Hands down, the greatest part about traveling are the experience, memories, and food. I got the chance to make my way across the globe, backpacking through Southeast Asia. My first destination: Vietnam’s vibrant capital city, Hanoi.
Why Vietnam? While I had explored a good amount of Asia, I had yet to experience Vietnam and felt drawn to find the hidden gems in a place typically overlooked as a tourist destination. Turns out Hanoi was a great choice, having experienced amazing things to see and taste. Here are some tips and recommendations of what to do and expect while in Hanoi.
Crossing the Street
Sounds simple enough, right? Not quite. Having been baptized by the busy streets of Chicago, I thought Hanoi would be a breeze. Yet Hanoi traffic is a different animal, taking some awareness and acclimating. Hanoi streets are swarming with motor scooters, making their own driving rules regardless of traffic signs and signal lights. At first, crossing the street can cause mini heart attacks, but the chaos is exhilarating!
Every time I’d cross the street, adrenaline rushed through my body. The trick to making it across the street is to have confidence while crossing and to KEEP MOVING FORWARD. The moment you stop and turn back is when you’re doomed. Hanoi motorists are accustomed to pedestrians crossing and are skilled in maneuvering around you. So keep your head up and strut your way across the street!
Grab Some Vietnamese Egg Coffee
After successfully crossing the street, a great way to reward yourself is with some coffee. And that’s just what I did as I found a local coffee shop just off a side street. Vietnamese coffee is served iced or hot, depending on how you like it. Its flavor is unique, sweetened by condensed milk.
When in Hanoi however, coffee reaches a whole new level of deliciousness with its local specialty Egg Coffee, locally known as Ca Phe Trung. As strange as the name may sound, you must try this! Egg Coffee is made with a whisked egg yolk and condensed milk that floats on the top of the coffee like a heavenly cloud of sweet whipped cream. If you’re envisioning a morning omelet floating on your coffee, banish that thought from your mind. Instead, picture a Cadbury Crème Egg with caffeine: pure delight!
Take a Visit to Ha Long Bay
Located three hours east of Hanoi by bus, Ha Long Bay is a stunning place to visit while spending time in northern Vietnam. I took a day trip that took me directly from my hotel, La Casa Hanoi, to Ha Long Bay by van. The ride was an adventure in itself given the organized, yet chaotic traffic. When we arrived at the bay, we hopped onto a boat to explore the cliffs, caves and rock structures protruding out of the sea. The views and adventure were truly extraordinary. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the sights!
Sampling the Local Specialty: Nem Ran
When most think of Vietnamese food, pho is usually the first on the list. Although I sampled plenty of that while in Vietnam, my favorite dish were actually the local rolls Nem Ran. Nem Ran, locally known as Cha Gio, are similar to egg rolls with a mixture of ingredients like vegetables, vermicelli noodles, and a protein such as pork or shrimp. Wrapped in rice paper, Nem Ran are a light and crispy dish. Their complete flavor is best tasted when dipped in fish sauce and chili pepper.
Exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is one of Vietnam’s top tourist destinations with its beautiful French colonial architecture, shops to browse and eateries to enjoy. At night there is also always something to do or see in the streets. Locals lounge with friends near the Lake of the Restored Sword, or Hoan Kiem Lake, that holds the beautiful red Morning Sunlight Bridge, or Huc Bridge, leading to the stunning Buddhist Ngoc Son, or Temple of Jade Mountain, Temple . Musicians play music in the parks, and locals and tourist alike flood the streets enjoying the night life… a perfect way to finish a day in Hanoi.