Until two years ago Hanoi was not on my radar screen. Then my daughter took a teaching position there and everything changed. So last December my husband and son, and a large contingent of other relatives took the long trip to see her. Wow! We were in awe of Hanoi, a wonderful, vibrant city.
Hanoi is truly a gem. It’s a city that has everything, old world charm and modern amenities. Getting around is so easy since ride hailing apps are available. Google maps will allow you to easily navigate through the city easily, especially the Old Quarter. We walked all over the place and NEVER got lost. Now, that is a definite PLUS.
One of the key ways in which I measure the charm of a city is by the nature of its people. The people of Hanoi couldn’t be more charming. They are helpful, gentle, and do not get exasperated when you can’t speak Vietnamese. You will find that in Hanoi, a few monosyllabic words, some hand signals, and a couple of smiles will take you far.
If you are wondering about a cell phone, fear not! With an unlocked phone, you can go and get a chip just about anywhere. It will cost you about $6.00 /month. Wow, that’s cheap!
Another measure on the charm scale is the street scene of Hanoi, a wonderful vibrant city. For starters, there is a coffee shop in every corner, each one more adorable than the previous one. The best thing? They are all locally owned.
Vietnamese coffee is bold, strong, and oh so flavorful! There is a specialty, typical of Hanoi, called egg coffee (caphe trung). The name sounds odd, but the flavor is not; it’s basically a strong coffee with a custard like topping. It is to die for! Also, there’s coconut coffee, rich and delicious.
All around the city you can see older gentlemen, and young people alike sitting down in sidewalk cafes, enjoying their time, and watching the world go by. Yes, people watching in Hanoi is fun too.
An interesting aspect of Hanoi’s street life is the vendors. Especially in the Old Quarter there is a constant procession of mainly women carrying baskets loaded with various items like socks, pollution masks, vegetables, fruits, and sweets (not all in the same basket). You can tell by looking at them that the loads are heavy, but they carry on.
The food! Oh, the food! I am not calling Hanoi, a wonderful vibrant city for nothing. The food is spectacular, both for the adventurous eater, and for those who prefer not to venture far from western food. A must is the hot pot; the Asian version of a fondue. Basically, it’s a flavorful broth that comes with all sorts of delicious dipping foods: mushrooms, greens, shrimp, and meat. It’s great fun to enjoy in a large group. The bun cha is amazing too.
You cannot leave Vietnam without trying pho (fuh), the typical Vietnamese soup; it is popular for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The ingredients are simple: broth, noodles, herbs, and meat or chicken. My daughter took us to her favorite pho place for lunch one day, a street side eatery crowded with locals eating their pho like it was the last bowl on earth. It was to die for. We almost couldn’t sit down.
Are you getting an idea now why I call Hanoi, a wonderful, vibrant city.
Another Vietnamese specialty is bun cha, tasty grilled pork meatballs, served with a broth, rice noodles, greens and herbs. We had bun cha at a local restaurant full of picnic like tables, packed shoulder to shoulder with locals hunched over their bun cha bowls eating with gusto.
Vietnam was a French colony from 1887-1954, and that influence is very much alive today. There are tons of patisseries each with mouthwatering displays of mini tarts, breads, and yes, COFFEE! I have first hand experience with many pastries. Thankfully we walked A LOT, so I didn’t feel so guilty.
Souvenir shopping is phenomenal! In the Old Quarter you can find tons of little shops, all selling lovely handicrafts from hand painted bamboo bookmarks (I bought 12) to raw silk scarves. Another very popular craft is hand-painted coconut bowls in all sorts of colors. They are so beautiful.
Hanoi, a wonderful, vibrant city. It has something for everyone. It draws you into its charm