After the washout of Halong Bay, we were in need of invigoration to get us back to feeling positive about Vietnam, and Hanoi was just the ticket. Much like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is a super buzzy city with great food, cheap bia hoi bars and some great cultural sites, and we spent a happy few days hear exploring the labyrinthine maze of the Old Quarter and some of the city’s cultural gems.
Getting lost in the Old Quarter is pretty much a rite of passage in Hanoi, and on our first night after a few disorientating bia hois, we lost our way and spent a fun 15 minutes just wandering passageways and drooling over local eateries. The next day we decided to do a self-guided food tour to hit up some of the most popular street food places, eating everything from bun cha (pork patties and vermicelli in a herby sweet clear soup) to banh goi (Vietnam’s answer to the empanada) to bun bo nam bo (delicious beef and peanut dish), to the best coffee we had in Vietnam, in a cafe with tons of chirping birds in pretty cages.
We found some amazing little places, and liked them so much that we went back many times to try daily specials of street food, from crab spring rolls to hearty noodle soups. We also discovered amazing local dessert ‘Che’ which is essentially a combination of condensed milk, fruit, avocado, ice, jellies and beans, which we got a bit addicted to!
We walked around the pretty parts of town like the huge central lake, with its red Chinese style bridge, flower gardens and surrounding monuments. We tried to see the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum but unfortunately it was closed, as his body had been taken away for its annual cleaning and ‘restoration’… Grim! But we did check out the attached museum, where there were bizarre artefacts and off the wall exhibitions/displays, which symbolically described some of ‘Nam’s turbulent history and culture, like oversized pieces of fruit that were supposed to symbolise peasant life (!?)
The Women’s Museum was a much more literal, and fascinating read on women’s position in society, detailing amazing women and their roles, like fearless young heroines from the war on the Viet Cong side; their religious ‘goddess worship’; tribal fashions and the painstaking work involved with handsewing detailed tribal clothing. The artefacts, photography and curating were all top notch, and we came out feeling enlivened by our new-found knowledge of the culture and women’s position within it.
Next, we bordered another night bus to take us even further North – to the small market town of Bac Ha…!