If you like cheap beer, amazing food and don’t mind risking your life when crossing the road, then Hanoi is the place for you.
Hanoi was our base before and after we visited Ha Long Bay (click to skip down to that section), so we didn’t get as much as time as I would’ve liked in this bustling city. Thankfully we have ensured that on our next visit, we are there for a much longer period.
We stayed at La Siesta Trendy Hotel, which has just been awarded a heap of traveller’s choice awards on TripAdvisor. It’s a great hotel with wonderful staff and definitely served it’s purpose for us while we were there (the buffet breakfast is particularly amazing). We were even upgraded to a penthouse suite at the end of our stay, complete with a balcony and complimentary minibar and that was bloody unreal.
It is worth noting however that if you choose to stay here and book yourself a standard room, be prepared for a standard room. Compared to the bloody palace we’d been staying in in Siem Reap, this room was a shoe box. A fancy shoe box yes, but a small one. And the door to the bathroom was a sliding one that didn’t really shut properly and I hated that. I don’t care how much you love your partner, you don’t need to feel like you’re in the same room as them when they’re taking a shit. #realtalk
Thanks to a night of pissing down rain, we stayed in and ordered room service. Imma tell you right now, the food is that good that you definitely won’t be disappointed if you decide to stay in and watch the only English-speaking movie on television (Independence Day 2 is the exact same plot as the first one btw).
FOOD AND DRINK
As our time in Hanoi was somewhat fleeting, the main things we did involved eating and drinking. Seriously. I mean I know that seems like what we do anyway, but that is literally all we did here. We said no to temples and visiting historic sights and instead paid a tuk-tuk/carriage guy to pedal us around the streets to different restaurants, stopping occasionally to buy more beers. I’m just going to give a quick run-down of all the must-eat/drink places for anyone who’s planning a trip.
Egg coffee at Giang Cafe
Take time out of your day, in between the chafing and the beers, to visit Giang Cafe and treat yourself to an iced egg coffee. Egg coffee is made with coffee (obvs), egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk (cos there’s not enough sugar in it already). Hand on my heart, it tastes like cake mix. It’s not something I’d have all the time, every day, but it’s a nice treat on a hot AF day.
Giang cafe was founded in 1946 by a dude known as Mr Nguyen Giang and is said to be the godfather of egg coffee in Vietnam. It’s also the first place that pops up if you type “egg coffee” into Google. The entrance isn’t overly obvious and even when you do find it you’re even unsure if you’ve got the right place. The entry is basically a narrow, dark alley of doom that leads to a staircase, which then leads you to an open area filled with tiny tables, tiny stools and people. Ah yes, it’s always packed and for some weird reason everyone in there eats God damn birdseed so there is shit all over the bloody floor. But somehow it works.
Fun fact: when we were there we watched one girl take about 256 selfies in the same fucking position. SHE DIDN’T EVEN BLINK GUYS.
Bun Bo Nam Bo
This place basically has one motherf*cking thing on their menu, that’s how good they think they are. They don’t bother serving much else, because this dish is the shit. Everybody gets the beef noodle salad (with a beer or two) and inhales it within minutes of it being brought out. Do not miss this place when visiting Hanoi.
Banh Mi 25
Anyone who’s doing Vietnam properly would have gotten onto banh mi’s the minute they landed in the country. Banh Mi 25 is well-known for it’s deliciously crispy and fresh Banh Mi’s (get the BBQ pork minus the pate). It’ll cost you 25,000 Vietnamese dong for one Banh Mi (hence the name Bah Mi 25) which is around about AU$1.47. Why not get two you say? We did. We always did.
Fun fact: we stopped at another Banh Mi place on the way home one night and I had to climb up into someone’s attic and sit next to their cat while I peed ¯_(ツ)_/¯ #dowhatchugottado
Bia Hoi Junction
This is a beer lovers heaven. This bustling place in the Hanoi Old Quarter is filled with countless bars selling 20 cent beers and countless people sitting outside them on tiny little stools. The atmosphere is electric and everyone there is there for a good time. As stools are limited, strangers end up sitting right next to you and it’s a great way to meet new people. I don’t usually like people, but on holidays, anything goes.
