You should go to Hanoi AT LEAST to go out at night to have five glasses of refreshing beer, for lets say, one dollar (20 cents, 5000 VND, each). I know its neither Paulaner Weissbier nor is it Leffe Blonde, moreover most people say its just beer(ish) water, but still its good when the temperature is above 30 C in the evening and even better if you are a student . Anyway, Bia Hoi is a good refreshment but the REALLY GREAT thing about the streets of Hanoi is its food.
So to begin with, on arrival to the capital, at about 7 AM we had the best Pho soup ever, full stop. I do not remember the price, but I do remember the bucket of dirty water, in which all the bowls and glasses were washed before serving the food. Quite repulsive, but we were fine, no diarrhoea, no problem, seamless consumer experience. But the soup was superb, let me stress that. But its not just that, first of all I have to say that only after having visited Hanoi were my expectations regarding the street food fulfilled. Thats what I hoped for: crowded narrow streets, lots of street bars every five meters, little tables and chairs blocking the way. This is what this is about, not food markets with barely any place to sit or grills on corners of jammed streets, selling meat tasting of exhaust fumes. No, in Hanoi you can enjoy your tasty seafood hot-pot or table barbecue in peace. Beware of the fact that those bars are very soon short of Bia Hoi, maybe because its true, maybe because they think that if you can afford food you can also afford more expensive beers, which do not necessarily taste any better, and leave the cheap one for the locals.
The Hanoi magic reached its peak on Sunday, when the police closed all the streets in the centre so that people could sit, eat, drink and party everywhere. Before we enjoyed it we went to see the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The cost is relatively low, about 100 VND or less, if you sit at the back, yet the spectacle was remarkable. We couldn’t believe how skillful those actors are, the tricks they could do, standing in the pool with the water lapping at their waists with puppets on long sticks, incredible coordination. And quite a funny show.
As for other tourist attractions, well, you can go and see the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum (the huge pillared thing in one of the above pictures), if you enjoy dead communists so much that you don’t mind standing in a long queue. We preferred the French prison for communist rebels, to see the uncommon example of a guillotine used in a decent purpose. It’s quite astonishing they managed to escape via the narrow sewer, I wonder what they did with the bars. Another Notre Dame cathedral is also worth visiting, with Masses in French and English. To be honest, we didn’t manage to visit much apart from the bars and the theatre, as hanoi was our travel hub for Halong, Tam Coc, Sapa and in the end Saigon. But about those I’ll write in further posts.
If you go on trips from Hanoi: DO NOT GO WITH BAMBOO TRAVEL. Most of the ‘Terrible’ reviews on tripadvisor are 100% true. We bought a transfer to the Cat Ba Island, there and back to Hanoi and a trip to Tam Coc. We were forced to pay extra extortion money every five minutes, to enter the boat, to leave the boat, to enter the island. No tickets, just five Vietenamese blocking your way in the harbour at night forcing you to pay. In fact, we paid for a direct transfer to the island which takes more or less one hour (it lasted even less when we returned by speed boat). It lasted 8 hours as we had to go with the cruise boat which went around the whole Halong Bay before it reached the island. Not to mention that we were hungry all day and reached the island at night. We had to push the bus to get to Cat Ba town from the harbour as it was total junk. In the end we asked for a refund, when we resigned of the return trip from Cat Ba. We got some money back but then the travel agency claimed the refund we were given was accidentally too high so on the other in Tam Coc we got no food, in revenge as we did not want to ‘refund the refund’. Our friends were robbed of several hundred euros on the boat. A nightmare.