I’m sleepy and cranky and hungry at 2AM in Noi Bai International Airport. I had booked a transfer for the sole purpose of avoiding these three qualities but it’s nowhere to be found. It’s deserted and the wi-fi is faint at best. I’m so glad my friend Will is here but from the scowl I’m wearing, I’m certain he can’t tell. The next hour involves a random taxi driver, our names appearing on his cellphone, a difficult language barrier, and the two of us finally getting in said driver’s taxi while I mutter, “If I get raped in this country it’s on you, Will.”
Hanoi was off to a bumpy start so I guess there was nowhere to go but up but even then, I’m very happy to report that things started looking good and I mean really good as soon as we arrived at our hostel – clean, comfy, AC, wi-fi (Hanoi is surprisingly well-plugged in – speedy wi-fi pretty much everywhere), hot water, interesting people, and free beer from 7-8PM hells yeah.
There’s so much I wanna share with you dear reader but in the interest of not being all over the place, I will show you interesting sights on this post and follow it up with posts on Hanoi street food + one on a proper food tour that I did while there. Okay? Okay!
My first sight of Hanoi in daylight was a pretty chaotic picture – looking for coffee in the morning, I turned right when I should’ve turned left and walked smack into a crazy morning wet market scene. It was a lot to take in and coffee never felt more well-deserved. It wasn’t love at first sight with the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter but I warmed up soon enough.
While it’s true that pedestrians, cars, bicycles, motorcycles and whatever else on wheels do as they please and honking is a constant background noise, the streets of Old Quarter dotted generously with beautiful French architecture are undoubtedly and entirely charming. It’s also worth noting that these streets are over a thousand years old!
Most buildings are maybe 4 stories high and their front is very narrow. It’s almost shocking how you can enter one (through alleys just wide enough for one person) and come out into what seems a whole new world. Small businesses are abundant and there are signages everywhere. Blink and you’ll miss one for a place like Cafe Pho Co.
If you don’t know about this place, you will miss it for sure. And even if you are looking for it, it will probably take you a while to figure out that you’re supposed to make your way inside the silk shop and through this:
And then whut??
Isn’t that amazing? Behind Gerdo is the parking lot and beyond that is the kitchen of this cafe. Buildings here are narrow but they’re looooong. Anyhoo, I ordered a cold egg coffee.
And we made our way to the fourth floor to enjoy its renowned view of Hoan Kiem Lake. Vietnamese coffee with a view is perfection.
Speaking of lakes, Hanoi has many. This one seems to be at the center of the bustling part of Old Quarter. It’s surrounded with restaurants, cafes, and all types of stores. It’s also beautiful at night and lots of people come out to hang.
And I mean a LOT.
The other lake that I got to see was West Lake. It’s huuuuge and apparently there are temples nearby but I only visited one and I didn’t find it all that exciting.
The neighborhood nearing this lake is noticeably more affluent. Noteworthy spots like the Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (closed on Fridays) are around here, too. It was a bit of a walk from my hostel but there were interesting sights along the way.
If you’re in Hanoi on a weekend, the Weekend Night Market is worth checking out. A long stretch of streets is closed down for all types of merchandise from fashion items to gadget and home accessories. Between purchases, you can snack on street food and maybe watch a show. There was a sort of cultural number on when I was there.
After shopping, you must make your way to Beer Corner. I insist. Even if you don’t drink, this is a drinking culture unlike any I’ve seen before and it has to be witnessed. As night settles on Ta Hien St., locals and travelers start hunkering down on to small stools out on the street and drink beer (among other things).
It gets really crowded. The night I was there, there were cops that came out to make sure the tables weren’t taking over the street.
The beer could’ve been way colder but this was absolutely fascinating.
I had only 2 full days to see Hanoi and it was much too short. I wanna go back already, even if the language barrier is bad and I found “proper” dessert hard to find. This Beer Corner night, we ended up getting Korean ice cream. Tell you all about Hanoi street food on my next post!
Random Hanoi travel tip:
Money exchange math Math is always confusing for me. I just gave up at some point in Hanoi comforted by the fact that things are generally pretty cheap over there. On my way back to Manila, I bumped into a friend at the Ho Chi Minh airport and he shared with me an easy way to go about it: multiply Vietnamese Dong by 2 and remove 3 zeroes and you get Philippine Peso. So say, 1000 Dong x 2 – 3 zeroes. A thousand dong is 2 pesos.