The past weekend was spent in Hanoi; the crazy beautiful mess that is the capital city of Vietnam. As a birthday gift, Sagar had booked this weekend away and I was beyond excited to explore a new part of Asia as we jumped on the plane and waved bye to a rainy Hong Kong.
The name Hanoi is a fusion of two words; Ha and Noi. Ha meaning river and Noi meaning interior and combining together to mean something along the lines of ‘the hinterland between the rivers’. Beautiful!
There is no other way to describe my initial reaction as we approached our hotel in The Old Quarter except gobsmacked! The cars horning, the swerving tuk tuks and SO MANY scooters along with the overwhelming sense of “get me outta here” 😮
Admittedly, I am a city girl and the instant reactiveness of wanting to escape, was even a shock to myself but similar to my experience in Bangkok, the feeling was short lived and very quickly I learnt that the chaos was all part of the charm.
After arriving at our hotel, The Essence Palace Hotel, we were welcomed with refreshing fruit cocktails, a map listing the top attractions and more importantly the best food places to try in Hanoi! In true foodie style, I had pre-researched all the must try dishes for a real Hanoian experience and made a list of my own 😀
On our first evening we dined at The Green Tangerine which was very close to our hotel and recommended by the fantastic concierge who was unfortunately unable to find us a table in their very own restaurant (and obviously very popular!), Gia Ngu. As disappointed as we were not to dine there, we were quickly surprised as he explained that as a kind gesture they would be including complimentary breakfast for our stay in order for us to try some of the cuisine on offer from the restaurant. Winning!!! 🙂
As we strolled through the streets navigating our way to the restaurant, we soon learnt that there was only one way to cross the streets in Hanoi; by stepping out into the road, I kid you not! *not for the faint hearted*
The sounds of horns can be heard for miles and after initially feeling confident that I was going to get knocked over, Sagar and I miraculously meandered our way through the traffic and made our way to the restaurant. This was partly driven by my hangry-ness and partly because the motorcyclists, tuk tuks and the very few cars were all so very skilled (or should I say experienced?) in swerving to avoid pedestrians. Feeling very happy with ourselves we stepped into the restaurant and were transformed to a whole new world…
A restored French colonial house with a magical courtyard, The Green Tangerine blew my mind! (and that was before even trying any food!) The cuisine here is a blend of French and Vietnamese which at first I wasn’t too keen about but looking at the chefs special menu, it wasn’t long before I’d picked at least two dishes which sounded exquisite!
Three courses and several wine glasses later, Sagar and I decided to retire for the evening but not before settling our million vietnamese dong bill (around £30!). I was both amused and shocked at this bill because a) oh hey, I’m a millionaire in Vietnam! and b) Seriously? £30 for a three course meal for two and alcohol?! This was just the start of our trip to Hanoi and I was quickly realising that this would be the PERFECT destination for budget conscious travellers.
We were awoken on day two by speakers blaring through the walls and were later informed that this is a historical element of Vietnam dating as far back as the 1960’s war years, where they delivered news and warned people to take shelter from aircraft bombing. Nowadays, the speaker broadcasts various topics from the upcoming voting day to the latest political news, flu and health hazard announcements as well as the occasional patriotic songs. As grumpy as I was when I was awoken (at least three times by 8am with a speaker right outside our room) I really respect the idea of retaining some of the historical touches and admire their creative use of dated technology to inform the locals with up to date news. Kitsch and very vintage!
After breakfast we took a short five minute walk over to the hotel’s Essencia Spa and Massage parlour and enjoyed a sixty minute treatment at the mere cost of approximately £15! Cheap as chips!
Feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world, we headed back to the hotel to be greeted by our city tour guide Jacelyn. Born and raised in Vietnam, Jacelyn was the perfect person to show us around Hanoi with a very professional but fun and informative approach. We walked around Hanoi as she explained the history behind some of the main attractions. We visited the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, The Presidential Palace, One Pillar Pagoda and Hoan Kiem Lake.
My favourite was The Huc Bridge also known as The Sunlight Bridge which was breathtakingly beautiful. Hanoi has many lakes but the red wooden bridge is known as a major historical and cultural point in the heart of the city.
