After reluctantly leaving Hoi An, we boarded the plane in Da Nang to head north. Our next stop was the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. After leaving the airport we were greeted by a bustling city, filled with noise and traffic and we noted the similarities between here and Ho Chi Minh City, where we had been only days earlier. Once again, we befriended a fellow traveler at the airport and took a taxi into the centre with a young Chinese traveler. After a lot of broken conversation with the taxi driver and even more rotations of our city map, we managed to finally arrive at our next accommodation; a homestay in the old quarter of Hanoi with the wonderful Luan and his family.
Upon arriving, we were offered coffee and tea and shown to our room. We were then invited for a complimentary dinner that same night with his family and other guests. The food was beautiful and the company even better. We then went on to have drinks with our fellow guests, Eunice and Bart, a super fun travelling couple hailing from the Philippines and the Netherlands respectively. After directions from Luan, we arrived at a narrow, cobbled street lined with tiny little seats and chairs populated by travelers and locals alike. We were having a lovely relaxing beer until the police arrived and the owner rushed our drinks and seats inside! From what we could understand, she didn’t have a license to put her chairs and tables on the streets (and we’re not too sure about the alcohol either!). What the lady lacked in licensing, she more than made up for in personality, she spent the evening laughing, playing tricks on the young boys across the street and trying to convince us to order more drinks via interesting hand gestures. Despite the fact that we understood none of what she said to us, her soul shone through and she reminded me very much of my late Nana Marie. A lovely welcome to Hanoi.
Overnight and throughout our time in Hanoi, there was a heavy storm and so we missed a lot of sight-seeing in the city. [Insert apology here about the lack of sightseeing advice this post is consequently going to have].However once the storm died down we had the opportunity for a stroll around Hoàn Kiem Lake nearby. On the edge of the lake is a beautiful Pagoda and as we arrived just before dusk, many of the tourists had already left so we could enjoy a peaceful few moments standing in the light rain looking out over the lake.
Nearby to the lake there are lots of beautiful coffee shops and as I sip my instant Nescafé coffee, whilst writing this here in England, I long for the taste of Vietnamese coffee. Many of these boutique style coffee shops are situated in tall buildings with windows and balconies overlooking the streets below. After dark there are lots of lovely places to eat and drink, but many of the coffee shops also open late. A particular favourite was Cong Ca Phe; a little off the beaten track, but a lovely chilled evening vibe. (46 Trang Tien, Hanoi 10000, Vietnam). A recommendation would be to try a coconut coffee (I could have had three!) the mixture of coconut milk or ice-cream and sweet Vietnamese coffee is delicious.
Hanoi is also home to some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted (alongside American Pizza Slice, Liverpool of course… I haven’t abandoned my local pizza place just yet!) 4P’s Pizza, Hanoi has one of the best and most varied selection of pizza’s I’ve seen and conveniently for us it was situated on the same street as our homestay (Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống). We took a seat overlooking the kitchen and watched as the chefs prepared our duck, apple and gorgonzola pizza, amongst other items. I know what you’re thinking, pizza in Vietnam?! But trust me, it’s worth losing one night of Vietnamese cuisine, and a few extra dong!
From Hanoi, with the help of Luan, we booked a day trip to Halong Bay. We were very fortunate that we managed to visit as all day trips the week before had been cancelled due to bad weather. This did mean however that it was extremely busy, but we were just glad that we had the opportunity to go! Before leaving for our trip we did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs and spoke to various past visitors of the country to try and decide how long to stay in Halong Bay. Many blogs will tell you that you need more than a day in Halong Bay but I will share our ‘Halong Bay in a Day’ experience in another blog post and try to convince you otherwise, especially if you’re short on time!
On our final evening we strolled through the night markets of Hanoi – be aware these only run from Friday to Sunday! Beautifully lit up with an abundance of clothes, toy and jewellery stalls, it was similar to most other night markets in Asia. There was a real buzz about the place and a lively atmosphere and I wasn’t sure why but I preferred it to many of the other night markets I’d seen across Vietnam and Thailand. Upon reflection, perhaps we loved it the most due to the abundance of bread based food washed down with sugar cane juice, followed by the world’s coolest ice cream!
We left Hanoi (and Vietnam, sob!) the next day with the promise of returning, hopefully in better weather. In hindsight, 10 days for such a vast and varied country was just not enough but we planned effectively and so truly made the most out of our short stay. We got a great taste for the country, the culture and it’s wonderful people and made lots of fond memories that will spur us on to make a return visit in the near future.
Next stop, Bangkok!