Hanoï – 4 days – 10 metres above sea level

Version française disponible ici. 

After some troubles with our Vietnamese visas, we left the airport with a “Grab”, the equivalent of a “Uber” in Vietnam. The young driver was sneaking between the other vehicles on the highway to reach the area of Quand An, near the town center of Hanoï. Elodie and Florian (Emilie’s brother) were waiting for us in the buzzing atmosphere of the city. Upon our arrival on the riversides of the Hô Tay Lake, we enjoyed spring rolls and beers with them, under the colourful fairy lights of a bar. The following day, we looked for a breakfast. For this, we walked in the small and narrow pedestrian streets. After avoiding to hit three scooters at the last second and felt going in circles, we finally chose the terrace of a coffee place. Once our stomachs full, we started to discover the Vietnamese capital.

Hanoï was very surprising. An historic city full of energy. The traffic was heavy with the permanent noise of the horns. After a few hours in this chaos, we learned how to enjoy and go from these impressive avenues to the quiet and green gardens.

We walked along the Hô Thay Lake (meaning the Western lake in Vietnamese) which has a circumference of 17 kilometres. This is the biggest lake of the town. With the mist, we were not able to see the other side of the lake. But with this scenery, we were in a specific atmosphere. Behind the mist, we saw the tip of the roof of a Buddhist temple. We continued to go around the lake and saw, after tens of metres, flames and a dragoon protecting the temple. The spirits were maybe trying to take control to bring us in the heart of the secrets of the town….

For lunch, we enjoyed our first banh-mi. This sandwich is a true speciality of the Vietnamese street-food that we can find at each corner of the streets. The success of this banh-mi is due to a perfect mix between the French and Vietnamese cuisine. Indeed, this sandwich is taking its origins at the time of the French Indochina. Bread and pâté were from this heritage. Coriander and grilled pork offered the Asian notes of these recipes (each chef bringing its own ingredients and mysterious spices). We enjoyed this banh-mi with a Tiger beer before to explore the historic quarter of the 36 corporations.

This was the most charming part of the town (but also the most touristic). The history of this old quarter was from the 15thcentury. At this time, each street was dedicated to a corporation of artisans. We saw the street of silk, the street of scrap merchants and the one of fashion designers. Today, the principle is the same but the specialities have evolved. There were the street of clockmakers, the street of shoes or the one of carpenters whose the bamboo stock was taking a wide part of the pavement. This labyrinth, full of life, objects and smells offers to the quarter a unique atmosphere.

In the street, there were many street vendors of fruits and veggies transported on wide flat baskets hold on their shoulders or on their bikes. By using their technic to go through the traffic between the several scooters, we managed to create a path on the pavements. But the pavements were also very busy by the plastic stools, meaning we needed to sneak between them. Terraces were busy at any time of the day, by the locals enjoying a coffee or a noodle soup. We familiarised ourselves in this urban jungle to discover its secrets. By walking and by luck, we discovered many surprising things. We walked in these streets and discovered a market of veggies and fish. At a crossroads, we also discovered a little alter with sticks of incense in front of an old colonial building. At the end of an avenue, we arrived in a public garden. On the right side, there was a hairdresser cutting the hair of a client sat down on an improvised chair in front of a tiny mirror hooked up to the wall of the park.

To start a second day in Hanoï, we entered in a bakery looking like a French one with a Vietnamese touch. We didn’t resist in front of the croissants and pains au chocolat. We enjoyed them in a family coffee place, just in front of the bakery. We ordered a Vietnamese black coffee served in a small perforated tin cup where the water go through the coffee and fall down in the cup, just placed below.

We visited the public garden going around the Hai Bà Trung Lake. We were surprised to see many Vietnamese people, young or not, doing their workout.

We crossed the old quarter and arrived in the main luxurious avenue of Hanoï to reach the Hoàn Kiem Lake (lake of the returned sword). Its name is coming from a legend. A magic sword would have been offered to the Emperor of Vietnam to fight against the Chinese invader. The peace being back, the emperor enjoyed sailing on a small boat on the lake. A giant turtle appeared suddenly and took the sword to go back in the depths of the lake.

On this end of afternoon, while the night started to cover the city with a nice deep blue coat, we enjoyed the reflections of the buildings over the dark water of the lake. This was the moment chosen by the « Red Bridge », inspired by the Japanese bridges, for sparkling. We crossed this colorful construction to reach the middle of the lake and to visit the Ngoc Son temple, situated on a small island.

At the end of the day, we took place along the railways where they cross Dieb Bien Phu Avenue to enjoy a new Tiger beer. Nowadays, this is one of the most famous attraction of the town, the various “streets of the train” around the Hanoï train station offer a great show when the train comes through the heart of this block, in the narrow streets of 4 or 5 meters wide. At 7:10pm and then at 8:15pm, we had to fold back our temporary terrace and to flatten against the wall. On its way, we can feel the breath of the blue train. It passed so closed to us! After that, we went back towards our rented place by walking on the railways. After a few meters, the rails continued on a bridge above the street. We carried on by expecting to get closer to our point of arrival. But finally this bridge was longer than we thought. There was no safe area if a train was coming through. So we decided to go back. Just a few seconds after being back on a true pavement, a train just passed on the railway! We were lucky for not having been on the railway at the same time as this train. 

Early in the morning, we took the train to go to Ninh Binh and the terrestrial Halong Bay. By leaving Hanoï, we were this time going through the narrow streets… 

Where to have a drink?  

RailwayStation Cafe
10 Điện Biên Phủ, Cửa Nam, Ba Đình, Hanoï

In spite of being the most touristic attraction, it’s nice to find a place to watch the arrival of the train in the middle of this narrow street. This is an experience not to be missed in Hanoï. 

Where to eat? 

Com Thô Restaurant
111k2 Ngõ 48, Tạ Quang Bửu, Bách Khoa , Hanoï

A little bit further away from the town centre. This is not a fancy place but we can enjoy nice stir-fried recipes served in cast iron dishes for a good price.