Decided to go on a short 5D4N escapade to Hanoi over the Easter long weekends via Singapore Airlines. Together with Silkair, SQMI flies 2x daily flights to HAN with relatively good flight timings, morning departure from Singapore and evening return from Hanoi.
Wanted to experience the difference staying in Old Quarter and French Quarter, but due to some plan change for my halong bay trip, i ended up staying only in Old Quarter but at 2 different boutique hotels – La Storia Hotel and The Hanoian Hotel (supposed to stay in New Vision Palace Hotel but due to some last min crop up of things, i was shifted to The Hanoian Hotel). The top row feature La Storia Hotel while the bottom row feature The Hanoian Hotel. Generally both the room are comfortably big and clean. La Storia Hotel is much more conveniently located near the shopping/food street of Old Quarter, while The Hanoian Hotel is a little further on the perimeter of the Old Quarter. The breakfast spread is decent with some local snacks such as spring rolls and a bit of french fusion flavor like bruschetta alike topped with pate. They have a mini menu of hot cooked dishes such as Pho (Beef/Chicken), Pancake and Omelette for you to choose from too.
After checking into La Storia Hotel for my first 2 nights, decided to check out Cha Ca Thang Long. Cha Ca is one of the local delicacy unique to Hanoi. Fish is well seasoned and deep fried after which when served, it is kept warm by frying them in a pan with boiling oil and later served with bun (vermicelli), rau hung lang (basil), roasted peeled peanut, hanh la (fresh green onion), thi la (dill) and mam tom (a meticulous mixed shrimp paste). It’s has a very unique taste. With some tumeric seasoning, it has a light herb-y flavor to it. Meat wise was tender yet firm, soft and moist. Goes especially well with a piece of chili, some mam tom sauce, peanut and bun.
After which i made my way to Hanoi Train Street. Hanoi city is pretty small, so essentially you can walk around with your Google maps and explore, otherwise if you’re feeling lazy, just take a Grab, relatively cheap there too! Back to Hanoi Train Street! What make this place charming is how it portrays the local living condition with timed train running along the tracks in between the shop houses. Expect quite a handful of onlookers there to just witness the scene of the passing train. Must admit it’s quite a sight to not be missed!
After which walked over to Hom-Duc Vien Market which clearly divide itself into different categories – clothing, shoes, bags, dried goods, fruits etc. Nothing much too fanciful, it probably catches your parents attention more than anyone! Similar to Dong Xuan Market which is rather overrated. It’s far too cluttered and whatever they are selling is more relevant to the group of older people.
After which continued my stroll to Hanoi Opera House before heading to Ho Hoan Kiem River. Apparently the interior of the Hanoi Opera House was rather grand despite the simple french colonial influenced exterior, but unfortunately i didn’t had the chance to take a peek at the interior.
Ho Hoan Kiem River. Rather peaceful and serene.
Walked the streets of Old Quarter. Rather bustling filled with rows of clothing stores, local food stores, massage parlors, bars, pubs etc. Their eateries are perfect place for people watching overseeing the busy streets while sipping on a cup of coffee or tea!
After a full day of walking, decided to head back to the hotel and catch some rest before heading out for dinner at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van. Actually wanted to go there for breakfast but wells, if the food is good it doesn’t matter when in the time of the day right! So they are known for their ingenious steam rice rolls stuffed with minced meat and chopped mushrooms (Now you know why i say i wanted to go there for breakfast right! But no regrets going there for dinner too!). They had another version with an egg cracked in the middle of it. That translucent skin is silkily thin, delicate and smooth with generous amount of fillings. I like how the ingredients are finely chopped which requires minimum effort in chewing but yet you’re able to taste the different flavor and texture of the fillings. Kind of different from Singapore style where you usually get char siew or prawns as fillings and the skin is typically not as smooth and soft. Really enjoyed this in Hanoi!
Just round the corner, we settled down in a random street stall selling Pho Ga Kho Hai To. It’s the dry version of Pho with Chicken. An unique dish with interesting flavor that is worth trying. Surprisingly the sauce was super light, the flavor just comes from lime, grounded peanuts, mint leaves, probably some fish sauce too etc. But to be honest, their chicken is a bit on the tough side, they have probably used kampung chicken?
