffee. Now for those who don’t know what that is, basically the Vietnamese weasel eats the coffee beans, poops them out, then they are collected and (hopefully) cleaned and made into coffee. Our lucky friends who come to visit!
We also sussed out the ‘best pho in Hanoi’ according to many articles I’d read. Called Pho Thin, sit’s quite a walk away from the old quarter, and upon arrival I realised I stupidly hadn’t written down the house number so we wandered up and down the street it was supposedly on trying to find it. Just as we were going to give up, we decided to go into the nearest cafe and using their wifi. Lo and behold, we were pretty much next door to the very inconspicuous Pho Thin.
And boy, it really was the best. We come to realise that any shop that just does one dish are by far the best, and the broth there was out of this world. It was made all the better by the four elderly Vietnamese men who came to sit with us, and promptly got a plastic bottle out of their bag. We thought it was rice wine, but once he’d poured us two shots, we realised it was in fact whisky! Why not! So after a couple of shots with these dear men who constantly shook our hands and made us try their soup (even though I had just eaten the very same), we headed out with big smiles on our faces.
On our long walk back to the old quarter, we walked passed a cinema showing an English film, so we sat down without knowing what we were watching (in Vietnamese it’s called Tach Bien), and left 90 minutes later slightly shocked. If you don’t like horror films, don’t go to see Split with James McAvoy.
Culturally, the city had loads to offer. The old quarter is situated around a lovely little lake, very reminiscent of a European capital, which I guess makes sense given how long the French were here. On weekends the road around the lake is closed to traffic so bicycles, runners and little kids on trikes take over, with it filling up with food stalls and families in the evenings. We also did a walking tour, which we decided to leave half way as we’d actually done our own version of the same tour the previous day.
We visited the old prison, which was once used by the French to incarcerate communist revolutionaries, and then later used to house American POWs, including senator John McCain. We’ve come to learn that Vietnamese museums paint a rather one sided view on the stories it tells, but it was interesting nonetheless.
On our final day we strolled up to the big lake which took us through the botanical gardens where we watched elderly men play badminton and finally the Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum, which sadly (or not, depends which way you see it) was closed.
Vietnam has been incredibly good to us. The foods been amazing, the people just so sweet, and the landscapes fruitful. We will be back!
Bye for now x