Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hanoi in 3 Days

Actually, we were there for about 6 days but we take away 2 days for Halong Bay and another one for the flight home.

Anyway, to introduce you to Hanoi, Vietnam, since I've always been confused with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is the one up north. It's the older city, the one with Old Quarters, the one nearer to Halong Bay and has Ho Chi Minh's (the person) body lying in state.

We stayed in a hotel called Rising Dragon Hotel (Hanoi means Rising Dragon by the way) who were very initiative and contacted us the minute we booked by offering us a tour to Halong Bay and Sapa. The staff were very friendly and helpful, with great recommendations on where to eat and where to go, would really recommend it! It's located in the Old Quarters and was a great base to explore Old Quarters. We got everywhere by foot easily. But of course, we walked like crazy (8.5km on our last day).

The first thing I noticed was that it is a right hand drive. I can't remember if this is my first time sitting in vehicles with right hand drive. And to look out the screen at the onslaught of motorbikes and crazy traffic and honking for just about anything. The noise level is so great that when we got back to KL, we looked at each other and said, "Wah! KL so quiet!".

We organized three tours from the Hanoi Free Walking Tour but only did two. Our first guide, Thuy, poor girl, arrived almost breathless as she was informed an hour or so ago about our booking even though we booked 3 weeks in advance. She was very nice and the first thing she taught us, unintentionally, was to cross a busy road by not paying attention and continuously talking to us while cutting across a busy roundabout!

Thuy helping KS buy some food from a street vendor.

Thuy took us around Old Quarters and covered as much as she could within the 3 hours (it's a really huge area) and showed us stuff we'd never have noticed on our own. For example, the streets were named after the product the shops used to sell, like silver, peaches and silk. She also pointed out narrow lanes in between the shops which actually lead to small tiny rooms which house families.

Families live inside these corridors in windowless rooms.
At the end of our tour, she took us into one of these dim corridors, up some narrow steps and entered what appeared to be a home converted into a shop. If we were on our own, we would have backed out there and then. Young folks sitting on tiny stools, kuaci shells coating the floor, a veil of smoke enveloping the generally dazed crowd.

This was where they serve egg in coffee, an original recipe made by this guy (who's family home is this place) who worked in the swanky Metropole Hotel as a barman. He concocted it while he was there and serves it only in this place. There are no signboards, so only those who know this place get to find it.

The froth arrived 3D, thick with the egg.
Squatting by a tiny table, we somehow squeezed into place and were promptly served with the famous egg coffee. I can't take coffee but had two tiny sips and immediately had a sore throat! Truly a must for coffee drinkers!

A Notre Dame-ish looking church in Hanoi, St Joseph's Cathedral
The locals call these sweets but they are actually preserved fruits, sweetish sourish stuff.
A fruit usually used for prayers because it looks like upturned fingers 
Every shop had the Vietnam flag hanging from their shop for Reunification Day on 30 April.
Thuy, our wonderful guide for the day
On our second Free Walking Tour, we combined the French Quarters Tour and Food Tour since the Food Tour was cancelled at the last minute since there wasn't an available guide.

Mai really opened our eyes to food which we didn't dare to try or didn't even know existed! She first brought us to eat cut fruits with yoghurt (or condensed milk if you prefer).

When we stepped into the shop, there were these tiny plastic stools which we use for kids in kindergarten in Malaysia. Scattered amongst them were a few normal height plastic stools. Both Mai and I took a small stool, I thought of leaving KS with the higher stool to sit on but it turned out that stool was the table!

Throughout the next few places we were taken to eat, we sat on these small stools. It's definitely not easy if you're not used to it. I had to fold in my fat to tuck myself in lol!

Cut fruits in yoghurt
Beef strips mixed with nuts and loads of veggie. Very yummy!
Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. The combination of each veggie was just right to give the perfect flavour.
Bits of pork mixed with wood ear mushroom wrapped in a thick gooey rice paper sort of thing.
Since we had already stuffed ourselves, we headed to the French Quarters.
The Opera House
THE most luxurious hotel in Hanoi, Hotel Metropole Hanoi. We walked inside in all sweaty shorts and slippers :)
We ended our tour with a visit to the most popular ice cream shop in Hanoi, Kem Trang Tien. This place is amazing.
The entrance. See the motorbikes being pushed in? 
The customers drive in, park and make their orders. There was a constant stream of customers while we were there polishing off a cone each.
Time to say goodbye to Mai
Food in general:

We had:
- Pork noodles
- Pho
- French baguette
- Egg coffee
- Beef noodles
- Grilled fish
and more...

Our first meal was this pork noodle place, Bun Cha. Oh-em-gee... it was so good. And such a large portion. We wished we could have gone back a second time but so much food, so little stomach! Don't speak Vietnamese? It's ok, just sit and they will serve you. "Eat whatever they place in front of you" was our motto.

Bun Cha (pork noodles) was our very first meal. 
Our first baguette from a roadside stall
Our second baguette, operated by this lady who had very basic equipment to run her business at the side walk. This is something I noticed, the women did business with the least things they had. Just do it.
We were also recommended to try this grilled fish along Hoan Kiem road with the basic instructions of "Cha Ca La Vong". When we got there, a guy rushed out and implored us to go into his shop with the magic words "Cha Ca La Vong? Here! Here!". We were a little taken aback and I sensed something wasn't quite right especially when he said something along the lines of "You're looking for number 14? This is 14!" so we sort of guessed the right place was addressed 14.

Looking around the street, we noticed everyone had their business signage as 14! So we stepped into the one with the address as 14 instead.
See the signboard which says 14 but the address is 16? So we stepped into the shop next to it.

It was fish pieces being pan cooked in oil with loads of veggie. You eat it with noodles.
Pricey, delicious but honestly, nothing really to shout about but I guess it was for experience.

Our last night's dinner, beef noodles. It was SO good...
Places of interest and things to do in Hanoi:

Besides what we covered in the tours, we did:
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Water Puppet Show
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Hanoi Temple of Literature
- Pagoda in West Lake
- The bridge designed by Eiffel
- Longest tiled mural in the world

The Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake
The red bridge at the lake which connects to the pagoda
A 45 minute Water Puppet Show
Changing of guards at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Pagoda at the West Lake
Longest tiled mural in the world
Bridge designed by Eiffel. Notice the similarities in it's structure to the tower?

The people of Hanoi:

The folks of Hanoi are business people. Just like the French baguette place mentioned above, with what little equipment they had, they'd just open a stall anywhere to sell anything. These hard working people made the place really come alive.

The highlight for us was getting to know our two tour guides. Passionate with a cause, Vietnam has a good future with these young sharp minds.

We saw quite a few people modelling and taking photos all over. I love the traditional costume for ladies, it really makes them so stunning and graceful.

Leave throwing for effect
Spotted this railway which people use as their backyards. They clear off as soon as they hear the train. I even saw a man set up a table right in the middle of the track to sit and read his paper.
And here's a photo of us being silly:
Us goofing while waiting for our dinner one night
Halong Bay blogpost coming up.


Hanoi Free Local Tours said...
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Hanoi Free Local Tours said...

Blogger Hanoi Free Local Tours said...
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you press link below to add information about Hanoi-capital of Vietnam.

hannawaston said...

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Hong Tong said...

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quat tran den said...

Vietnam is a beautiful country, friendly people. Pho is very delicious.