By far, Hanoi is my favorite city in Vietnam. It’s not as crazy, flashy, and glitzy as Saigon in the south, but rather, it retains a sense of the graceful charm and relaxed pace of Indochine-era Vietnam with its wide boulevards and ochre French-colonial architecture.
The Win Hotel (34 Hang Hanh; Old Quarter, Hanoi; 30USD/nt for a large double room). First, great name 🙂 ! But what makes this place so awesome is the incredible staff, especially the hotel manager (that’s him in the picture!). The Win is technically located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, but it’s located on a quieter side of Hoan Kiem Lake, tucked on a side street that’s hard to find because it appears to have several different names (also known as Bao Khanh?). But there’s plenty going on around this place! The locals call it café street because the abundance of little coffee shops around here. Most are frequented primarily by locals. The hotel is also located just around the corner from a charming little Buddhist temple! It’s perfectly located near many of the historic attractions (and shopping, of course!), but far enough from the main backpacking quarter that it still feels like you’re part of the city and local life.
- Pho Gia Truyen (49 Bat Dan, Old Quarter, Hanoi). So good it deserves its own post.
- Cha Ca La Vong (14 Pho Cha Ca, Old Quarter, Hanoi). Fish marinated in turmeric and cooked tableside with lots of fresh dill and scallions. It’s served on a bed of cool rice vermicelli, crushed peanuts, and chilis. Really tasty with a unique flavor profile. Dill is not regular Vietnamese fare, only in the north!
- Bun Cha Dac Kim (67 Duong Thanh, Old Quarter, Hanoi). Cool rice vermicelli served with a bowl of grilled pork patties in a vinegary nuoc mam (fish sauce) broth, grilled sliced pork, pickled green papaya, and a heap of greens. Order a side of the fried crab spring rolls (nem cua be). So tasty! This little gem came as a recommendation from our hotel and they were right on target.
- Bun Cha street stall. Near the Temple of Literature. I’m not sure of the exact location, but just follow your nose!
- Banh Cuon Gia Truyen (14 Hàng Gà, Old Quarter, Hanoi). Banh cuon is one of my absolute favorite Vietnamese dishes! More-so than pho. Versions of banh cuon are found throughout the country, but the northern style is my favorite. The delicate, gossamer-thin, fresh rice crepe is filled with minced pork, onions, and wood ear mushrooms and is topped with fried shallots, cilantro, and cucumber.
- Stir fried Rau Muong xao toi (stir fried morning glory with garlic). Morning glory is a staple green in Vietnam, but it’s especially so in the north. Our favorite version was served at a little restaurant near the Win Hotel –rau muong stir fried with the sweetest baby garlic cloves! I don’t know what was tastier, the rau muong or the garlic cloves…
- Café sua da. Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk. I put café sua da in my Hanoi list because I prefer the northern preparation over the southern. It’s not as sweet as in the south (or the U.S.). Café sua da can be found everywhere. It’s hard to find a bad preparation. I would stick to drinking iced coffee in cafés and restaurants rather than at street-side stalls.
- Paris Deli (near Pho Nha Tho, Old Quarter, Hanoi). There are several locations and in Saigon, but I recommend this location. The Saigon location is not tasty. They serve amazing French pastries, baguettes, and all manner of coffee and espresso.
- Au Lac Café
(57 Pho Ly Thai Tho, Hoan Kiem Lake District, Hanoi, close to the Sofitel Metropole Hotel). Say it ain’t so! Word has it the owners sold this original location to developers. Boo! This was our favorite café to spend a few ours in Hanoi. The café is situated in the courtyard of an old French villa – you will feel transported to another time, another era. Excellent pastries and coffee.
Things to do. I’ll leave the details to the great Travelfish guide, but here are a few favorites
- Get lost! Hanoi’s Old Quarter was established around the 11th century and is over 1,000 years old! It’s a maze of streets named after one of the 36 merchant guilds established there (silk street, gold/jewelry street, porcelain street, etc). The narrow streets wind and meander through the Old Quarter, changing names every few blocks. Great shopping and great architecture! Lonely Planet has a wonderful walking tour of the Old Quarter.
- Rent a Xich Lo (Cyclo) and take a tour of the city. We hired one to take us from the Old Quarter to the Temple of Literature.
- Cho Hang Be. The best fresh produce markets are tucked away in meandering alleyways like this one on Hang Be street. The produce, meats, and seafood sold in these local markets were so incredibly fresh and fragrant. Getting lost in one of these markets is a great way to discover exotic new ingredients and sample delicious snack foods being sold off sizzling hot grills and woks. Seek out the banana fritters. Yum!