Nothing is forever, and it was with a heavy heart that I boarded our flight out of Narita to Hanoi. The days leading up to our departure were stressful as we realized that Vietnam also celebrates Golden Week and we waited too long to apply for our e-Visa. It worked out in the end though, and we got our visas with a day to spare.
The first thought that crossed my mind as we rode in the taxi to our hotel was how similar Vietnam felt to Pondicherry in India. It was hot and chaotic, an urban jungle peppered with French colonial architecture. I felt like I was like waking up to the harsh reality of life after a Japanese dream. Luckily the weather was cool, with most days overcast with occasional showers throughout the day.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, we stayed in the old quarter of Hanoi and it gave a good taste of North Vietnam. Each street is named according to the type of thing it sells (our food tour guide gave us this interesting tidbit) and bargaining is required and expected. There were as many mopeds as people, and street food at every turn. We didn’t do much our first day, we ate an early dinner at Hanoi Social Club (totally felt like an old cafe in Colaba), walked around the lake and called it a night.
The next day we headed to the Vietnam Military History Museum. The museum was though-provoking and disturbing. I liked that it documented how Vietnam has been colonized for centuries, and didn’t just jump into the Vietnam war with the United States. I walked away feeling bad about the senselessness of war, but full of admiration for this country that has managed to pull itself up from complete ruin to become a thriving, beautiful place.
We went to a vegetarian restaurant called Uu Dam Chay for lunch after the museum. The most amazing meal of our trip, by far! Vietnam is super cheap, and this meal is definitely on the pricey side, but so worth it!
The other food related highlight in Hanoi was a street food tour. We went for a vegetarian food tour with Hanoi Street Food Tour. Our guide was this super friendly young girl called “Mango”. She is learning French and was chatting with us about how hard it is to get out of Vietnam. We tried a lot of well-known Hanoi dishes that were vegetarian or modified to be vegetarian, it was so exciting! Bun Cha, egg coffee (did you know Vietnam is the third biggest exporter of coffee in the world?), bánh m?, papaya salad, Bánh cu?n and a few more.
Probably the craziest tourist trap in Hanoi (maybe the world) is a street called railway street. It’s lined with bars right next to a railway track. When it’s time for the train, the bartenders take their tables and chairs inside and you stick to the wall and hold your breath for the train to pass by. The whole show takes less than 15 seconds, but the anticipation and atmosphere is the big draw.