3 Charming Experiences in Hanoi
Hanoi is overlooked by many, which is sad because the people are amazing and the tasty food is dirt cheap.
hot take: Not likely to make most people’s list of favorite places, Hanoi was a better jumping off spot than many capitol cities we have visited in developing nations. (2.5 stars)
pro tip: Hanoi is dirty (so closed toe shoes and hand sanitizer are a must), but if you can look past the grime you can see the charm.
Hanoi is the capitol of modern day Vietnam, but echoes of the Vietnam War still reverberate throughout the city. If you are looking for cheap but high quality, Hanoi is a great place for you with food, custom made clothing, and much more on offer. Though Hanoi is on few people’s must-see list, as the jumping off point for our adventures in Ha Long Bay [hyperlink to our article] we spent a few interesting days in the capitol. We found it teeming vibrant people, but the dense crush of humanity caused it to be quite dirty and a bit oppressive to the senses. An acquired (or rationalized) taste to be sure, but we can’t say it wasn’t without its charms.
One of the best ways to understand a new people is through their food. In Hanoi, we took a ‘free’ street food walking adventure (it ended up being $9 each plus another $15 for the cost of the food) with Hanoi Free Local Tours [https://hanoifreelocaltours.com/hanoi-street-food-tours]. Our guide (a 20 year old university student majoring in hospitality) met us at 5:30p at our hotel for this private tour of 7 different restaurants. While not every dish was a standout, the Banh Cuon (savory stuffed Vietnamese pancake), pork satay (pork kebobs with lemon grass skewers), egg coffee (think of a highly caffeinated latte where the milk foam is replaced with whipped eggs…delicious), and an authentic Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) were fantastic. Though the food was great, we were really charmed by spending time with a local in a relaxed way where we could really learn about the city and country.
The Vietnamese take their coffee VERY seriously (as evidenced by the truly prolific number of coffee shops on every block). However, they don’t take themselves too seriously which has led to the creation of numerous theme coffee shops where your inner nerd can run wild. We had time to visit two of these: Unicorn Kafe (a unicorn-themed coffee shop where everyone dresses up in free unicorn onesies) and Always Café (a Harry Potter-themed café “suitable for only the most magical of muggles”…where we skipped the coffee and had butter beers that were better than what you get at Universal Studios).
Disco might have died in the 1980s, but you can still find $1 pitchers of beer in Hanoi if you know where to look in Beer Corner. A great al fresco way to meet new friends, we loved the atmosphere of inclusion in an otherwise conformist country. While not a family friendly style of charm, seeing the masses of humanity of all colors, creeds, and languages all out sitting together on the tiniest plastic stools (think children’s size) had a unique type of charm all its own.