As we walked through the crowds of selfie taking tourists and locals, Jacelyn told us about the history behind the bridge and the story of the golden turtle. Legend has it that a large golden turtle arose from the lake one day and snatched a magical sword back from Emperor Le Loi, which was given to him by The Golden Turtle God to strike the Chinese Ming Dynasty. The turtle then disappeared and was never seen again. Many people believe it was The Golden Turtle God returning to reclaim his sword. Jacelyn continued to tell us that although the history behind the bridge is based on a legend, the lake is known to be the home of Hanoi’s largest turtle which was found dead in January of this year. It is said that the turtle weighed 169kg and the turtles shell reached 100cm 😮 The turtle is now known as ‘ Cu Rua’, meaning great grandfather turtle and is worshipped by many as a symbol of longevity.
After a four hour walk in 35 degrees heat, Sagar and I were well and truly ready to head back to the hotel for some down time before our evening dinner. But this wasn’t before going on a little detour with Jacelyn to try Hanoi’s infamous egg coffee, known as ‘ca phe trung‘. Navigating our way through to the motorcyclists we made our way to Cafe Dinh through the most unusual way – a tiny dark alley way, up a narrow set of steps and finally into a crowded hole in the wall type restaurant filled with groups of teenagers and young adults huddling around on small plastic chairs with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other. Jacelyn explained that this was one of the most popular places in Hanoi to try the staple drink and I watched as tourists and locals flocked in, one by one.
Personally, I HATE coffee but there was no way I was going to miss out on an opportunity to give this infamous treat a try, especially after hearing about it so much. Much to my delight, it was delicious!! I was very sceptical about the egg component but I must say, the blends of egg, CHEESE (crazy huh!), condensed milk, vietnamese coffee powder and sugar worked surprisingly well…So well I finished the whole cup and although I was left with an intense flavour of bitter coffee in my mouth, I felt unbelievably satisfied 🙂 (Kinda tastes like tiramisu if you ask me!)
That evening, Sagar had arranged for us to have dinner at sunset at the popular restaurant Gourmet Corner. The customer service was incredible as were the passion fruit daiquiris, at a ridiculous price of around £2 each!! 😮 Best.happy.hour.EVER
My dinner consisted of seabass and roasted vegetables for the main along with vietnamese sesame falafel and spring rolls for starters. Everything was more then satisfactory and I would definitely put this on the list of recommendations for anyone visiting Hanoi. The restaurant has a fantastic view over the city and the menu has a real mix of traditional Vietnamese dishes. After enjoying dinner and a few too many happy hour cocktails, I was surprised with an incredibly gooey chocolate birthday cake. Much to Sagar’s amusement, the waiters switched the lights off and sang Happy Birthday as I covered my face in embarrassment. Haha Two months on and still celebrating my birthday – any excuse for more birthday cakes!!! 🙂
After being wined and dined we headed over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre to watch the world famous Water Puppet show, known for its traditional and spiritual creativity dating as far back as the 11th century. The concept derived from the time when villagers would use the flooded rice fields as a way to entertain locals by standing in the waist deep water and puppets performing over the water. Rods are used to support the puppets and the puppeteers are hidden behind the screens. It was a great opportunity to watch a historical form of Hanoian art in its original place. I also really enjoyed the Vietnamese orchestra formed of drums, bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals; creating songs to tell the story being acted out by the puppets.
There was only way one to end a Saturday night in Hanoi, at the popular beer corner where you can purchase home made beer, also known as Bia Hoi! We had so much fun making our way through the crowds and watching the nightlife in the Old Quarter become alive! Seating ourselves outside a bar on the plastic stools, we ordered a Saigon and a Hanoi beer and watched as the donut vendors and balloon sellers made there way down the streets crowded with people. During one point of the night, the manager came running out and pointed to us to take our beers as she pulled the stools from beneath us and hastily folded away the tables. Sagar and I stood in shock wondering what was going on and why it seemed like we were being pushed away? As we walked into the bar, we got talking to some locals who were giggling as we asked what was going on. “The police are coming are we are not allowed to obstruct the road with tables and seats”. We tried our best to keep a straight face as we watched the police vans slowly drive through the narrow roads and two minutes later, out came the seats and tables again! Much to our amusement, this happened two more times during the night and Sagar and I laughed as it was a pure comedy act seeing the commotion as everyone ran to and fro! When in Hanoi…drink beer but avoid the police! :p
And so day two of exploring Hanoi was an eye opener but also a very in depth look at the mix of countries and cultures that are embedded within. From France to China and America, the elements are blended together to create a beautiful cocktail and I think thats really something special!
..Stay tuned for Part 2 of my trip to Hanoi and be prepared to whet your appetite because i’ll be taking you on a food journey around Hanoi!!