We flew into Hanoi early one morning from Vientiene. We were a little nervous about getting our visas on arrival but it turned out to be super easy and quick. After all the horror stories we’d heard, it was a big relief. If you organise your visa on arrival you pay USD 45 each, fill out a few forms, they process it in a few minutes and you’re on your way. We met some Canadians that got their visa in advance at the Toronto Embassy and were charged CAD 400 a piece. Yikes! Definitely worth doing in person if you are flying in.
I was excited about Hanoi as Mike’s birthday was going to fall there and I had a few fun things planned. Unfortunately, Mike came down with a case of the man flu and we took it pretty easy for a few days. Small silver lining was that our hotel had really cheap room service that I took advantage of several times.
For Mike’s 32nd I wanted to treat him to a fancy massage at the nicest hotel in Hanoi, the Sofitel Metropole. It’s a historic hotel just outside the Old Quarter, it’s been around since 1901 and welcomed celebs from Charlie Chaplin to Jane Fonda. And now, Mike Walker. We enjoyed a couples massage that was a step up from the $6 thai massage we had in Chiang Mai. Mike enjoyed it so much that I caught him snoring. Seriously.
From there we headed to my next surprise, a street food tour of the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is a crazy place with motorbikes whizzing by, street vendors on every corner and tons and tons of people. We had heard that the street food in Hanoi was not to be missed but it’s all a bit overwhelming and, obviously, everything’s in Vietnamese. So, I arranged a tour with Food on Foot, a guided tour where they take you to the best spots that only the locals go to.
Our guide, Mr. Ha, picked us up from our hotel for the night tour. By chance, it was just the two of us that night so we got a private tour. Mr. Ha was a real charmer and we really enjoyed chatting with him and learning more about his life in Hanoi. He took us down some dark alleys and around hidden corners to taste bum bo nam bo, pho ga, sugarcane juice, Chinese New Year cake, shrimp and pork pancakes, exotic vietnamese fruits and even some frog legs on the grill. Icing on the cake was some weasel coffee. After tasting a great cup of coffee, I was told that this particular blend was made with beans pooped out by weasels. Apparently, it does something wonderful to the beans. I’m a believer, it was really good!
After the progressive feast we hung out for a few bia hoi’s, a homemade beer that is made that morning and tossed that night. They make it fresh everyday with no preservatives – cheap and tasty! We had 5 for USD $1.25 on beer street where regular shops during the day moonlight as bars at night. All the street food places use ridiculously small tables and chairs as street food is technically illegal but yet, it’s absolutely everywhere you look. The idea being that since the furniture is so small, they can pack up their whole operation in seconds if the cops roll up.
The next day we took off for Halong Bay which we’ll cover in our next post. When we got back to Hanoi, we ticked off a few more boxes checking out the faux French Notre Dame and History Museum. The museum was pretty heavy but we had the great surprise of meeting the cutest puppy ever on the way out, owned by one of the Vietnamese soldiers.
From there, we headed for the famous egg coffee at Giang Cafe. Heavily recommended on Trip Advisor, coffee with an egg based foam topping that resembles whipped cream but is made with egg yolks. Kinda like raw cake batter. It’s famous in Hanoi and was a great treat on a dreary day.
Mike was still feeling under the weather, unfortunately. To cheer him up, we hit up Namaste for lunch, a highly rated indian restaurant. We got the last table of a two story restaurant which we took as a good sign. It didn’t disappoint and was one of Mike’s favorite curries in YEARS.
We felt like we didn’t do enough of the touristy things on offer in Hanoi so signed up for a water puppet show that a few people had recommended to us. Sounded cheesy and it kinda was but it was also great to sit back and relax for a bit and enjoy the show.
Hanoi was crazy, loud, smelly and cold but we really enjoyed our time there. It was the opposite of a tourist city, it really felt like we were fitting into their world instead of the other way around. That said, we were looking forward to getting back in our flip flops in the sunshine of Hoi An. Until then…