Hanoi: Better & Wiser

In case you didn't get the reference, the "Better & Wiser" title was directed at me, not Hanoi hehe.

It was a more informed and better-researched trip this time around - mostly in the gastronomy department, actually. Here's a humble piece of advice: Visit the northern Vietnam in January or February. It will be worth it. Really. Temperatures were in the low/mid 20s, pleasant and lovely to walk around. People were wrapped in thick scarves and down-jackets but it's really fine to just walk about in a dress and sandals. 

I had Asia Tour Advisor to arrange our trip again, this time with Vinnie. We arrived in the early am and managed to get a room ready. There was a slight misunderstanding with Xuan, the correspondence from ATA- she thought we were there on honeymoon. 

When we checked into our room, we were greeted by this-

Not that it's a bad thing, really. Rose petals, gracefully-folded-swan-towels and a complimentary bottle of wine. What's there not to like?! I am going to start telling all hotels we are booked into that we are on a permanent honeymoon trip.

After a couple hours of much-needed recharge nap, we headed out in search of Bun Cha. The Old Quarter is fairly easy to get around (Vinnie will scoff at me for saying this). Plenty to see and do to keep you occupied.

As soon as we got within a 5m vicinity of the Bun Cha shop, we were coaxed by a few people on the corner shop, telling us that their Bun Cha is better than the one next door. Then on the second shop, a woman in her forties gestured to us to come into HER shop. Vinnie just stood there, smiling and said, you choose. Corner shop looked quiet and clean. Second shop looks haphazard and worn. 

I walked into and upstairs of number two, of course, what'd you think? In the shop, numerous posters proclaiming that they are the original Bun Cha and the neighbour is the fake Bun Cha greet us. We found ourselves a table and a quick glance around tells us this place is frequented mostly by locals. Another good sign. I have never tried Bun Cha before and didn't know what to expect. But it was simple enough, the waitress almost immediately plonked bowls after bowls of all contents on our table.

Bun Cha is an assortment of ingredients mixed together - primarily: cold rice noodle vermicelli, pan fried minced pork and mixed in a soup of gourd broth, local basil leaves, mint leaves, a few types of leaves that I cannot determine, some lettuce leaves and finally topped with finely chopped garlic and spicy red chillies. A mix of pork and vegetable spring rolls were also served on the side.

It was one of the best meals I've had in Vietnam. The fried pork parties were wholesomely good, the fragrance and tenderness of the minced pork and secret spices combined... the combination of herbs and garlic with the sliced red chillies adds a zing to every bite. I could have this meal for the rest of my life!

I will fly all the way to Hanoi just to have bowls after bowls of these babies!! Or select this as one of my last meals before a death sentence.

We polished the noodles and accompaniments, bill came to about $12 for both of us - not too bad but not exactly cheap either. Tourist rate, for sure. 

" "Bun Cha Dac Kim" Restaurant announced that Shop Bun Cha beside us, address #1 Hang Manh street is Fake. Please kindly note! Thank you! "

Now that you have taken note of the fake Bun Cha, go for the authentic experience!

Bun Cha Dac Kim
No 1 Hang Manh St
Old Quarter, Hanoi.

It's probably not the best idea to get some clothes tailored right after a belly-busting meal but as we only have 2 nights in Hanoi, it was now or never. I got three dresses tailored and one to alter. Each dress she charged me $37 and $9 for alteration. 24 hours later, collect!

I have to say I was cautious initially, having gone into a few tailor shops and have been quoted expensive rates. So I asked many questions and put in a number of customized requests and the lady there patiently answered them and is accommodating.

I wouldn't say it's the best quality but I am quite happy with the tailoring. 24 hours is no mean feat and best of all, the dresses you choose to tailor are completely unique and fits you perfectly!

Hong Ha Anh Silk
60 Hang Be St
Old Quarter, Hanoi.

We walked around the Hoan Kiem lake, which now seems to be busy and filled with people exercising, dog-walking and posing - newly weds. And it is only natural to take a break from the busy lake, and pop into a cafe.

So this is one of the popular cafes in Hanoi, due to its lake view location and secluded rendezvous. The entrance to this cafe is not very straightforward but worth the search for. Inside, you can choose from 3 levels of cafe to sip on your coffee while you soak in the views of the lake and the busy road intersection. 

This, my friends, is the egg coffee at Lake View cafe. I've not had egg coffee before but I am now a convert. Some refer egg coffee as alcohol-free eggnog, some comparing it to liquid tiramisu. It is creamy, frothy and rich, and thankfully comes in a small cup. Loved it!

On the search for the famous Pho, we got up early (9am is early for a holiday) and walked to Bat Dan St (somehow, every blog or travel website referred this shop). But they were sold out! It looked run-down anyway and didn't look much like a well-used, popular place. Frustrated, we walked back the way we came from and halfway down the same street, saw this corner pho bustling with the locals. Some were waiting to get seats - always a good sign! Without missing a beat, we waited in line hehe.

Ordering was easy. The boss asked, chicken or beef? 2 bowls, please!

I've said this before, that I much preferred the southern version of pho, and I stand by it. Not saying that this bowl of pho on Bat Dan is inferior - it does hit the spot! But with more herbs (similar to the variation we get from Bun Cha) then it would have been perfect.

The bowls arrived piping hot, with a few slices of beef still pink. We stirred the beef in the rich broth, added some chopped chillis in, some julienned calamansi lime leaves, added a dash of chilli sauce and a squeeze of lime, tuck in!

More coffee breaks for the Grumpy. Er, yes, Grumpy is I.

Amidst all the Asian food we've been stuffing ourselves with, we decided a change of tune is necessary. This French cafe in a small alley looks quaint enough for us.

Food was alright, nothing fancy. The glutton is not sated. Drastic measures need to be undertaken.


Was bliss. Now I really want to go back there.

Halong Bay cruise on the Signature.

Cool and misty - adds a mysterious aura to the bay.

5 hours' drive onwards to Ninh Binh - and more romance followed, heh.

I asked Vinnie to give his sexiest pout...

Lunch fare: lemongrass goat meat with sesame seeds (yum), deep fried chicken cutlets (yum), deep fried spring rolls (yum), com chay - a Ninh Binh specialty of crispy rice (mehhhh) with soup (mehhhh), and spring roll salad with goat meat (yum!).

And the Trang An complex grottoes - highly recommended!

Laos next - more photos there than Vietnam!

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