I had been checking the weather forecast like a crazy person, hoping that it wouldn’t rain during our Hanoi trip since we were visiting Hanoi during the wet season. Unfortunately, it was raining on the day we arrived. Argh! Luckily, Oriental Suites Hotel had prepared umbrella for us.
Oriental Suites Hotel
We stayed with Oriental Suites Hotel and the hotel arranged pick-up from the airport (19USD). You should arrange pick-up with your hotel (if there is any) as there are scams whereby some people pretend to be a taxi driver and rip you off.
I would recommend Oriental Suites Hotel if you’re looking for a hotel with great location. Oriental Suites Hotel is a boutique 4-star hotel with amazing staff. Welcome drinks were provided when we first arrived at the hotel and a local map was given to us after we had checked-in. We got a small room (enough for two) but it’s clean and cosy.
After refreshing ourselves, we decided to make a good use of the day despite it was raining. The staff in Oriental Suites Hotel had recommended us a few places to visit.
1. Pho 10
Pho 10 is located at Ly Quoc Su 10 and it’s the place serves famous beef noodles. The shop doesn’t look fancy but you will never regret trying it. I had tried beef noodles in Ho Chi Minh City, but the beef noodles in Pho 10 are so much better. We ordered two bowls of beef noodles (7USD in total).
2. Joma Bakery Café
After lunch, we popped into a café since the rain was getting heavier. Joma is a bakery café which serves cakes and coffee. We ordered a chai latte, an English breakfast tea and a piece of brownie. Overall, the food and drinks are ok, nothing special.
Tips: How to save a little bit more money on food?
1. change a little bit more VND;
2. The currency rate used in Old Quarter is VND20,000; 1USD (other places: VND23,000: 1USD);
3. Eat in a local restaurant or café;
4. Buy mineral water from a local market (1 big bottle: VND25,000), if you order from the café or restaurant, you will probably be charged by the same amount for a small bottle.
After having lunch, we were meeting up with a local tour guide (let’s called her Jen) for our free walking tour around Hanoi Old Quarter. We weren’t sure whether the walking tour would be still happening as it was drizzling. Surprisingly, Jen was already waiting for us and it was a private walking tour. So, there were just two of us. Pretty exclusive! 🙂 (As we had booked a 3D2N cruise tour with www.halongbay.com which is operated by BlueoperatedTours Company Ltd, thus they offered us a free walking tour).
3. St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
is a church on Nha Tho Street in the Hoàn Kiếm District of Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral with neo- Gothic style, which was built about 120 years ago by French. So, you will find this cathedral looks similar to Notre Dame in Paris. There is no entrance fee
, so feel free to pay a visit.
4. Crossing a busy road like nobody
Old Quarter is the place you should totally forget about the basic rules of crossing a road. On the first day, we were waiting for the cars to stop and we ended up standing on the roadside for ages. The streets in Old Quarter are packed with scooters, bicycles and cars swarming around pedestrians like a school of fish. There was an instruction given by the hotel on “How to cross a road”. At first, we find it ridiculous but after walking around in Old Quarter, it makes sense to read the instruction.
Tips: How to cross a road in Hanoi?
1. Be relaxed and self-confident;
2. Look two ways or keep your eyes on the drivers;
3. Keep the speed and walk slowly;
4. Never step back.
It was madness as we ended up crossing a busy road with cars and motorbikes going around us. It seemed like I had some sort of powers that I was able to walk among the cars without being hit.
5. Cho Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is known as Hanoi’s largest indoor market. This place gives you a quick peep of how the locals people trade. Dong Xuan Market is basically a big, bustling covered market packed with vendors selling food, clothing & goods at wholesale prices. Unless you’re buying some souvenirs, the vendors will only deal with you if you’re buying things in bulk. There are mainly two sections: Wet and dry. The wet section is the place where the vendors sell all their spices, food and fruits. A dry section is where the vendors sell the clothing, jewels, accessories and other types of daily goods.
6. Bach Ma Temple
Jen told us that 85% of the Vietnamese people are Buddhists and only 15% of them are Christian. Thus, you can see many temples in Hanoi. Bach Ma Temple is located in the heart of the Old Quarter. This is considered as the oldest temple in the city which was built by Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th century. The Emperor Ly Thai To believed that a white horse had guided him and thus he built this temple in order to honour the white horse.
