Last weekend, we headed for Hanoi, Vietnam to attend the wedding of a special someone in the family. While the ceremony itself took place in the magnificent Ha Long bay, we did have a couple of days to enjoy the ever-so-bustling capital and be warmly reacquainted with the nerve-wrecking traffic synonymous with Vietnam. Here are some highlights from the trip, crammed into less than 36 hours! (Jack’s advice: give the water puppets a miss.)
Sleep: Maison d’Hanoi
The Maison d’Hanoi boutique hotel is conveniently located in the charming old quarters of historic Hanoi, and is a 3 minute walk from the famed Hoan Kiem Lake. Rooms are exceptionally clean, well appointed and probably have the most comfy beds and luxurious pillows we have slept in. Plus, room rates come with a lovely breakfast buffet spread which includes a phở and egg station!
Classic rooms are fairly small, but fret not as the hotel is a stone’s throw away from Hang Gai Road (tailors), numerous art galleries and the very festive night market, so expect to be outdoors for most of your stay in Hanoi. Deluxe rooms and suites with balconies are also available for the space-needy.
Rates for a Classic rooms start from US$80/night and Deluxe rooms from US$150/night.Maison d’Hanoi Hanova Hotel
No. 35 -37 Hang Trong Street,
Hoan Kiem District,
Hanoi, Vietnam Tel: (84-4) 3 9380 999 http://www.hanovahotel.com/
Budget: Phở 24
Just round the corner from the hotel is this popular chain, Phở 24, where you can get your noodle fix as soon as you arrive. To be honest, we haven’t tried phở in Vietnam that quite compares to the ones we’ve tried in Melbourne, Australia, but this is convenient, fast and cheap, so who’s complaining!
Semi-splurge: Madame Hien
Steeped in history, the property on which Madame Hien is housed was designed by the same French architect of the Hanoi Opera House in the late 1800s and once home to the Spanish embassy. Madame Hien is owned by Master Chef of France, Didier Corlou and is a dedication to his (Vietnamese) wife’s grandmother and to all Vietnamese women of the past and present. His take on modern Vietnamese cuisine is exquisite, refreshing and yet non-pretentious. Everything from their ‘dry’ rendition of phở, to their grapefruit and grilled prawn salad with tamarind sauce and gorgeous mango rice paper rolls were incredibly delicious. We were highly impressed that a tamarind sorbet palate cleanser was offered to each guest mid-way through the meal…touch down!!
Budget US$20 per person without alcohol; make reservations in advance (within walking distance of hotel).
Splurge: Restaurant Bobby Chinn
While food is just above average, dining at travel host Bobby Chinn’s eponymous restaurant located in the expat enclave of Xuan Dieu is almost guaranteed to be a memorable one.
The restaurant decor itself is way over the top – drapes of long maroon velvety curtains line the walls and the lighting (intentionally) far too dim (so much that you are given a magnifying glass with an inbuilt LED to read the menu). Gimmicky and quite unnecessary, we think! Bobby Chinn obviously has an interesting sense of humour, as evident by his unconventionally written menu and risque answers in his feedback form (e.g. On a scale of 1-10 how was dinner? 1 being, prefer to be sodomized by an elephant and 10, the Queen would get hard nipples).
There were 2 set-dinner menus (3-course and 4-course) and also ala-carte options. Prices were very reasonable with the 3-course menu starting from US$30. Food was well executed but nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary, and food photography an utter nightmare with the almost non-existent lighting. We did love the well-priced wine list, and enjoyed an exceptional bottle of Tuscan Pinot Noir.
Tip: Come for pre-dinner drinks at the bar downstairs and enjoy a shisha with it.Restaurant Bobby Chinn 77 Xuan Dieu Street, Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Viet Nam | (+84-4) 3 719 2460 / 3934 8577 http://www.bobbychinn.com/Restaurant_Bobby_Chinn.html
Super-splurge: Sofitel Metropole Hotel, Hanoi
While we didn’t manage to pay a visit to the very luxurious Sofitel Metropole Hotel this trip due to time constraints, we enjoyed our dinner at their French restaurant, Le Beaulieu, very much on our last visit to Hanoi. For awesome desserts, snacks, or high tea, head to their very own version of a Parisian sidewalk café, La Terrasse du Metropole. And if budget isn’t a constraint, do yourselves a favour and check into one of their luxury suites.
Hang Gai Street a.k.a Silk Street (walking distance from hotel)
Buy made-to-measure clothes and custom designed traditional Vietnamese silk tunics (au dai) and pants for as low as US$40 (tip: bring samples of your favourite dresses/shirts on the day you arrive and have them tailored in an array of fabrics – allow 2-3 days).
Night Market, old quarters
The night market spreads 1km across Hang Dao, Hang Ngang, Hang Duong and Hang Giay streets of the old quarters and opens at 6:30pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Shopping finds aren’t fantastic here, but do make a trip to this festive market to rub shoulders (literally) with the locals and to soak up the vibrant and refreshingly non-touristy atmosphere.
If you are after good, affordable art for the home or office, look no further than the numerous art galleries along Hang Trong Street itself. For a personal touch, bring a photo of the family and have it painted as an oil on canvas by a local artist (allow 3-4 days)!
Coffee: Huong Mai Cafe
A short visit to this cute little hole-in-the-wall is a must for coffee lovers. Situated discretely along Hang Manh Road, this store is not actually a cafe, but a purveyor of more than 50 varietals of coffee beans from all over the world. You can request to sample a shot of their bestseller and native Weasel coffee which is slighter sharper in taste and more acidic than their friendly neighbour, kopi-luwak (civet cat droppings) from Indonesia.Huong Mai Cafe 15 Hang Manh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi | 098 345 2848 firstname.lastname@example.org
Whatever you get up to in Hanoi, stay safe, cross the roads confidently and purposefully and enjoy the rich heritage and culture of this thriving city!