Chaotic and crowded.
Walking the streets of Hanoi was quite a hectic experience. The streets, especially in the Old Quarter, are crawling with motorbike riders, cars and other pedestrians. It is a constant stream of people moving, and you really have to pay attention so you don’t end up getting hit.
It was a bit stressful, but I eventually got used to walking around, which I had to after doing so much exploring around the city. My time in Hanoi sandwiched my trip to Halong Bay.
I arrived in the city early Saturday morning (Aug. 30) on the overnight train SP8. I ended up sleeping through our arrival at Hanoi Station, and was violently shook awake by a train steward. I jumped up in a bleary-eyed frenzy and gathered my belongings together as quickly as possible. I was most likely the last passenger off the train! Thankfully Hanoi was the last stop on that train’s route.
I headed out to the train station and followed my map (that I received when I flew in to Hanoi) to Hanoi Hostel. I hadn’t booked a room, but I was hoping a bed would be available. After a long trek with my bag, I made it to the hostel around 5:30 a.m. At the time, the city was still asleep, and the streets a serene calm. I was able to book a room with the hostel no problem and even got breakfast that morning! It was some exciting stuff, because I has always wanted to just show up to a place and book a room rather than reserving online. So I was pleased it worked out so easily. I showered, ate and quizzed the hostel staff about what sites I should visit in the city. The girl I spoke with was incredibly helpful and told me all of the hot spots to visit.
I saw Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Cho Minh Museum, Presidential Palace, the Temple of Literature, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hoa Lo Prison, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc San Temple, and the Water Puppet Theater. It was a busy day. I walked around from about 9:30 a.m. and arrived back at the hostel around 6 p.m. I enjoyed each of the sites and think they are all worth a visit. And happily, I was able to get a student ticket (10,000 VND) for the Hoa Lo Prison and two temple entrances (regular price 25,000 dong).
I was hungry and tired by the time I returned to the hostel, but there weren’t many restaurants in the vicinity near my abode. I started getting hangry (hungry and angry) and was so frustrated as I fruitlessly (and foodlessly) walked the streets near the hostel in search for somewhere to eat.
Thankfully, after a short plea to God to guide me somewhere, anywhere, I found a restaurant. I walked in and asked the tourists dining there what they ordered. Turns out I ended up at a famous restaurant known for its Banh Cuon (steamed rice cake with meat and topped with fried garlic). I was pleased to have stumbled upon such a noteworthy place and enjoyed two wonderful plates of Banh Cuon. It was really delicious, and not just because I was starving.
Later that night I ventured out to La Bomba Latina and was able to get in a few salsa and bachata dances. It was a great vibe and a really sweet group of people. I wished I could have stayed out dancing all night, but I needed to get some sleep before leaving early the next morning for my Halong Bay tour (a separate post will follow).
I returned to Hanoi from the tour Tuesday (Sept. 2) afternoon. It rained much of the day, so I was pleased I had done the majority of my sightseeing previously during the good weather. I didn’t do much on Tuesday other than venture around the Old Quarter and grab some food. Happily as I was walking around looking for a place to eat, I ran in to two of the girls on my Halong Bay cruise. They were near the end of their meal, so we just chatted a bit and I continued my search. I zeroed in on a restaurant that had two dishes I wanted to try: Bun Bo Nam Bo (a delicious noodle dish with beef, yum!) and Nem Cua Be (crab spring rolls). I had just decided which table to sit at when I ran into another member of my Halong Bay tour. Miguel was also out in search for food, so he joined me. It was a nice chat and great to dine with company.
The next day I slept in as long as possible and hung out at the hostel for a significant chunk of the morning. In the early afternoon I walked around the Old Quarter a bit more. I went to Giang Cafe to try their unique and famous drink, egg coffee.
The best coffee I have ever had in my life. No exaggeration! It was incredible. According to the cafe’s website, the drink is made with chicken egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese. The coffee is brewed and the other ingredients are whisked together and added to the coffee. The cup of coffee is then placed in a bowl with hot water to keep the drink hot. If you do only one thing in Hanoi, this is it. Go and drink this coffee. I only had it on the last day I was in the city, so I decided to have it twice. After the first cup, and a nice conversation with a guy who also just finished teaching in Korea (Chris was in a small village near Daegu and was originally from Connecticut), I headed out to get some food… clearly much of my travel is centered around my tummy and trying new foods. I went to Cau Go Street and ate Bun Thang. It was a soup with thin rice noodles and small slices of chicken. Pretty similar to Pho, but with a different overall taste. It was really delicious. Then I popped over to a bakery to grab a muffin and croissant for my bus ride to Hue that night. I still had a bit of time before the bus was scheduled to leave, so I figured I’d go back and get that second cup of egg coffee. It was really a great decision, and the second cup was just as delicious as the first. And since it was just less than a dollar, I didn’t feel guilty indulging.
Then I finally headed back to my hostel and rested until the bus picked me up, well the shuttle to the bus really. It was a long night of travel to Hue. More to come on that later.
Hanoi Gratitude Journal
1. I’m grateful for helpful people.
2. I’m grateful for trees.
3. I’m grateful for salsa dancing.
4. I’m grateful for included breakfast.
5. I’m grateful for maps.
6. I’m grateful for street signs.