Impressions of Hanoi
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is something out of an urban fairy tale — with the bustle of a city with the smells, sounds and feel of an enchanting village. Hanoi is in no way a village, but there was something about the warm breeze, smell of street food and buzz in air that left us mesmerized each time we walked outside. It was one of my favorite cities in South East Asia filled with energy, hospitality and amazing food.
Food, food, food
Hanoi did not disappoint and quickly became one of our favorite food cities on the honeymoon. The best thing we did (and Justin surprised me with this on our first morning) was to take a walking street food tour through the Old Quarter. Walking provided a great way to get oriented to the Old Quarter and it was priceless to have a local show us various street foods and provide an overview of key Vietnamese dishes. Sixteen foods later, we had our food baby bellies and we were in heaven. Over the next few days we continued to revisit some of our favorites.
Special note about egg coffee
I had read about the famous egg coffee in Vietnam and after trying one that was sufficiently heart attack worthy, but only kind of good, our search was not yet complete. On our last day in Hanoi, we got up at the crack of dawn to hit the highest rated cafe before leaving for the airport.
Giang Cafe is almost hidden — down a long cement hallway around the corner from some hanging laundry and parked motorbikes. We ordered the egg coffee (egg yolks, condensed milk and coffee — what could be better?) and after oohhing and ahhing over the deliciousness, ordered two more varieties before leaving. It’s possible that this sip was my favorite bite (or sip) of anything I had on this trip. So in case you are on the fence about visiting Giang Cafe when you are in Hanoi, don’t think twice.
Here are a few more food highlights:
Daily repeat food stops…yes, daily
There were two places where we ended up eating every day in Hanoi (in addition to our many other food stops). One we found our first night in Hanoi – Bun Bo Nam Bo. We sat down at large, simple metal tables and benches, side by side with locals and tourists. A man from the restaurant who spoke very little English came over and asked, “Two?” to which we smiled and replied, “Yes?” — having no idea what we were ordering but knowing that 1600 reviewers were probably not wrong.
Within minutes, two bowls appeared in front of us. There were only a couple dishes on the menu tacked up on the wall, and the bowl in front of us was what this place was known for: famous beef noodle soup — It cost 60,000 Dong (~$2.70 USD) and it was phenomenal! We had three bowls and walked home already in love with Hanoi. We made this our go-to dinner (or second dinner spot) each day we were in Hanoi.
The second place that became an evening ritual for us was a corner food stall that served fresh fruit in coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet jellies and crushed ice. We visited this spot on our food tour and we were so crazy about this sweet, cool, refreshing treat that we went back nightly for our dessert.
Like most street-side restaurants, this one was also outfitted with mini chairs and tables. At a glance, it looked like a play set for preschoolers and watching tall foreigners bend themselves into these micro chairs was pretty hilarious. They were even tiny for us, so you can imagine how much fun it was to watch other folks balance their way in and out of these chairs. It didn’t matter how full we were after dinner, we would squat ourselves down on the little chairs on this corner and go to town on ice cold freshness.
Crossing the streets offered the cheapest adventure in Hanoi! It was so fun to cross the busy streets (or any odd intersection) because dozens of motorbikes and cars whizzed all around us with no adherence to any traffic rules whatsoever. They let out a simple honk to let us know they were coming up behind us — which filled the streets with a surprisingly musical cacophony of sound.
The whole street crossing experience is amazing. Although tourists are told to assertively cross and keep moving (never go backwards!), the locals still had to zigzag around us or sometimes even halt to a stop to avoid hitting us. We were amazed that even in those moments, there was never any expression of frustration — no sounds or words exchanged — just a swerve and they continued on their way. We had so much fun crossing that we often went to the large roundabout and walked back and forth through the middle (congratulating ourselves after each successful cross — not that we deserved the credit anyway).
Drag your mouse around the video to watch it in 360:
Our home base hotel
We loved having a home base hotel where we stayed between trips to Halong Bay and Mai Chau. The staff at the Oriental Suites was fantastic. They’d often see us coming in from the street and greet us by name. The first day, our names were “Justin and Mrs. Justin” which was lovely, but I was pleasantly surprised when one day they greeted us with “Justin and Tova” — and fortunately that name combo stuck throughout the rest of our stay. They even surprised us with a welcome honeymoon cake and bottle of wine (and massive breakfasts!).
Anything other than food?
Not really. We visited the Vietnam Military History Museum. There was very little in the way of English explanations but lots of old weapons and very cool aircraft.
We loved walking around the lake and sat out on the balcony of Cong Caphe, a local coffee shop, drinking awesome coconut blended drinks and playing Settlers of Catan…see, more food. So, no. Our trip to Hanoi was all about the food. No, we wouldn’t change a thing!