Police do patrols to break up the hectic activity in Bia Hoi, as they aren’t super keen on hundreds of people blocking the streets. When the cops come, you’ll find the bars are two steps ahead of you and have already made you stand up, collected all the stools and have shut their roller doors. You’ve sort of got to stand around like a peanut for a minute or two while the cop cars drive past and then the minute they’re around the corner, the roller doors spring back open, the stools come back out and we’re all back in business. Visiting Bia Hoi Junction was one of the nights we got super blitzed and whilst the hangover was rough, it was totally worth it.
Ha Long Bay
Thanks to a hectic storm in the area, our cruise to Ha Long Bay was nearly cancelled. The staff at our hotel were telling us we had nearly zero chance of it going ahead, but they didn’t have any rooms for us to stay in if that was the case. Thankfully Mother Nature was looking out of us that day and decided to clear the skies of all clouds just in time for our trip. And thank god, cos it was awesome.
Ha Long Bay is about a four hour journey from Hanoi (including making some toilet stops on the way), so you’ve got to keep that in mind if you’re planning on visiting. The travel time eats into your day a bit, but once you get on your boat and away from the chaos of the port, it’s worth every minute of the commute.
We chose to do a three day, two-night cruise onboard the Dragon Legend with Indochina Junk for our Ha Long Bay visit, one of only two companies that take tourists to a different bay in Ha Long Bay, known as Bai Tu Long. And so worth it. All the popular visiting sites are overwhelmed with tourists and it takes the magic right out of everything when you can’t move in the water because there are so many people. Plus, think about how much urine that is.
Don’t act like you’d get out of the bay to find a shitty toilet. No one got out of the bay and everyone was drinking.
Over the three days our cruise company took us to different bays to swim in, took us kayaking through caves and to a private beach for lunch. We participated in a cooking class (whilst drunk), went on a hike up 100 stairs (where I nearly died) and a mini-adventure through a cave we could actually walk through. A loud American lady on our tour told everybody she could feel spirits in the cave and was knowingly looking at all of us like “wow, you guys have no idea what happened here”. NEITHER DO YOU SHARON! It took everything in my power not to hold her still while I eye-rolled in her face. What a load of shit. The cave was still cool though.
Ha Long Bay is that place you see hundreds of photos of and wonder if it’s just as magical in real life.
Personally, I found it mesmerising, gliding across the seemingly endless water and passing beautiful rock formations rising out from the ocean. I tend to get sick on larger moving vessels, such as ferries or buses, but thankfully I didn’t have much trouble during this trip. I managed to drink endlessly, eat everything and had a wonderful time.
The only real downer was seeing just how polluted the water is. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and it is slowly being destroyed by petrol fumes, rubbish being tipped into the water and people completely disregarding the wellbeing of such a natural beauty. Josh even invented a game on our last morning where he got 10 points for spotting wildlife and -10 points for spotting a bit of rubbish as we sailed on by. I’m pretty sure the final score was something like -560.
Vietnam are stopping all overnight cruises by the year 2020.
Some people say this is to do with how bad the pollution has gotten and others say it’s because the hotels in Ha Long Bay aren’t making any money due to overnight cruises taking all of the tourists. Either way, the government have said it’s happening, so if you’ve ever wanted to visit and stay out on the bay, now would be the time to start booking.
All in all, Ha Long Bay is something you have to do if you’re visiting Vietnam.
We had a great time and met some wonderful people onboard our boat (those legends also happened to get drunk with us at Bia Hoi Junction when we got back to Hanoi.) Ha Long Bay is still so beautiful despite the pollution and being in such a beautiful place with the clear blue skies and cold beers and happy people, it made me feel like I was on a different planet. I thought it was wonderful. Get around it.