Vietnam Part 1- what will surprise you in Hanoi?

Bamboo hats, aromatic coffee, millions of scooters, bustling cities, rice fields and blissful villages – Vietnam will surprise you with its diversity and contrast. For me it is a country where one should experience the cities and provinces, both north and south, in order to experience this land’s cultural richness. Vietnam is not only a spectacle for the eyes, but also a feast for the taste buds! You will find everything from salty and spicy cuisine to sweet and sour dishes. If I had to summarize in only three words my stay in Vietnam they would certainly be: cuisine, landscapes and scooters! But more about that in a moment.

I spent 14 days in Vietnam during which time I visited both the north and south of the country. I took the following routes:

North of Vietnam: Hanoi ⇒ Mai Chau ⇒ Tam Coc ⇒ Halong Bay

South of Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) ⇒ Ben Tre Province ⇒  Can Tho ⇒ Cai Rang

 

North                                                                                          South

 

If I were to answer the question of which of the places stole my heart, I would have to say that in the north of Vietnam it was the city of Hanoi and in the south the Ben Tre Province.

Today, I will tell you a little about Hanoi, of what to see and what to taste. There will be soon be a post about Vietnamese cuisine with recipes as well, so stay tuned!

 

Hanoi

 

What a vibrant city! Even though Hanoi is plagued with stalls, street food booths and is overcrowded, gridlocked and noisy, it is still a city full of magic, something that genuinely attracts like a magnet. I loved this city from first sight. What things charmed me about it? I think that its authenticity, simplicity, buzz, night markets with their unprecedented atmosphere and the tiny stools on the streets on which you can sit and eat affordable and delicious food. Hanoi is a city that surprises every step of the way. And, by what? You will find out below…

 

What will surprise you in Hanoi?

 

Scooters, scooters and more scooters

 

When I was taking my driver’s training, my instructor repeatedly impressed upon me “watch out for pedestrians”, “pedestrian always take precedence”, etc. As European drivers, we are taught to always be cautious when we see a pedestrian approaching the road, and we usually yield the right of way to them. And in Vietnam? A pedestrian? Who would care about a pedestrian!? The road is for vehicles – period. And you can forget about the sidewalks as well, because they are filled with pots of food, stalls with clothes and scooters… Well, when it comes to the last one, you can count 5 scooters for each 8.5 inhabitants of Hanoi. And there are some 7.5 million people living in Hanoi, which means there are about 4.5 million scooters! Even traffic lights are not always respected by drivers there. Do not be surprised by motorcyclists crossing on a red light! There are no traffic rules there! The only rule is that you must adjust, because if you do not, you will die, in the most literal sense of the word!

Paradoxically, during my two-week stay in Vietnam, I did not see a single accident! Not even the smallest collision! How does one explain this phenomenon? I think that the increased danger in the streets increases the caution of the pedestrians. You will see no talking, calls or people making text messages while crossing the streets. Besides, there is no way to walk with your head in the clouds with all the racket from the noisy car horns. Anyone has been in Hanoi knows what I’m talking about.

So how to survive in crowded Hanoi? It took me a few perilous days to master the technique of survival. You should move with a sure step and keep the same speed, so that any scooter driver that comes upon will be able to feel your pace and pass you by. You will get the hang of it with a little practice 😉

 

Street food and tiny stools

 

When I think back to my time in Hanoi, what immediately comes to mind are the tiny plastic tables and stools which look as if they were set for children, and yet adults eat on them. I remember once eating in the street on such small stools and at the end of our meal a waitress approached me and said “sorry, sorry” pulling my stool out from under me so quickly that I fell on the ground. Now I can laugh about it, but at the time  it was not funny at all for me. Many of the restaurants in Hanoi set out these street chairs and tables illegally in order to be able to receive more tourists and in this way earn more money. However, as soon as the police appear, they quickly fold everything up and if a poor tourist, had not finished eating, that’s their loss. Fortunately, such situations do not happen that often, but they can. It happened to me only once. Despite this unpleasant incident, I am still a big fan of Vietnam street food!

In Hanoi I was enchanted by the delicious grilled dish, which you can prepare on your own. The waitress will bring you aluminum trays with butter, and, on small burners on the table, you can fry beef, chicken, pieces of fish and seafood, as well as vegetables yourself. Such grilled dishes are served in many places in Hanoi, and certainly on Ta Hie Street, which I highly recommend!

In addition to the mixed grill, Hanoi is known for its delicious, aromatic Pho soup served with beef / chicken or in a vegetarian version. Yummy!

Crispy nem rolls have also become popular around the world. It is a dish of rolled rice paper stuffed with shrimps / chicken / pork and vegetables. They can be served in two versions: either hot fried rolls or cold ones, known as spring rolls. Both versions are very tasty.

When in Hanoi, be sure to try Bun Cha – pork meatballs, served with bacon, pasta and fresh herbs.

For dessert, I recommend the tiny doughnuts, which you can find on almost every street corner.

All dishes are at a very affordable price, starting prices are from 25,000 dong, or about 1 euro, so you can easily afford to eat delicious Vietnamese meals!

For something a little more elegant, I highly recommend the Le Hanoi Gourmet restaurant as well. Although it is not street food, they serve excellent food there, everything is very nice and carefully served. You can order a full menu, consisting of several dishes and dessert for around 240,000 dong (9 euro).

Web site LINK

 

 

Basins in toilets 😊

 

I remember once after a meal, a friend and I asked about using the toilet. The waitress took us to a tiny room, in which there was a basin of water, and pointing to it let us know that we could settle our business there. My friend looked at me, I looked at her. We did not need to say a word as our eyes spoke for themselves. The whole situation was observed by a young boy who let us know to follow him. He led us to his home, which was next door. We stopped in the corridor, took a look inside, thanked him for his trouble and turned back. In the end we chose to use a “normal” pay toilet, which we knew was okay.

 

Night market on Hang Than Street

 

The Night market in Hanoi is a place where you can buy almost everything – From food to clothes, souvenirs and innumerable odds and ends. This is probably the biggest counterfeit market I’ve ever seen! If you buy something, remember that traders start with an exorbitant price and often you can bargain things down as much as 50%.

The market stretches along Hang Than Street and is open on Fridays to Sundays, between7 p.m. and 12 p.m. Despite its cheesy side, it is a place you must visit at least once to get a feel of the atmosphere of the city. The market is a bustling, dynamic place to come to even if it is just to try the fish shish kebabs or other delicacies.

It is worth mentioning that the street is closed to traffic for the duration of the market, so it is a time when at least you get a break from the trumpeting horns and unbearable scooters!

 

Cho Ngoc Thuy market

 

 

If you do not get enough with the night-time shopping, be sure to head to the Cho Ngoc Thuy market, situated 10 minutes by car from the center, on the other side of the Red River. It is a place where you can find fresh local products at low prices. There is a wide assortment ranging from fresh pineapples and peeled grapefruits, to rice pancakes, fresh fish, vegetables and meat. There you will find a wonderful mix of flavors and colors. I highly recommend it!

 

Street animations near the Hoan Kien lake

 

Weekends are a good time to go to Hanoi. Why? Because there are many animations and street performances waiting for you. You will meet many artists and photographers taking photos on Le Thai To street, right next to the lake. It’s nice place to see. In addition, on Saturdays and Sundays the street around the lake is closed to cars and scooters, so you can stroll the street without any fears.

See you soon!

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