Hanoi: A City of Wonderful Contrasts

Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Featured, Vietnam | 0 comments

Delectable food, unbeatable hospitality, affordable luxury, genuinely kind people, a European feel in a vibrant Asian city….this is Hanoi.  I am struggling with how to write this post because there are so many amazing things about Hanoi that I want to include.  From the cool city atmosphere to the beer and coffee scene, we absolutely adored this Vietnamese capital city.

First off, I cannot even begin to describe how far a dollar can go when choosing accommodations.  We stayed at the Hanoi Charming Hotel for $18 per night but felt like we were staying at a luxury hotel.  The managers and staff knew us by name, arranged day trips for us, upgraded our room, and brightened our day with warm smiles.  In fact, everyone in the hospitality industry in Vietnam genuinely wants to make your stay memorable.  Between suggestions from the hotel staff and our tour guide in Ha Long Bay, our days in Hanoi were jam-packed with interesting views, fun walks, and unique experiences.

Hanoi Old Quarter street

Hanoi Old Quarter street

While Hanoi is undoubtedly an Asian city (crazy motorcycle drivers everywhere, small, cramped streets filled with produce stands, and not to miss street food), there is a large French influence due to the many years that the country was controlled by France.  The melding of these two cultures makes for a city of wonderful contrasts.  The food is primarily Vietnamese but the national bread is the French baguette and you encounter countless little pastry shops as you stroll the streets.  While the majority of the old town consists of narrow, hectic, winding streets, the French Quarter opens up into wide, tree lined, leisurely boulevards.  And, in a continent that seems to favor tea, Vietnam is known for its strong, rich coffee. Hanoi seemed to encompass what I love about both Asia and France.

Hanoi Boulevards

Hanoi French Quarter

We spent our days walking the entire city and enjoying the ambiance along the way….

Hoan Kiem Lake: A calm, leafy, respite in the heart of the city, this lake was perfect for an afternoon stroll.  We checked out the Huc Bridge and Tortoise Tower and even met some local Vietnamese students trying to practice their English. (Somehow we also allowed them to film us speaking conversational English for their class.)

Mike getting interviewed

Mike being interviewed by Hoan Kiem Lake

French Quarter:  With wide boulevards lined with fabulous shopping and museums, I felt like I could have been in Europe.  While the shopping was too pricey for us to indulge, we did visit the History Museum which was interesting yet skewed toward the North Vietnamese (read: us Americans didn’t look so good).

Opera House in French Quarter

Opera House in French Quarter

Temple of Literature:  This site of Vietnam’s first university is dedicated to Confucius, very picturesque, and was worth a visit.

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

Ho Ch Minh Memorial: We did not go into the Ho Chi Minh museum or mausoleum but we did walk around to snap some photos.  The Vietnamese love this guy (affectionately referred to as “Uncle Ho”) and have a well-guarded complex dedicated to his memory.  

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

West Lake: Hanoi’s largest lake is a little bit of a walk from the old city but we enjoyed getting a few beers at a cafe on the water and gaining a different perspective on the city, outside the normal tourist areas.

Mike at restaurant West Lake

Mike at restaurant at West Lake

Night Market:  A busy street in the city’s center is converted into an even busier massive, pedestrian-only market on the weekends.  While we didn’t find the shopping to be worth spending much dong (yes, the Vietnamese currency is called dong), we were fortunate to stumble upon a second story bar/cafe with a balcony overlooking the market.  After enquiring about a small sign advertising cheap drinks, Mike and I were essentially led through someone’s narrow house to their second story that had been converted into GU Cafe.  We snagged one of two balcony tables and enjoyed cold Saigon beers and phenomenal people watching.  

Kat at GU cafe overlooking Night Market

Kat at GU Cafe overlooking the Night Market

Old Quarter:  This was probably my favorite part of Hanoi.  The streets, that literally hum with activity, are full of shops, cafes, and restaurants. According to our tour guide, each street in Hanoi is dedicated to selling something different: silk, paintings, souvenirs, and coffee.  One of my most enjoyable afternoons was spent on a food and beverage tour through Hanoi’s best of the best.  With recommendations scrawled on a weathered city map, Mike and I meandered the winding streets.  We found the tiny Cafe Giang to sample (and savor) a Hanoi specialty called cafe trung (coffee mixed with egg…surprisingly sanitary and delicious).  We spent time learning about what makes Vietnamese coffee so special at Cafe Muoi before buying some grounds to take home.  

Kat Muoi Cafe

Kat learning about Vietnamese coffee at Muoi Cafe

And, we joined the locals in “Bia Hoi”, the term used to describe essentially drinking cool (not cold), cheap (25 cents per glass) keg beer on tiny, plastic sidewalk stools.  Bia Hoi bars line some of the Old Quarter streets and are seemingly always packed with locals and tourists alike.  Such a blast!

Bia Hoi

Bia Hoi



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