Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and one of the oldest capital cities in all of Southeast Asia. When traveling through Vietnam, it’s practically mandatory to stop here, even if only for a cup of coffee.
Vietnamese coffee tastes quite different from what we’re used to. Some feel that it has a hint of vanilla, or you’ll hear it described as a kiss of chocolate. The fact is that it’s really strong. The leisurely trickle of coffee through the filter into the cup is tantamount to a ritual. The trick is not to miss the moment when the coffee has completely run through the filter but has not yet turned cold. You can drink your coffee with condensed milk, yoghurt, or even egg.
In Hanoi, you quickly fall in love with the old quarter, with its narrow alleyways, street vendors, colorful stands, and hidden temples. There’s even a train that runs down the middle of one of the narrow lanes of the old quarter twice a day.
Eating and Drinking in Hanoi
In addition to this special coffee, Hanoi obviously also has a number of other good places to eat. We’ve listed a few where you absolutely have to try out the different coffees, and also some others for their great local food, of course.
Hanoi Social Club: It’s been a long time since this hipster café has been an insider’s tip, but it’s still the perfect place to try Hanoi’s special ice coffee. Without a doubt, the best place to sit is the small balcony on the upper level, where you can look out over the authentic little alleyway.
Loading T: This café is on the second floor of a chic French villa with a spiral staircase and beautiful high windows. That’s also about all there is to admire there. If you’re looking for a good time in good company, you’ll find yourself well served here. But I wouldn’t bother going back for the food selection.
Madame Hien: Practically across the street from the Loading T stands a colonial home that houses the Madame Tien restaurant, famous for its Vietnamese cuisine. We had lunch there and, as always, enjoyed the great local food.
Green Tangerine: Even if the pho soup is delicious, we occasionally needed a little change. In addition to the food at this French restaurant, we would sometimes treat ourselves to a bottle of wine. A nice place for a nice, relaxing evening.
We booked a room at The Chi Boutique Hotel and can recommend it in all good conscience. It has a central location around the corner from St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the famed Hoàn Kiếm Lake is also just one street over.
The Indochina Junk tour agency office, where we booked our Ha Long Bay cruise, is also not far. They own several boats of varying sizes. We opted for a room with bath on their new ship, the Dragon Legend. A luxury van picked us up in the early morning and drove us to the bay. The drive took several hours, which we were able to make good use of, thanks to the onboard Wi-Fi.
Ha Long Bay
Mystical Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and encompasses about 3000 islands in the form of giant rocks that rise majestically out of the South China Sea. The several-day cruise gives you an unhurried chance to take in nature’s beauty. We found the two-day cruise to be the perfect amount of time. After a few hours aboard, you can take off in a kayak by yourself, swim, or sun yourself on the upper deck. Meals aboard the boat are included in the cost of the cruise.
Our room had a bathroom with large windows, so we could sit and watch the passing rock formations right from the bathtub. For those who want to unwind a bit more, there’s also a spa area, or how we were able to enjoy a quick massage after supper. A ship of this size obviously has a large number of passengers. There are a lot of cruises being offered around Ha Long Bay, and there’s a suitable ship of every class and size.
On the way back to Hanoi from the bay, the passengers enjoyed another side trip featuring a show by the water puppet theater. This type of theatrical play has a tradition of more than a thousand years in Vietnam. The characters – peasants, animals, and gods – are skillfully carved out of wood and then richly painted and lacquered. A chorus accompanies the show with a performance of ancient Vietnamese songs.
After this tour and the one in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, we headed back south to Phú Quốc Island, where many sun-filled hours awaited us.