This is a tiny, little guide to what we loved best on our honeymoon, with two teenagers trailing, (yes, we were that brave!) in this magnificent country Vietnam. There’s so much more, I just hope to go back soon!
1. take a bike / vespa tour
In Hanoi, definitely take a bike/ vespa tour. You each get an individual driver, and sit piggyback all through the ride, and what a ride! Hanoi is full of bikes, thousands of crazy drivers, and it was such fun weaving through the traffic like a local. I’m not crazy about motorbikes, and I loved it, never for a moment did I feel scared. We did an early morning start, drove through town, into the massive city market and out towards the countryside. The idea was to visit a family that lived outside in the farmland. We saw several typical professions, the rice paddies and then went to the guide’s home to make lunch. Yes, we helped make it, all of us and his family, several dishes, and most of the ingredients just picked from the garden behind the house, all biological. The return home was after lunch, so it’s really well worth it.
2. head for the hills
Go to Sapa, or Sa Pa, which is in north-west Vietnam and be ready to be overwhelmed. The natural beauty of the valley and the mountains is so graceful, one just tends to be quieter and more at peace. We took a night train, that left Hanoi at 22h30 and arrived in Sapa at 05h30, and I think it’s safer and more comfortable and fun than going by bus. From then we drove up the Hoàng Liên Mountains and I think I’ve never seen anything quite so magnificent. The rolling sides of the mountains are covered in endless ribbons of green that mesmerise you. 100 shades of green as the rice matures, layers upon layers as far as the eye can see. Do not miss this…
3. have a massage
I didn’t mention that the lovely rice paddies are hiked mostly by humans, and as it’s a sweaty, energetic and very humid endeavour, a massage afterwards is essential. And when in Asia, having a rub down, as simple or as exotic as you like, is always worth it. The price is always much less than in Europe and the quality is usually fantastic.
3. eat ice-cream
From the local flavours to the Japanese mochi, the ice-creams parlours are always full. Because besides drinking tons of water, what else feels fresh and cleansing than a lychee, coconut or green tea lolly?! Also I found a ton of places that sell mochi, the delicious Japanese rice cake. It’s made of rice, and it used to served only on special occasions. You can find it salty, or sweet, or filled with ice-cream which is my favourite.
From the fakest of fakes, (by these I mean totally made up pieces with well known logos), to the real deal, the choice is yours. Hanoi and Saigon are both filled with high-end stores like Prada or Gucci. For a change of scenery, I recommend the markets, especially at night, where you can find really fun pieces, like crazy sunglasses and great food. Shop out of town, in the villages for stunning embroidered cloths, done the traditional way, using old dyeing techniques, that you can use as a bed cover, tablecloth, throw or as whatever you desire.
5. drink egg coffee
Yes, the Vietnamese are CRAZY!!! about coffee. You’ll find cafés around every corner, where you can sit and watch people go by. One specialised version is coffee with egg which is divine! It’s almost like a liquid tiramisu without the alcohol and the biscuits!
6. take a cooking class
There are many ways to do this; directly through your hotel or online atcookly, and it’s a must. The whole experience is so much fun but also you get to learn how to combine a few things, a little drop here, a squish of soy, a splash of fish sauce and a little peanut (butter, that’s me!), and voilá, you~ve got yourself a multi-tasking marinade.
7. eat like a local
Do not be scared of strange, weird and wonderful things, and just use your common sense! People are friendly on the streets and there are sellers everywhere, preparing food from scratch from sunup to sundown! The food is awesome and as diverse as you will ever see.Eat a Banh Mi, the local version of a baguette filled with tasty marinated pork and vegetables! Dart into a Pho place and gorge to your heart’s delight on a delicious broth and homemade noodles. Don’t hold back…
If you appreciate architecture on a grand scale, history and some amazing details, this is the place for you. It was built in 1868 and finished by 1873 by the French, occupied by the Japanese, and several assassination attempts by pilots and one bombing later, a huge part of the palace was destroyed. It was completely torn down, and a new building, designed by Vietnamese architect Ngô Viết Thụ, was completed in 1966. It’s magnificent in its simplicity, a former home and war command centre, it’s a relic of a time but at the same time, enduring.
10. go to the beach
Although not as famous as the beaches in Thailand or in the Philippines, I found the Vietnam coast so beautiful. Warm transparent calm water, coral sands and an amazing underwater life, perfect for diving and snorkelling.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the suggestions and the visual trip,
Here’s my list of restaurants in Hanoi, where to shop and what to do in more detail:
Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su
In Hanoi, there are two main pho variants: pho bo (beef noodles) and pho ga (chicken noodles).
There’s no bad pho in Hanoi, but if you happen to be around Hanoi’s West Lake area, go to Tu Hung Pho Bo at 164 Yen Phu. The restaurant is popular for its pho bo tai chin, which consists of beef brisket, thin slices of steak, and flank meat. Enjoy it with a plate of banh quay – Chinese-style savoury doughnuts.