After dinner, we decided to grab some drinks. We went into this Beer Street and stop by random bars to grab some beers. It’s pretty cheap there, and do you know hanoi has a couple of their own craft beers brewery which creates amazing beers! Pasteur Street Brewery is one of the recommended ones! Not too bitter, rather light with either fruity or floral flavor and not too gassy either. Really falling in love with Hanoi!
Started off Day 2 with breakfast at Bun Cha Dac Kim which is another traditional dish originating from Hanoi! But oops, i actually prefer the one i tried in Saigon previously! It was so good! Basically Bun Cha is like grilled pork served with vermicelli, mint, coriander and a dipping sauce which is sweet and sour (typically made of fish sauce, sugar and vinegar) and sometimes topped with slices of carrot and radish. Some of the places will serve deep fried spring roll too. But do note it’s not the most clean place of all.
Since my legs are probably dying from all the walking from the previous day, i decided to go for a morning massage at Mido Spa. Went for their 60mins Foot Massage, it was amazingly good, with the masseur pressing at the right points with the right strength. The masseur was rather attentive, time to time will be checking if the strength is alright for you and if everything is good. Not the cheapest you could find, but the standard is definitely worth the money you’re paying for.
Guess what! Egg coffee (Ca Phe Trung) after massage! Egg coffee is a local specialty which everyone who has been to Hanoi will at least try it once! I like how the creamy smooth beaten egg foam layer the coffee, bringing out the sweetness of the coffee. Very interesting texture and flavor which is well received! I had mine at the famous Cafe Giang, alternatively you can try it at Cafe Dinh, heard they serve pretty good Egg Coffee too!
Since I have well recharged myself with a filling breakfast, relaxing foot massage and a good cup of egg coffee to perk me up, it’s time to embark on another day of exploration round the city. First stop was Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural along the Red River & their expressway? It depicted the various dynasties with incorporation of modern art works and painting. It allows you to see the other side of Hanoi through different means. Continue my walk to the iconic Long Bien Bridge built by the French in the 20th century, a historic cantilever bridge across the Red River that connects two districts, Hoan Kiem and Long Bien of the city of Hanoi, Vietnam.
Went to check out Dong Xuan market which as shared earlier wasn’t as impressive. Headed off to the Street Murals and i’m truly captivated by the mural paintings. It was done beautifully as though through each and every painting, it speaks a little story of hanoi to you. Take a stroll down the street and take your time to enjoy and appreciate each and every of the art pieces.
Since I was still quite full from the breakfast, and weather was scorching hot, decided to take a chill pill at Bluebirds’ Nest Cafe. It’s like a book cafe filled with vietnamese books and cozily decorated with fairy lights. Free wifi and charging ports make it a good pit stop actually! Like a typical book cafe, you see people reading, studying or working on their laptop.
Was too tiring from walking and lazy from chilling, decided to grab over to Ho Chinh Minh Mausoleum. Security is tight and do dress appropriately! After which walked over to St Joseph Cathedral. The architecture with domes of the cathedral follows the Gothic style and design of Paris Cathedral. Said a little prayer in while in the cathedral too. Such peacefulness.
Just round the corner, decided to pop into Nguyen Sinh Ha Noi to try their Pate Omelette served with baguette, recommended by a friend. As you know there’s a bit of french influence in Hanoi, so finding charcuterie, pate and all, isn’t that difficult. Well, it’s my first seeing and eating pate this way, usually pate is commonly served with toast or crackers and this is something new and refreshing, and turn out the taste wasn’t too bad! After which dropped by the Mad Botanist, a gin specialist which creates their own gin flavors including Basil & Cucumber, Lavender & Lemon skin (which is what i have gotten myself!), Pandan & Coconut etc, while waiting for our reservation at Duong’s Restaurant. Amazing cocktails accompanied by spectacular views of the St Joseph Cathedral.
