Here’s a city, filled with one of the best food cultures in the world, an intriguing history, a deeply thoughtful people and a blend of modern, and traditional cohesive values.
It was the summer of 2005. I was young, lazy, uninspired and reluctant to fly to Hanoi to take up a job at the famous Metropole hotel for 5 months.
I was to endure rigorous food and beverage training to eventually get better at my craft and thought that Vietnam would be an interesting location to have on my CV once I was done with College.
I really didn’t know what to expect.
I sat down, tired, on a small stool and asked the lady making the food, to just bring me whatever she was serving. The bowl arrived, full of steam and flavor. Hints of mint, coriander, fish sauce and limes hit my nostrils and suddenly I could see clearly.
In front of me, a juicy peach of a city, filled with one of the best food cultures in the world, an intriguing history, a deeply thoughtful people and a blend of modern and traditional cohesive values, was wide open. Hanoi welcomed me and I knew I was home.
If you recall, last year we already went to Saigon for Overnight, so you might be wondering why we decided to feature another Vietnamese city. Well, for one, Hanoi is the capital city, more importantly, they could not be more different.
Everything from the food to how loudly people speak to the weather is almost bipolar. But if I had to characterize it in just one image.
Hanoi is the more established, adult, comfortable and cultured father figure, whereas Saigon is the young millennial, busy creating a career and growing quickly in many different tangents. Both are great, but my heart sides with the northerner.
The city can be simplified into 6 neighborhoods of interest. Hoan Kiem is the area immediately around the lake, which acts as the center of activity. The Old Quarter is where you will find most tourist and life as it is on the streets. The French Quarter, is an area that is quite quaint, but transports you back to the early colonial 1900s as soon you step foot in it.
West Lake is a newer more polished neighborhood, where the affluent and most of the expat community resides. Ba Dinh, is what I call the big monument district, with most of the massive landmarks and government buildings concentrated there.
Finally, Hai Ba Trung is the most local and more chill then the other locations. If you are coming to the city for a couple of days I would recommend staying right in between of the Old Quarter and West Lake. For some peace and quiet, that’s never far from the action, somewhere around the Hang Ma or Quan Thanh areas.
There are so many reasons for travelers to come to Hanoi, but the food and the vibe the city offers are the ones that keep me coming back.
Our first proper meal just had to be Pho but this was complicated because Pho in Hanoi, unlike Saigon, is a religion. It makes sense, the north gets colder and a majority of the dishes in the north are served with rice noodles. There are so many places to choose from. Here are a couple of places to check out:
Pho Tu Lun
23C Hai Bà Trưng
Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan
49 Bát Đàn, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Pho Thin Lo Duc
13 Lo Duc, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam
10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Pho Bat Dan
49 Bát Đàn, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
42 Quán Thánh, Hà Nội, Quán Thánh, Vietnam
Pho Bo Cu Chieu
48 Hang Dong, Hoan Kiem
While Bahn Mi isn’t as famous here than it is in Saigion, there are places that serve really good stuff. Some of them are:
Bahn Mi 25
25 Hàng Cá, Hàng Đào, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Bahn My Lan Ong
25 Hang Ca Street, Hoan Kiem District
Bahn Mi Trung
Central Hoan Kiem District
Banh Mi Thit Xien Ba Nga
31 Quang Trung, Hoan Kiem
Jasmin Doner Kebab
106D1 Trần Huy Liệu, Quận Ba Đình
Banh mi nem khoai
42 Lý Thường Kiệt
If you’re looking for something other than Pho and Banh mi, these places are worth checking out:
No.13 Dinh Tien Hoang Street (has lake view of the Sword Lake)
Pho Cuon Hung Ben
35 Nguyễn Khắc Hiếu, Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình
Dong Thinh Nha Hang Mien Luon – Eel Noodles
87 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm
Bun Bo Nam No
67 Hang Dieu Street
Pho xao 17 hang ca
Lv1 No17 (Hang Ca), Ha Noi Old Quarter
Bia Hoi Corner
20 Tạ Hiện, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Cửa Hàng Chả Rươi Hưng Thịnh – Worms
số 1 Hàng Chiếu
Oc luoc Dinh liet – Snails
Số 1 Đinh Liệt | Quận Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Bahn Xeo Zon Pancake Restaurant
25 Lo Su Street, Hanoi
101 Hoang Cau Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi
Giang Café – egg coffee
39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm
26 Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Xoi Yen Restaurant – for Xoi Xeo- Rice Cake topped with pork floss
35B Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm
Quan Bun Ca107 A7 Đại Học Thủy Lợi, Quận Đống Đa
59 Văn Miếu Đống Đa Đống Đa Hà Nội
Hanoi Cooking Center
44 Châu Long, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen
14 Hàng Gà, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Ngõ 8 Lê Ngọc Hân
Tiệm Bánh Mì Lãn Ông
20 Chả Cá, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
17-19, Ly Quoc Su Street,Hoan Kiem Ward, Ha Noi City
Bun Cha 34
34 Hang Than Ba Dinh, Hanoi
If you are only here for a short stay, I would usually recommend just exploring the streets and the everyday life of Hanoians. I find some of the local quirks absolutely fascinating. Some of the key sites that I believe are worth visiting are:
The Temple Of Literature
Văn Miếu, Đống Đa
The Opera House
1 Trang Tien St, Hanoi
Ho chi Minh Mausoleum
Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
The Perfume Pagoda
Hương Sơn, Mỹ Đức, Hanoi
The Imperial Citadel
Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hanoi
There are also some interesting day trips available:
Duong Lam Ancient Village
Ancient Capital Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh)
There is also the famous Halong Bay, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Nightlife is quite strange in the city. There is a strictly enforced curfew where bars needs to start closing around midnight or 1 am. Nothing has changed from when I was here in 06.
So what do people do? They drink, quick and early. A simple solution that gets you where you want to be yet helps in getting up for work in the morning. You could end up going to the famous Beer corner for a quick one.
If lots of noise and draft beers aren’t really your thing there are many other options.
CAMA ATK – for a proper underground eclectic feel to the city.
Mai Hắc Đế, Bùi Thị Xuân, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội
The Hanoi Social Club – always fun experience.
6 Ngõ Hội Vũ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
34 Cao Bá Quát, Điện Biên, Ba Dinh District, Hà Nội
24 Tông Đản, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
La Terrasse du Metropole
15 Ngô Quyền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
Or Going around the Xuan Dieu area and seeing what the expats are up to.
You also have the option of going to smaller back packer focused clubs in the center or town, or the larger than life big party clubs a little outside the center, but I wouldn’t recommend those.