7. Café Giang – Egg Coffee
Without Jen, we certainly wouldn’t have noticed this café. There are a few cafés along Lý Thái Tổ Street which serve “Egg Coffee”. Café Giang is located at 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ Street. If we were to pick a café based on our instinct, we were going to choose one which looks fancy. I know I know, but sometimes it’s so easy to judge a book by its cover especially everything is foreign to us here. Jen told us that egg coffee is one of the coffees that we have to try in Vietnam. Erm, to be honest, I wasn’t intrigued to try it because I couldn’t have a raw egg floating on my coffee.
However, Jen strongly recommended Café Giang. So, we decided to give it a try. We ordered a cup of hot egg coffee and it turned out to be really good (there was no raw egg yolk in my drink). There are eggs, cheese, condensed milk, sugar, and other secret ingredients churned up and being mixed with coffee. So, we ordered another cup of hot egg matcha. Both are kind of sweet (just in case you do not like sweet stuff) but is a “Must-Try” in Hanoi. Total cost: 7USD
8. Banh Mi 25
If you’re looking for something small, Banh Min 25 serves great sandwiches. Banh Min 25 is located at Hàng Đào street. Taken alone, bánh mì means “bread” but is understood to be the Vietnamese baguette. The pate and pork is a great combination with the crunchy bread. Another “Must-Try” in Hanoi. We had one BBQ pork with pate (USD1) and it was tasty.
9. Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kien Lake was our last stop. Jen told us that Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnamese is “Hồ Hoàn Kiếm”, means “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword”. It also is known as Hồ Gươm (Sword Lake). There is a small island with a small pagoda – Ngoc Son Temple, sitting in the centre on a small island.
Jen told us that Ngoc Son Temple was built in the 18th century on Jade Island and there was a legend describes how an emperor was once given a magical sword which helped him defeat the Chinese Ming Dynasty. However, after the war, a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of this lake to restore the sword to its divine owners. Thus, people name the lake – Lake of the Restored Sword.
Jen said a giant turtle was found in the lake by the locals, it weighs around 250kg. However, last year, this giant turtle was found dead. Since it is a mythic symbol of Vietnamese independence, some people have associated its death with the political implication.
Tips: Tipping in Hanoi: There is no fixed amount on how much you should tip a person who has provided good services to you. According to Jen, the locals do not earn much (averagely USD150 per month). So, it’s your discretion to see how much you want to tip them. We felt pretty bad for forgetting to tip Jen as she had been giving us a tour during the rain.
10. Getting lost in Old Quarter
It’s not easy to recognise the name of the streets in Old Quarter from the map. It’s pretty easy to get lost here without a map. There are mainly 36 Old Streets in Old Quarter. If you notice, you will see same kinds of shops are gathered on the same street. Jen told us that during the old days, the king had gathered the traders from different places in Old Quarter. So they were allocated based on the type of the goods they sold. Meanwhile, the traders also could support each other during the old days to serve the king.
Tips: Find out the place you want to go before you start strolling around Old Quarter. It will be even more difficult to find the direction at night. The map given to us doesn’t show the name of some small streets. Thus, it’s easy to turn into a wrong street.
11. Night Market
On every Friday to Sunday night, some of the streets will be closed down in order for some local vendors to set up their stalls. In fact, Oriental Suites Hotel has a very good location as the night market starts right in front of the hotel. However, the weather has a huge impact on the crowd that visited the night market. It had been raining for the entire day. It wasn’t very comfortable to walk around as our shoes were all wet.
Tips: Wear waterproof shoes or bring an extra pair of shoes. Otherwise, you will be ended up like Lewis, who had to use the hairdryer to dry up his shoes for the entire night.
12. Pub Street
Hanoi is not known as its nightlife compare to other cities like Bangkok, Bali, Siem Reap and etc. However, Old Quarter offers the different sight of nightlife. There are many lively bars and glitzy nightclubs sitting at Ngoc Quyen Street in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Pubs and bars in Old Quarter are unique as you can see many local café, pubs and bars provide stools to sit outdoors, to be accurate, to sit on the sidewalk. If you’re interested in blending in as one of the locals, having a drink or a quick bite at Ngoc Quyen Street will be fun. However, if you’re looking for a place to escape from the heat, romantic surrounding and free from mosquitoes, probably Ngoc Quyen Street is not the best choice. Due to the local laws, the pubs and clubs must be closed at midnight. The restaurants usually close at 10 pm. So, don’t loiter too long to pick a place to eat.