Nick and I arrived in
One of the first things to strike me about
Another architectural highlight is the Hanoi Opera House built by the French in 1911. Gerry got us tickets to hear the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra one night. The place reeks of colonial privilege, but unfortunately you can only see the interior if there's a performance.
Other sightseeing highlights: the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, where you can see the embalmed body of the highly revered leader lit up like a display at Tiffany’s. It is a bizarre and worthwhile experience. Don’t miss the nearby street market (turn left when exiting the mausoleum grounds). Don't miss the Temple of Literature, the earliest school in Hanoi with a beautiful series of Chinese style temples and gardens. I loved the excellent Museum of Ethnology with an outdoor section of beguiling traditional wooden houses that you can walk through; the park around Hoam Kiem lake just to look at people; the performance of traditional Water Puppets with live music (the theater, right on the lake, has nightly performances). One day we engaged a car and driver ($45 for all day) and drove around to some local villages. Unfortunately, it rained all day, but it was still worth it to see a bit of life outside the city.
We go to all the markets to experience the energy of daily life. We especially liked the Cho Hang Da market in the old quarter and the whole area around it (great birdcages and street food vendors) and the Cho 19-12 on Pho Hai Ba Trung where you can see roasted dog for sale. Our Lonely Planet Guide said the Cho Mo market on the south end of town was of no interest to tourists, so of course we went. We loved it. There are rows of stalls selling rusty metal motor parts, floor-mat sellers on bicycles, and narrow residential alleyways great for exploring. We ate at a market stall there—just a few low benches around a small wooden table. The meal was a bowl of rice topped with various vegetables which we pointed to (avoiding the questionable meats). Our hostess playfully added one insect larva to Nick’s bowl which he obligingly ate. Unfortunately he smiled at the cook after eating it, so she dumped a big spoonful of the things into our rice bowls. Not bad if mixed with enough peanuts.
Food, of course, is a major focus of attention when Nick and I travel and we like to explore beyond the obvious, and to eat everything in sight. Market and street food in
Restaurants I recommend: The Seasons of Hanoi (95 Quan Thanh), an elegant place in an old house. Lots of good vegetable dishes, including a great banana flower salad and sautéed morning glory vines
Quan Hué (6 Pho Ly Thuong Kiet) is a homey place with a big menu of Hué style food, including a big seafood hot-pot that Nick loved.
Cha Ca La Vong, (14 Pho Cha Ca, in the Old Quarter), this funky Hanoi institution serves one thing--a delicious fish dish, cha ca, which you cook at the table, and the more you eat, the better it gets. Be sure to check out the bathroom and kitchen in back. The
Near the south end of the big lake, look for the French Ice Cream place--ice cream with intense flavor.
Every morning we went to the Moca Café (14 Pho Nha Tho near
Our friend Gerry runs a cinema in
On Christmas Eve, we met up with our friend Joan from
On Christmas day we went with Gerry to a friend’s house—an American lawyer and his wife. We ate turkey and cornbread stuffing with a group of visiting Americans and a few ex-pats, including one former Vietnam War veteran who now works with land mine victims. The only Vietnamese present was a woman doctor who spoke good English. The conversation got around to the war and I asked her why the Vietnamese don’t hate Americans. “That was then and now is different” she answered with a Buddha smile. After dinner we went to another party of mostly New Yorkers, artists and filmmakers living in
One noteworthy aspect of life in
We used the Lonely Planet Guide to
Since we stayed in an apartment I don’t have a hotel to recommend (unless you want to spend $300-a-night and stay at the Metropole). I would NOT recommend staying in the Old Quarter where many small hotels are—it’s too chaotic, fun to visit but not to stay. I did see one place in the French Quarter that looked appealing from the lobby, the Church Hotel (no website, e-mail Churchhotel@vnn.vn). Look on www.asiarooms.com for good hotel deals all over
Getting around: we went on the back of motorbikes a few times (scary, no helmets) and also took taxis, which are sometimes hard to find. There are also cyclos, bikes with carts behind, which are fun. Be sure the meter is running or agree on a price with any driver BEFORE you start out—otherwise you are sure to be overcharged. Most destinations in the city will cost 1 or 2 dollars.