Sunday October 15 – Friday October 20, 2017
We arrived in Hanoi in the middle of a typhoon!* Similar to Cambodia, we didn’t have many expectations with us, but we quickly fell in love with everything the city – and the country – had to offer. The first couple days were quite wet, but it didn’t stop us from doing a walking tour of the city, exploring nearby shopping centres, and of course enjoying some of Vietnam’s finest egg-coffee… which is more dessert than drink, and oh-so-good.
On our walking tour our guides took us to a literal hole in the wall coffee shop where we had to walk through an entire street-level shop (unrelated to coffee), ascend some questionable stairs, and come back out into a second-floor café looking out on one of Hanoi’s many lakes. The coffee was superb (as were the prices, which made Vietnam our biggest bang-for-buck location), and the place was packed with locals.
We also did a short walk further throughout the ‘old quarter’ or ‘French quarter’ of Hanoi, taking in the beautiful scenery, visiting the Women’s Museum, and also visiting an old French prison which became a hotbed of revolutionary thinking, and was later used to imprison American pilots, such as John McCain – who was captured during the war in one of the lakes Hanoi encompasses.
The nightlife in Hanoi was also extremely lively, while adhering to strict controls (at midnight many bars are closed down by police patrols). Virtually every corner (and everywhere in between) has a “bar|, many of which sell Bai Hoi – roughly pronounced as beer hoi – which is essentially home-brew, and sells for as little as 5,000 VND, or about $0.28 CAD.
But what really took us by surprise was the food! Wow! From Don Duck’s duck-filled menu, to delicious banh mi, to the best pho one could ever imagine, we feasted and enjoyed everything the streets of Hanoi had to offer – including some drinks at Obama’s bar, impromptu street karaoke while we ate banh mi, and non-stop opportunities to play real-life frogger with the traffic. And while we loved our banh mi place in Hanoi, the owner – who ended up recognizing us after our… 2nd of 4 visits – told us on our last visit that his banh mi had nothing on Madam Khanh in Hoi An (and he was right!).
Hanoi really has it all. Lively nightlife and an amazing food scene sit side by side with incredible architecture – both European and Chinese inspired (northern Vietnam was controlled by China for a time), as seen in Vietnam’s oldest/original university…
…alongside the brutal, soviet style works of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum** and museum (which wasn’t really about Uncle Ho. In fact, we’re still not entirely sure what the museum was about)…
… back to the more colonial presidential palace and embassies, and the traditional pagodas over looking West Lake and Truc Bach Lake, where McCain was shot down.
All in all, Hanoi went above and beyond our expectations, and kicked off our amazing – but not long enough – 2 weeks in Vietnam!
* The Typhoon, for those keeping score, brings our near-natural-disaster-encounters up to 4 now: forest fires in Croatia, floods in India, volcano in Bali and typhoon in Vietnam – whew)! Fortunately none of these disasters affected us whatsoever 😉
** Unfortunately we could not see Uncle Ho given his remains were being further preserved in Russia