Travelling Vietnam – Hanoi City

The Capital of Vietnam

Hanoi is one of the most exciting and absorbing cities I have ever visited. The best way I can describe its appeal is to divide our experiences into headings named “Streets.” It is a city very much defined by its streets. Locals live on them, and their lives unfolded before our eyes as we navigated the wondrous maze of streets in Hanoi.

“Streets of Flowers Hanoi is known as the land of flowers, and petal-drenched scenes of basket – bearing ladies, their bouquet’s spilling out onto the city’s streets-remain the fragrant face of the capital”. (This unattributed quote was copied from the street art wall near the railway line).

The sweet and spicy aroma of the masses and varieties of flowers inside shops, hotel lobbies, spas, and on the streets was enchanting. Little vases of sweet wee daisies, through to magnificent ceramic or glass vessels holding laden branches of blossoms, sweet peas, peonies, or gypsophila, provided a visual and psychological respite from the delightful chaos of Hanoi’s city streets.

Streets of Art and Life Anyone visiting Hanoi City for the first time is likely to experience a dramatic case of sensory overload. In a good way. It is a city that embraces a traveller willing to embrace it. I describe our recent experience in this fascinating city as; “delightfully chaotic”. Or, as described by a passing traveller we met, “like being on an acid trip”.

It’s a city chock full of contrast and contradiction. Varieties of beautiful trees line the streets. Then, around the next corner, rubbish piled up, waiting to be removed. While above, gorgeous coloured paper lamps are strung across the road and hang daintily from trees. Then there are broken curbsides and footpaths. Around another corner stands a beautifully painted mural on an old brick wall. The street artists regularly paint over the existing ones and repaint another new scene.

There wasn’t a day or evening we weren’t challenged and then rewarded “in spades” for our efforts to enjoy this exciting and varied municipality of approximately 8,500,000 people.

Take a look at the images in my collection below. They will give you an idea of the ambiance and atmosphere of this wonderfully dynamic city, we so deeply enjoyed for five days.

Streets of Food – Of course, of all places in the world, Hanoi is renowned for its delicious street food. When navigating the wobbly tapestry of cobbled and tiled footpaths, you will be stepping into generational families cooking literally at your feet, or into simple family-owned cafes only a doorstep away.

There are many famous Vietnamese dishes to recommend. But one of the stand out, must-tries is their famous Pho.

Pho is a noodle soup made from a tasty stock of chicken or beef, herbs, ginger, a side of chilli, and a wedge of juicy lime to taste. It is a delicious and filling meal for any time of the day.

Or for a quick bite, try the ubiquitous Bahn Mi. These “sandwiches” are made to order, starting with a freshly baked fluffy and crispy short baguette filled with local produce and your choice of meat.

The Bahn Mi carts and shops are everywhere. Perch yourself in the street – on one of the many small stools or chairs to enjoy your fare, while you take in the vibrancy and energy of this beautiful city.

These outdoor dining areas are also where the locals congregate, and catch up over freshly cooked food and green tea.

Or try something else from a street vendor. The food is freshly BBQed or chargrilled and usually includes newly harvested market herbs, vegetables, and recently purchased seafood and meats. Because the Hanoians are such good cooks, the food is scrumptious. Nothing quite beats one of their freshly BBQed prawn kebabs with a grilled vegetable kebab on the side to appeal to the taste buds.

There are also many restaurant options in Hanoi, but Street Food is cheaper and more interesting. For a change, one evening we tried Thai food at a lovely “local” Thai restaurant. (Local as in The Old Quarter where we stayed) – “SalaThai”.

My pics below show some of the many food choices we enjoyed in Hanoi.

Streets of Attractions – A thrilling experience for any visitor to Hanoi is the famous Train Street in Ngo 224 Le Duan, a narrow alley in Hanoi’s Old Quarter . It is a very popular tourist attraction and well worth the effort. It is in fact a working ‘main trunk” railway line that cuts through the middle of the street.

As you wait, perched on a child-size plastic stool, you will be offered a cup of cold or hot tea or coffee, fresh juices, and small eats for a minimal price. Twice daily the passenger train barrels at very high speed, down the street only inches from you, on tracks built by the French in 1902. It is a short, exhilarating, fun and unique experience right in the middle of a highly urbanized city. Once the train passes through, and your heart has calmed, cross the tracks to the neighbouring souvenir stores and buy a few lovely mementos to take home.

While hunting out a coffee one morning, we found a quaint, charming, and popular place called, The Note Cafe. it is named as such because the cafe provides sticky note paper and pens to allow customers to write a note to anyone and stick it anywhere they want in the cafe. The multitude of little notes, poems, and sayings were nostalgic and sweet.

If you want great coffee as well as a lovely cafe experience, brave the very steep 2 or 3 stair cases. If you time it well, you can find yourself a street view “pozzy” to watch the world below and the colourful street scenes while you imbibe any one of the various coffee and tea choices.

We also visited Hao Lo Prison. Euphemistically referred to as “Hanoi Hilton”. Be prepared to be shocked. But it serves as a profound reminder of colonialism and its fallout.

And not to go without mentioning The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This experience took my breath away.

Highly revered and celebrated by the Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh lies in-state in his simple but sombre mausoleum. In the beautiful surrounding gardens and park, we enjoyed the sights of armed white-uniformed soldiers guarding the mausoleum in a state of deep seriousness and respect, juxta positioned with groups of joyful Vietnamese children and women dressed up in the traditional elegant ao dai (dress), celebrating “student day” and preparing for Tet, (the Vietnamese New Year), celebrations.

Hanoi offers something for everyone. It is a city that gives as much if not more, than it takes. The food, the people, and the fascinating daily lives of locals will captivate you, and the memories you will bank will last a lifetime.

Extra MTR information:

We flew with Singapore Airlines always a great airline. Penang – Singapore – Hanoi.

We stayed at Peridot Hotel – HIGHLY recommended. Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel

Additional information on Vietnamese dining, taken from; “Eat Vietnam by lonely planet food

Getting around Cyclos pedal bikes (akin to a Tuk Tuk) are plentiful and cheap. We booked drivers via our hotel reception and hired two for an hour. We paid around VN200,000 dong (NZ $13 each), Which was generous.

MTR tip – I wore a face mask. The traffic fumes are noticeable in the open air, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of these rides. They are thrilling, fun, and a great way to see the city at a slower pace than a motorbike or car.

If you would like to find out more about Hanoi, please contact janeco@mytravelroom.co.nz

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