The best pho in Hanoi is at a place called GIA TRUYEN on 49 Bát Đàn, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm — but it’s only open from 6-10PM every night. You can’t miss it because the line will be wrapped around the street.
Lunch: Com binh dan
Com binh dan roughly translates to “commoner’s rice”. Shops offering it usually have many classic home-cooked Vietnamese dishes on offer and are excellent places to get a taste of local fare.
There are countless com binh dan eateries throughout the city, but one excellent spot to try is Com Binh Dan New Day at 72 Ma May Street. Skip the main entrance and enter through the side alley where you can see all the dishes being made and displayed. Don’t order from the flashy menu; simply point at what you want and the server will arrange the dishes on your plate. To drink, order the canh chua (sour soup) to go with your rice, and nuoc rau ma (pennywort juice) to drink.
Lunch: Bun cha
Perhaps the tastiest dish known to man, bun cha consists of freshly grilled chunks of pork patty and roasted pork belly served in a bowl of broth – a mix of fish sauce, vinegar and lime, with slices of pickled kohlrabi, green papaya, and carrots – that is slightly sweet and tangy.This feel-good soup is typically eaten with Vietnamese bun (a thin, vermicelli-like noodle) and a generous serving of greens such as fresh Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, lettuce, banana flower and coriander. If that is not enough goodness for you, some bun cha shops also offer a side of spring rolls, fried to crisp perfection.
The most famous place to eat bun cha is Bun Cha Huong Lien, which became known as Bun Cha Obama after the US president ate there with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in 2016. When Bourdain’s death was announced earlier this month, Obama tweeted a photo of the two of them at the humble eatery in tribute to the late chef.
Bun Cha Ta Restaurant
21 Nguyen Huu Huan Street | Old Quater, Hanoi
. The best bun cha is at a place called Bún Chả Hàng Mành on hàng mành street. Look for a big red sign and a 3 story building.
Dinner: Chicken Street
Ly Van Phuc street has for decades been known as “Chicken Street” by locals and expats alike for its rows of ga nuong (barbecued chicken) vendors. During the day, the sleepy alley might not look like much, but once the sun sets, the barbecues start to crackle, the plastic stools are set on the pavement, and hundreds of skewers of various chicken parts, together with honey baguettes, begin to sizzle on the grill.
The chicken on Chicken Street is succulent, has crispy skin and comes with mildly hot barbecue sauce. You’ll get to choose between chicken legs, breasts, wings and feet, with pickled morning glory or fresh slices of yam to go with your meal. But the real star here is the crisp grilled honey baguettes – a leftover of Vietnam’s French colonial heritage.
Of the dozens of vendors on Chicken Street, the two to try are Binh Minh Ga Nuong – said to be the first that opened on the street – and Quynh Nga Ga Nuong, which serves the best barbecued wings in the neighbourhood.
Wrap it all up with a steak dinner“Chien Beo is one of Hanoi’s best local steak houses, doing a Vietnamese take on steak and called ‘bit tet’. It’s a common enough dish but often the steaks are thin, leathery and drowned in sauce. Not here.
“Steaks. Steaks stuffed with cheese. Rolls of beef. The place is greasy, hot and gets very, very noisy and for most, this is part of its charm. Food is more expensive than a street side bowl of noodles, but much cheaper than ‘Western-style’ places in town. And doubly as good.”
192 Nghi Tam street, Yen Phu, Tay Ho district, Hanoi
Evening snack: Nem chua ran
Nem chua ran is a popular snack in Hanoi consisting of deep-fried cured pork sausage that is eaten on a tiny stick with lard-fried fries and hot sauce. It is a tasty companion for your cold glass of bia hoi (draught beer).Nem chua ran can be found in the Ngo Tam Thuong alley close to Hang Bong street. As soon as the sun sets, this small alley is usually crammed with locals, and the shop at 40 Ngo Tam Thuong is an all-time favourite.
Hanoi Weekend Night Market
Hang Dao Street to Dong Xuan Market in the Old Quarter Taking place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 19:00, the market runs through the Old Quarter, starting from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market.
Dong Xuan Market Dong Xuan Street (Northern part of the Old Quarter)
Trang Tien Plaza is where Hanoi’s rich and famous come to shop for luxury items and international designer goods. This shopping mall is spread out over five floors with leading fashion brands such as Cartier, Burberry, Ermenegildo Zegna and Louis Vuitton occupying the ground floor, electronics and home furnishings spread out over the second and third floors and a supermarket on the fourth floor which stocks many international goods. There are some excellent international restaurants on the fifth floor. Trang Tien Plaza is located on Trang Tien Street at the beginning of the French Quarter.
Lotte Center Hanoi offers a broad range of approximately 250 fashion and lifestyle brands. This one-stop shopping spot also offers enough entertainment and dining possibilities that you could easily spend a half day here. The 65 story building can be reached from Hoan Kiem Lake by car in around 20 minutes.
If you’ve got time, find a good tailor and copy the pieces you most love in 24 hours! Yes, you can have a mens suit done in 2 days so it’s worth to to it on your first day.