After talking so much about Sapa, I probably should introduce you to Hanoi as well! What I really like about Hanoi is that it still exudes a rustic charm that can’t be found in cities like Ho Chi Minh City. From my observation, this is because Hanoi retains many practices and aspects of daily living from the good ole’ days, even as the rest of the world continues to transform into some futuristic, unrecognisable tech-y place.
Another attractive part about Hanoi is that it is generally safer than other parts of Vietnam because it is the centre of Vietnam’s politics and thus, laws and security are enforced tightly in this place and policemen are a common sight.
Getting around is also a breeze because all the attractions are walking distance (<30mins leisurely stroll) apart and if you feel tired, there’s trishaws/taxis/motorbikes which you can hitch a ride from! Personally I like to travel by foot to observe the happenings on the streets and to become part of the view for the roadside cafe-goers.
BUT one big problem is the TRAFFIC.
If the Singapore government were to take over Hanoi, believe me, COE prices would be HEFTY. In Hanoi (and perhaps the rest of Vietnam), motorbikes are EVERYWHERE on the roads and they’re also the beloved pet of every household. Going at only 1000USD for the cheapest Honda bike, they are ingrained in the lives of the Vietnamese. On the other hand, I was put off many a times because these bikes are seriously too close for comfort. They’re an arm’s length away be it you are innocuously…
Eating your Pho at a roadside stall;
Walking on the pedestrian path;
Shopping at the night market;
Or visiting a local park;
..THESE BIKES ARE PERPETUALLY A CLOSE SHAVE AWAY FROM YOU.
Honestly speaking, it ruined some parts of my experience because I’m not used to these potentially-lethal motor-vrooming machines flowing around me like a river. Thankfully I had no run-ins with them, but woah stressful man…
The hub of Hanoi would definitely be its Old Quarter. Over here, you’d find many tourists-centered services and shops like travel agencies, restaurants with English menus, trendy bars and convenience stores, which are quite uncommon in Hanoi because most locals buy their provisions from local, family-run shops.
Old Quarter is also where most (if not all) tourists find their accommodation. There are many highly rated and affordable hotels available, and as a result the room rates are extremely competitive. I was super pleased to find that with a budget of 30USD per night, you could book a double room with good a/c, WiFi, nice breakfast, high standards of cleanliness and superb service. And if that isn’t cheap enough for you, a bed in a hostel’s dorm room only costs <5USD, which is simply crazy!
In total, we stayed had 3 full days, which is more than enough for most people but for us, it was just nice because my dad walks slightly slower and ALL businesses here close for lunch for AT LEAST one hour (usually 1100h-1330h). Their mandatory long lunch hours seriously annoyed my dad and me to no end because even the places of attractions were shut down during this period, leaving us with nothing to do. And because we start our day around 9+AM, we can only cover one attraction before they close for lunch, and another attraction in the afternoon after they reopen. It is debatable if this is considered as a part of their rustic charm…
* ALL businesses here close for lunch for AT LEAST one hour * 😦
Now that you know where to stay, how to get about and most importantly, why you should visit Hanoi, let’s see what it offers!
Super delicious Wanton Mee and Super delicious BBQ
If you’re still reading till this point, congrats because I’m recommending some of my personal hunts. When in Hanoi, definitely try the Pho, Banh Mi (Vietnamese Bauguette), traditional spring rolls, awesome stir-fried noodles/rice and Vietnam coffee before leaving! Stalls selling these are aplenty!!! Case in point, you can easily find 2 different Banh Mi stalls 10m apart.
On the other hand, I’m recommending 2 stalls in particular which don’t sell these easily-available options and which are absolutely delicious! Throughout our stay, we kept going back for more.
Directions: Go to the Old City Gate and keep your eyes OPEN. (Both stalls are directly across the road from each other.)
Super delicious Wanton Mee (30,000VND/1.80SGD)
Operating from morning to night, this store was very popular with the locals. It serves soupy wanton mee that comes with generous servings of ingredients – chives, egg, prawn, fried wanton, fried pig skin, char siew. (Damn my mouth is watering!) The noodles are fine, silky and definitely not starchy while the soup has a delectable seafood taste yum yum!!!
Super delicious BBQ (avg 20,000VND/1.2USD per stick)
Firstly, this is NOTHING like satay.
Satay: Thin pieces of meat marinated in cumin or something.
OLD CITY GATE BBQ: Generous servings of meat oozing with juice when your teeth sink into them. (Some are even wrapped with veg/mushroom and the skewers simply explode into heaven in your mouth OMG.)
Haha no offense to SG’s satay though, but this has won my heart over. Actually there are quite a few BBQ/grilled pork stalls in the Old Quarter but I really like this stall because it is clean, the order chit is in English, the prices are economical and the location is more peaceful and easily located. The food is also served with spicy chilli sauce and mint leaves. Best when accompanied with cool Saigon beer. DELICIOUS!!! (Opens at night only.)
Ho Chi Minh Museum, Vietnam Military History Museum, Hoa Lo Prison
(TBC… stay tuned :))