Hanoi is one of those transient places: people come and go, and more often than not, they pass through before and after Ha Long Bay. Not having the luxury of at least 4 days to spend on a cruise, my boyfriend and I spent a relaxing but hectic weekend in Hanoi in May of 2017.
Vietnam, unfortunately, is one of those places that require a Visa for many Western (and Eastern) passport holders. We opted to use Vietnam Immigration Org to help facilitate our Visa process. You have the option to pick single or multi-entries, and the prices were USD35 or USD55, respectively. It was quick and easy and we used them for our future trips as well.
We arrived early afternoon and caught a 50 minute taxi (make sure to use one of few reputable taxi drivers) into the city. As soon as we entered into the city borders, we could feel the busy vibe. Or more like, we could see the neck-to-neck scooters coming in all directions. They remind me of bees wasping, all buzzing in opposite directions, none really slowing down but none colliding either. As my boyfriend described, it was synchronized chaos.
We checked into our hotel, La Siesta Trendy (the sister hotel of La Siesta, which we may stay at next time since it is closer to the beer corner and other expat-y areas) and was greeted with exceptional customer service. We were served with fresh fruit and mixed mocktail drinks by a bartender as we waited for our rooms. The room itself was spacious enough, and painted a bright cherry blue. Interesting fact, having a window in the hotel is apparently an option, not a given. The free breakfast at the hotel was also highly recommended as it had all the zing of street food, but served in the white-linen-towel manner of an upscale resort.
Since this trip was all about the food, let’s just dive right in. My boyfriend and I are huge fans of Vietnamese. Living in Hong Kong, I was astonished at the lack of good authentic Vietnamese food in town. So when we picked Hanoi, it was really so we could eat five meals a day.
The Noodles (Bun Bo Hue/Pho Ga/ Bun Rieu/ Pho)
We asked our hotel hostess where her favourite bun bo hue was in the city and promptly set out for Bún Huế O Xuân. That was when I realized that not learning a lick of Vietnamese was probably not a good idea in a city that did not commonly deal in English. With the makeshift map that she drew, we found our way into a beaten paths of Hanoi’s downtown. If you want good food in Hanoi, sometimes you have to go off the main streets
(Later on that evening, we wandered down a street alley and ended up, literally in someone’s living room, where we had some Bun Rieu).
Banh Mi 25 was a highly reviewed banh mi shop with fresh banh mi, fruit shakes, and cute hipster decor. Buy your sandwich at the shop front and enjoy it while people watching in town.
We discovered Bun Cha on this trip. Bun Cha is a light, vinegary dish where you dip the noodles in a spicy/sour fish sauce, wrap it in lettuce, and stuff the whole thing in our mouth. We went to Bun Cha Ta in the middle of the afternoon, and loved every bit of it.
Vietnamese coffee can be had pretty much anywhere. Apparently egg yolk coffee is also quite a famous commodity in Hanoi, but I had it for breakfast and did not quite like it. If you want to give it a try though, Cafe Giang, is quite popular and has a real authentic feel to it.
Cong Caphe, found pretty much anywhere in Hanoi, is your typical franchised coffee shop. I enjoyed grabbing a cup at the location at the Old Quarters and people watch.
A great souvenir from Vietnam is the Weasel coffee (Kopi Luwak). Little bags
The Party Scene
If you still have energy, and are not too boggled down from all the food inhaled so far, Beer Corner, is the awesome area where all expats chill. Hanoi nightlife seems divided in two folds: one happening in the clubs, and one happening in the streets. Since my boyfriend and I were barely standing upright after six bowels of pho, we opted for grabbing a beer on the side of the most happening club in town, 1900 Club Hanoi. Here’s a tip: the back door is more happening than the front. We people watched the bouncer all night – it was so entertaining.
Lastly, if inhaling injected air is your thing, look for signs for Balloons along the Beer Corner. It is essentially nitrous oxide – laughing gas. Google it for symptoms and try it at your own discretion. Most places do not offer it openly anymore, but upstair lounges will have a separate room where, for the price of CAD2, someone will go into a back room and fill up helium balloons the size of your head for your enjoyment. Or so I’ve heard 🙂