I could not for the life of me remember the name of Vietnam’s capital before we got there. I constantly called it Hoi An (it had consumed my brain because I was so excited to go there) that was until I realised that Hanoi sounds like a posh person saying ‘how annoying’.. honest it does.. Give it a go. Lee found this funny…the first two times. After that he ironically found it very annoying.
This was the extent of lee and my conversations about this place. That was until we got a message from our best friends.
Our two Irish friends (and one of our favourite couples) had been traveling across Asia together for 4 months and had one last stop before flying home. It just so happened it was the exact same time as we would be there. Hanoi was instantly my new favourite place.
We were both so distracted with the excitement of seeing these two that we didn’t think about the fact we were entering a new country. So it took us a little by surprise when we were in our taxi and flying past rice paddies, tea fields and people in pointy hats.
We loved Hanoi. It is vibrant, busy and down to earth. The French influence is apparent everywhere. When the French left Vietnam in 1954 they left behind their architecture and most importantly their bread.
The old quarter of Hanoi looks like Paris was squashed up and abandoned in Asia. Thin buildings with balconies and shutters surround you from all sides and every inch of space is used. I don’t think I saw one area of the street that wasn’t occupied by a tiny plastic chair.
It was cheap, delicious and full of life.
On top of the place looking and being fantastic, the Vietnamese people that fill it are great too. We had some of the nicest hotel staff I’ve ever met and everyone was so willing to help you. (The hotel was called Icon 36 and we would highly recommend it).
We spent our few days in Hanoi catching up over 9p beers or as the locals call it ‘fresh beer’ with a stupid amount of fried spring rolls.
I tried my first phò which was instantly a new favourite. We also had Bun Cha which consists of fried pork spring rolls, noodles, a delicious broth and chunks of beef. All with bitter melon and a ton of herbs. My taste buds that hadn’t experienced a fresh herb for two years in Korea were happy.
We didn’t spend long in Hanoi, we could have stayed for weeks, but we squeezed in some sightseeing and a trip to the water puppets which was originally started in North Vietnam. The water puppets is a hard one to explain. Imagine puppeteers stood waist high in water behind a curtain and you watch these wooded creatures tell you Vietnamese tales. It was fantastically bizarre but very worth the few pound to watch it. Water puppets originated when workers would entertain people on the rice paddies with the puppets 1000 years ago but now has evolved into a great tradition and something I’d recommend. Weirdly and wonderfully Vietnamese. Like most things here. Lee and I spent the whole time quizzically looking each other trying to gage if the other person had a clue what was going one which inevitable ended in a fit of giggles.
The other thing about Hanoi…it’s so cheap!!! After Japan and the Philippines we were happy campers to be paying less than 50p for a Bahn mi sandwich. If you don’t know what Bahn mi is then instantly throw your computer away. Go into the nearest Vietnamese restaurant and experience one/as many as you can force in your face. Imagine a chunk of perfectly soft and crusty French bread. Fill it will pate, mushroom paste, bean sprouts, lettuce, carrot, BBQ pork, lemongrass chicken, cheese and a fried egg. Top it all off with a sweet and sour chili sauce and you have a classic Bahn mi. I honestly think it is the discovery of the trip so far. Our wallets and we were very happy to be in Hanoi. We can’t wait to see what the rest if the beautiful country has to offer.