05.12.2015 - 07.12.2015 17 °C
A cyclo passing through Dong Xuan Wholesale Market in Hanoi' Old Quarter
A man carrying a large parcels on his motorbike in Old Quarter
Whether you are first time travelling to Hanoi or repeating travellers to this Vietnam's capital, there are always things that you could do when visiting Thang Long (ascending dragon), the former name for Hanoi. People come to Hanoi for various reasons, either back for holidays for the Vietnamese who residing abroad, for work purpose, for vacation or for business purpose. For me, I travel to Hanoi to enrich my travel experience and though this was my second visit here, there are still many things that yet to be discovered and waiting to be explored. As for this trip to Hanoi, I did experience some new adventures and learnt some of the Vietnamese street food culture, the "bia hoi" (Vietnamese fresh beer) and go through some of the important Vietnamese history while travelling. When in Hanoi, there are few things that one should not missed and should always try to discover.
1. Have Bowls of "Pho" or "Bun"
Do not be mistaken for these 2 noodle dishes in Hanoi or Vietnam. Both are different soup noodle dish though they are similar. The noodle used in Pho is flat and slightly wide also known as flat noodles while the noddle in "Bun" is thin and tiny also known as rice noodles or vermicelli. While the add-ons side dish in "Pho" is rather standard, either chicken ("ga") or beef ("bo") with bean sprouts, mint leaves and chopped onions, "Bun" add-ons side dish can be either deep-fry boneless fish cakes known as "bun ca", snail known as "bun oc" and mixed of Vietnamese pork sausage, mushroom meatballs and pork ribs known as "bun moc". Both actually are soup noodles but yet they are different due to the types of noodles used as well as the add-on ingredients. Nevertheless, one thing for sure they are surely delicious and worth to try. The cost for a bowl of "pho" or "bun" should be around VND 35,000 to VND 40,000. Most hotels in Vietnam, not on specifically in Hanoi provide "pho" for breakfast but you know you never had enough of it when you travel Vietnam. I had several bowls of "pho" during this trip to Hanoi and try out the "bun ca" (fish soup noodle) and it was deliciously good.
A bowl of pho ga (chicken soup noodle)
A bowl of bun ca (fish soup noodle)
2. Have Cups of Vietnamese Coffee
A trip to Hanoi would not be complete without having cups of aromatic Vietnamese coffee, be it with milk or without. There are now many nice and trendy as well as thematic cafes all around Hanoi city in particular the touristy area within Old Quarters and Hoan Kiem Lake. In the past, Hanoians used to enjoy their cup-pa on the street side or walkways with coffee vendors plying their trade on mobile carts but today, the world has changed and Hanoi too would not want to be left behind. The coffee culture is so strong in Vietnam and of course being one of the world's coffee producer has also helped to spur the cafe culture in Hanoi and Vietnam. Buon Ma Thout province in Vietnam has one of the largest coffee plantations and Vietnam produce some of the best coffees within the Indochina region as well as the world. Thematic cafe which matched the struggle of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam war has today gained much favourite from locals and the tourists. Of course the best way to savour coffee in Hanoi, would be sitting on small stools and short table, sipping it slowly while watching the people walked passed and vehicles zapping through the street. Other than that, one could also enjoy coffee or even "cacao" a type of mix bean between coffee and cocoa along the one of the few nice cafes at Dien Tien Hoang road right in front of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Enjoy cup of Vietnamese coffee on the side walkways in a cafe at Old Quarter
Have some aromatic coconut milk coffee at a revolution themed cafe ner St Joseph Cathedral
Have "cacao" at traditional style coffee house at Dien Tien Hoang Street near Tourist Information Centre in Hoan Kiem Lake
3. Go for the "Bia Hoi"
Just as you are in Dublin or Ireland, (though I have not been there), in Hanoi, a trip here would not be complete without a taste on this fresh Vietnamese cold beer. The best place to have "bia hoi" is along the Walking Street located along the few intersection streets in the Old Quarters area namely, Luong Ngoc Quyen, Hang Buom, Ma May, Hang Giay and Ta Hien. To enjoy "bia hoi" in the most lively atmosphere is to sit on short stool and table (arranged from slightly taller stools than the one used for sitting) with tray spread over. And there you go, you are ready for glasses of "bia hoi" to be served one after another right on the street side, walkways of alleyways. It is not only the drinking atmosphere that made "bia hoi" drinking so distinctive and special, but the beer itself is so smooth, crisp and aromatic that keeps you wanting for more once you sip it.
4. Savour the Vietnamese street food
The Vietnamese food is good and quite healthy. To sum it up, they are tasty and delicious. "Pho" is a must-try in Hanoi. Though most people learnt that "pho" is a type of soup noodle, the "bun" is yet another noodle dish that worth to taste. "Bun" is also a type of soup noodle but it has more varieties as compared to "pho" which consists of chicken meat or beef meat with bean sprout, mint leaves and cut onions. While for "bun", you can have it with deep-fry fish cake ('bun ca") , snails ("bun oc") or mixed of pork ribs, mushroom meatballs and pork sausages ("bun moc").
"Bun cha" is a type of noodle dish as well but still, this is different type of noodle dish. Bun cha being served with plate of rice noodle similar to the noodle used in "bun ca", "bun oc" and "bun moc", a plate of char-grilled pork (thit nuong), a bowl of special soup (sometimes with pork sausage add-on). How to eat Bun cha? You would dipped the noodles into the special soup together with the char-grilled pork, mixed them all in and then start to pick everything from the soup and crunch in the mouth. It was tasty, little sweet and salty but the end result, its a very delicious noodle and meat dish.
