It is a while ago now that Miles and I visited this understated, beautiful country, which is so rich in sad war history and blankets of green fields producing some of the freshest and tastest food we have eaten.
If you are thinking about a trip, this is the last of 3 posts on Hanoi, my favourite, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City. And there will be plenty of photographs as i had the most enjoyable time photographing this culturally vibrant place.
Part 3 of 3: Hanoi, a bustling foodie destination
Hanoi in January is freezing, the temperature change from Ho Chi Minh in the South to Hanoi in the North near the Chinese border is drastic. We were ill prepared, so don't make the same mistake.
Hanoi is Vietnam's capital, so it is densely populated and the traffic busy (mostly with cars, as opposed to scooters!). It has approximately 7 million people living in an area of 3,345 square km, and is the country’s hub of economy and politics. As a tourist, you don't need to spend much time in the city, two nights is enough.
The highlight for Hanoi was hands down the Hidden Hanoi cooking class we did on our first full day in the city. Tucked in behind a big building off a busy road, this quaint little house, with vegetable and herb patch on the front, is a great way to spend 4 hours of your time in Hanoi. Classes run Monday to Saturday, 11AM to 2PM for US$45pp, or add a market tour beforehand at 10AM and pay US$55pp.
We couldn't pass up on the market tour, which takes you to an authentic local market in the back streets of Hanoi that you would be very lucky to stumble upon if you were without a local to show you the path.
Our guide, a young vietnamese girl with impeccable English, took us stall-to-stall explaining the various vegetables and herbs, and purchasing produce along the way for our Seafood cooking class.
Back in the kitchen with apron on, we began to cook the menu of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, Sweet and sour prawns, sour snake head fish soup (ekk!) and green papaya salad. To cut a long and very fun story short, all the dishes we superb. The sweet and sour prawns were the winner, but actually making the spring rolls and papaya salad with the Vietnamese cooks was great as they are two of my favourite dishes. You are not limited to this menu either, you can choose a day with another menu to cook; Monsoon, Street Food, Pho, Village amongst others.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum was the history highlight of Hanoi for us. We got a little lost finding the 'official' entrance to Minh's marble tomb where the queue of people is unmissable - go early as possible otherwise you risk a very long wait. It opens at 8AM, and closes at 11AM Tuesday-Thursday, and Saturday/Sunday December to September, last entry is 10.15AM. We had read the queue to see Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body can be up to 3 hours long, thankfully it took us 30 minutes to go in and out.
Guards stand 5 paces apart, dressed in snow white military uniform with their arms by their sides, giving an authoritarian feel to the macabre and sacred atmosphere which encloses Ho Chi Minh's body. There is strictly no speaking, no cameras and no arm crossing allowed. Ho Chi Minh lies encased in a glass and embezzled wood coffin. His body goes to Russia once a year for 3 months to be preserved and you can tell he is well looked after, even his wispy white hair looks groomed. The old man just looks like he is having a snooze, with his grey goatee glistening in the spotlight shining from above his head. He was aged 79 when he died on 2 September, 1969.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum and One Pillar Pogoda sit behind the Mausoleum. Both were good pieces of history to see and read about, but we thought the museum lacked detail about Ho Chi Minh's life and a chronological timeline of the war, which similar to the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, we left feeling a bit confused over the order and cause of events.
The Hanoi Weekend Night Market is big, but we didn't think it was as good as it's counterparts in Bangkok and Phuket. The goods for sale are largely tacky, of low quality and there is virtually no bargaining, which for me is the fun part! If you bargain in the Hanoi market, the vendors pretty much just walk away from you and don't care to chase a sale; a massive contrast to Thailand where the stall vendors sell ice to Eskimos.
If you go to Hanoi and want to dine at a low key, but tasty restaurant, KOTO on Van Mieucomes highly recommended. We had yummy spring rolls, sticky ribs and beef in bamboo here. All the chefs and wait staff are kids from underprivileged backgrounds. KOTO is a global initiative, it takes these kids in, puts them through English, hospitality and personal health classes, and then teaches them to cook and deliver services in the hospitality industry. The school has a 100% trainee placement success rate in both Vietnam and abroad. It's located at 59 Van Mieu Street, Hanoi. These are how good our dishes we chose look...
Across the road from KOTO is the Temple of Literature, we strolled through the gardens and courtyards reading about how Vietnam's most talented men were schooled here during the 1400-1700s, studying for their doctorates. There is one Doctors Stelae for each man who studied their doctorate and they are transcribed with their names.
Sitting in Hanoi airport about to board our plane home, we were sad and reflective as we had such a wonderful holiday exploring these 3 cities of Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An and Hanoi.