Here we are at Duong’s restaurant! It feels like a fine dining kind of restaurant full of local vietnamese flavor. With Hoang Duong at the helm, who believe that whilst freshness of ingredients was a core key, another key to deliver dishes with full of flavor was to use only the best local produce. My influence makes the seasonality of produce the most important aspect of the menu there at Duong’s Restaurants, which is also the reason why the menu often continues to evolve in line with the availability of produce. Round the grid in clockwise direction, we ordered Chef’s Spring Rolls in Three Ways, Banana Flower Salad with Chicken & Prawn, Chef’s Farm Mushroom Soup, Grilled Tuna Steak and ended off with Dessert Du Chef. My favorite among the 3 spring rolls was the fresh spring roll and beef spring roll as it has a slightly different texture, the skin was slightly more chewy and springy. While Banana Flower was one of their local specialty, you got to at least try once when you’re in Hanoi. Another that amaze me was their Mushroom Soup. While i was expecting it as the western style blended portobello soup, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise of something more asian with a more starchy base consisting a few varieties of mushrooms, quail eggs, asparagus etc. Very thoughtful of them, they served us sorbet as palate cleanser before we started with our mains before finishing the meal with the dessert. The dessert never fails to impress. Texture of the panna cotta was milky and firm with added mouthfeel from the nutty crunch bits. The coconut ice cream also level up the whole taste of the dessert. Definitely worth a try!
With such a hearty meal, i needed to digest a little before i end my day. So i walked over to the Weekend Night Market situated along Hang Dao street. It’s a pretty long stretch but selling repetitive items such as singlets, preserved food, snacks, accessories etc. With that, it sums up my Day 2!
Hanoi City itself is pretty small, i have pretty much combed finish what i wanted to cover in the first 2 days. So decided to do a day trip out. Thankful for my friend who’s available and drove us out to Hang Mua in Ninh Binh area! It’s about 2 hours drive out and i shall let the photos speak to you for itself!
500 steps up to conquer to reach the mountain top. Moderately effort require to trek up but it’s worth the effort as you’re rewarded with the impressive panoramic view of Tam Coc, Trang An & Ninh Binh city when you reach the top point of Ngoa Long mountain. But do remember to stay hydrated, it can be tiring trekking under the summer hot weather! Visiting during the April period, what you see is beautiful hues of greenery. If you want postcard view of golden rice fields & limestone mountains, arrange your trip to Ninh Binh & Mua cave between late May and early June ( sometimes early in May) when the rice is getting ripe and change from green to yellow colors.
After we are done with Hang Mua, we went on to Trang An Grottoes Boat Tour. There’s 3 routes to choose from, each route spanning about 2.5-3hrs, differing between the number of temples or caves you’ll visit. But believe one of the highlight was the Kong Island which was one of the movie set for Kong: Skull Island movie in addition to the mesmerizing breathtaking views along the river.
We ended our day with dinner at Chim Sao, another local vietnamese restaurant which you must lay your hands on their roasted pigeon and shredded duck with basil!
& Da dang! Spending my last 2D1N at Halong Bay! There’s many different tour packages and operators but decided to narrow my choice to Halong Phenoix Cruiser. I guess the differentiating factors between the different packages is the food, and number/kind of islands you’ll pass by. The most common package include Ti Top island (where you have a good overview of the whole Halong Bay), Surprising Cave, Kayaking/Bamboo ride, Spring roll making and Squid Catching. Of course like i mention, different operators may operate a different route, like covering Cat Ba island instead etc, so i guess it is for you to decide what you want to go for.
the amenities on board!
the kind of food on board!
Be prepared for the captivating view as you cruise around Halong Bay.
View of Halong Bay from Ti Top Island
Surprising cave, kayaking/bamboo ride, various island/view you’ll pass by as the ship cruise along and around halong bay.
Night activity of Squid catching, which was one of the most interesting one for me since it’s my first time! How do we attempt to catch the squid is pretty easy, in the pitch black night, lights will be on as squids will swim towards the light and hooks resembling fish swimming will be used as baits for the squid. Understand from our guide, the number of squids around has deplete over time and it’s by luck if you are able to catch one now!
Another reason i’ll recommend Halong Bay Phenoix Cruiser was the guide. He was very jovial and knowledgeable, shared with us a lot of stories and cracked us up with a couple of jokes too. What you see was us in action making the traditional vietnamese spring rolls!
& that comes to the end of my 5D4N adventure in Hanoi! Till my next adventure!