"Bun cuon" is a type of Vietnamese breakfast, available mostly before mid-afternoon. This dish is made of wide flat noodles, wrapped with minced pork and then sprinkled with deep fry cut shallots. A bowl of special soup also being served and the "bun cuon" being dipped into the soup to add-on the flavour to the overall dish.
"Bun thit nuong" is a kind of mix noodle salad, where bowl of rice noodles with char-grilled pork, cold salad and Vietnamese deep-fry spring roll are all add-in and then mixed with the special sauce.
Also worth to note that char-grilled pork is available from the mobile pushcart on the street and cost as low as VND 10,000 per stick. Its good to have it with bottle of cold beer or "bia hoi" and its tasty, sweet and the meat is fresh and tender.
Char-grilled pork with bia hoi
Bun thit nuong
Cha gio or nem ran (Vietnamese deep-fry spring roll)
Boiled Oc or snail
A bowl of "xoi man" (sticky rice with mix of cucumber, deep-fry egg and pork sausage)
Street side "nem cuon" or Vietnamese fresh spring roll with sweet peanut dipping sauce
Nom chim (grilled pigeon salad). Also available in dried beef (nom bo kho) has gained popularity among Vietnamese street food lovers
5. Eat "Banh Mi or Banh My"
Another Vietnamese national dish is the "Banh My", the French loaf wrapped with variety of choices of scramble eggs, roast pork, pork sausages, beef sausages and add-on with cucumber, tomato, mint leaves topped with chilli or tomato sauce. This is one of the most comforting and easy to eat food and you can just have it on the go.
Banh My with coffee
6. Stroll along the Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the most iconic landmark of Hanoi city. As the saying goes, you would not have landed in Hanoi without stepping your foot at Hoan Kiem Lake. The best time to stroll around this lake is during the early morning when the weather is cool and traffic yet to get busy. The water in Hoan Kiem Lake was so calm in contrast to the hectic and chaotic Hanoi's traffic. Things to note at Hoan Kiem Lake is the Tortoise Tower, a 3 tiered pagoda, right at the south of the Hoan Kiem Lake, the red bridge which connects to the Ngoc Son Temple (Tortoise Temple), the Ngoc Son Temple and the King Ly Thai To statue.
7. Visit Ba Dinh Square
Ba Dinh Square is where Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located together with the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. Ho Chi Minh was a well-remembered Vietnamese revolutionary hero who fought relentlessly against colonialism of the European and later the West. A walk along the Ba Dinh Square would bring some memory of the war time struggle by this revolutionary Vietnamese to gain independence. It was not easy for how Ho Chi Minh has been working throughout his life to fight off the mighty colonialism. Bloods were shed with many died on the battlefields but perseverance prevail and victory became reality. Vietnam finally subdued the colonists. If they can finished off the great Chinese dynasties dominations, they too can do it when facing the Europeans and Westerners colonialism.
One Pillar Pagoda near Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
8. Walk through the Old Quarter
Old quarters or French Quarters, whichever name you call it, this is another not to be missed walking tour when in Hanoi. There were said to be 36 streets along this quarter of Hanoi with the name of the streets supposedly to denominate the activities along that street. For example Hang Bac (Silver Products), Hang Bong (Cotton Street), Hang Ga (Chicken Street), Hang Dao (Silk Street), Hang Giay (Paper Steet). Today, these streets no longer represent the activity of business taking place on shops along the name of the street. For example, Hang Dao now has turned into textile street, Hang Dau is now a footwear street and Hang Buom today is a coffee street. The Old Quarter has now turned into hot spots for shopping for variety of items including souvenirs, Vietnamese sweets and delicacies, coffees, shoes, textiles and other accessories for daily use and also to savour some of the best Vietnamese cuisines, street food and cold beers.
9. Visit Ho Tay or West Lake
This lake is of no comparison to the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake but still interesting to take a stroll watching the scenic lake and people fishing at the edge of the lake. One of the most notable landmark at West Lake is the Tran Quoc Pagoda
Ho Tay or West Lake
Tran Quoc Pagoda
10. Visit Quan Thanh Pagoda
This pagoda located not far away from West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda. If you do visit West Lake, you should include this unique old temple, which has a 2 tiered entrance gate. a mid-size concourse and a main temple building
11. Visit St. Joseph Cathedral
This cathedral is so closely associated to Hanoi other than Hoan Kiem Lake. Most about to wed couples would love to come here for dozens of nice wedding photos taken after Hoan Kiem Lake. The church may looked run down yet it is still stands charming and proud at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake.
12. Visit Quoc Su Pagoda
When you are at St. Joseph Cathedral, you can also walk further down to have a brief visit the Quan Su Pagoda situated at Ly Quoc Su street
13. Visit Quan Su Pagoda
14. Visit Hoa Lo Prison
Built during the French colonisation period, it was a symbol of hate among the Vietnamese due to the poor cell conditions and the tortures as well as sufferings that inmates had to endure while serving time at this prison. It was also a symbol of revolution in the eyes of the Vietnamese because many Vietnamese freedom fighters were developed here where it was seen as a independence institution in waging tactical war against the French occupation. Later, when Americans came, they named it Hanoi Hilton because of the confessions that was later revealed as not voluntary where the American POWs said they were well treated and that it was a mistake that America occupied Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
15. Visit Thang Long Citadel
This Imperial Citadel of Hanoi was only revealed to the public recently. What remained today were basically the main gate wall and the princess pagoda of what actually formed part of the larger royal palace. There were exhibition halls displaying artefacts, porcelains, photos, antiques from the royal dynasties era as well as a single storey home converted to military meeting room known as D67 Building which was built during the Vietnam War period as well as the D67 Bunker, which is a tunnel area housing several secret rooms including meeting room, communication room and equipment room.