Mini travel guide to Hanoi – by Lonely Planet

Footsteps in Vietnam – Hanoi is perhaps Asia’s most graceful and exotic capital city – a place of grand old boulevards and ancient pagodas where locals practice their tai chi moves beside tree-fringed lakes. For all of its timeless charm, it’s also a 21st-century metropolis.


A woman carries goods through the old quarter of Hanoi. Photo: Amos Chapple/LPI

The Old Quarter’s narrow, congested streets are thriving with commerce. Some of them are named after the products that were traditionally sold there – these days, P Hang Gai peddles silk and embroidery, while P Hang Quat is the place to purchase candlesticks and flags.

Contrary to his wish for a simple cremation, Hõ Chí Minh’s Mausoleum is a monumental marble edifice. Deep in the bowels of the building, the former leader’s body is stored in a glass sarcophagus. (Dec-Sep; 5 Pho Ngoc Ha; admission free).

Founded in the 11th century and dedicated to Confucius, the Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Entrance was originally only granted to those of noble birth – these days the hoi polloi are free to explore inside (P Quoc Tu Gia; admission 30p).

Hoan Kiem Lake – which translates as ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’ – is a popular symbol of old Hanoi. Legend states that the Vietnamese once used a magical sword to drive the Chinese from their lands, before a giant tortoise grabbed it and disappeared into the lake.


St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi. Photo: cunbong @

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is one of Vietnam’s major museums, displaying tribal art, cultural artefacts and textiles. In the grounds are examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture (Nguyen Van Huyen Rd; admission £1).

Eat and drink
Quan Ly is one of Hanoi’s most traditional bars, specialising in ruou, a Vietnamese liquor made from rice, with a number of varieties on sale. There’s also abundant bia hoi – a light Vietnamese draught beer (82 Le Van Huu; glasses of bia hoi 12p).


Street cafe, Nguyen Du Str. Photo:

Invariably packed to the rafters, Quan An Ngon offers Vietnamese street food from all corners of the country, with a series of mini-kitchens arranged around a large courtyard. Try chao tom (grilled sugar cane rolled in spiced shrimp paste).  ]Do be prepared to wait for a table during peak periods of the day (00 84 8829 9449; 15 P Phan Boi Chau; dishes from £1).


Phở cuốn (Rolled pho)

Highway 4 is the birthplace of a family of restaurants specialising in cuisine from Vietnam’s northern mountains. There’s an astounding array of dishes – from bite-sized catfish spring rolls to pork fillet with shrimp sauce (3 P Hang Tre; dishes from £3).

Set in a handsome French colonial mansion, Ly Club has an impressive dining room featuring elegant oriental light fittings and a menu of Asian and European dishes (4 Le Phung Hieu; meals from £7).

La Badiane is a stylish bistro located west of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. French techniques underpin the menu, although Asian influences creep into some dishes – try the tomatoes stuffed with Vietnamese spices and turmeric rice (10 Nam Ngu; set lunches £10).

Hidden away in the narrow lanes of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Hanoi Elite is a great-value place to stay. Its 12 guest rooms have comfortable beds and its breakfasts are cooked to order (10-50 Dao Duy Tu St; from £35).

The Art Hotel is a new opening currently making a name for itself in Hanoi’s Old Quarter – spacious rooms have spotless bathrooms, while the surrounding area can claim some of the city’s best street food (65 P Hang Dieu; from £40).

Sporting an assortment of textiles, ethnic art and locally made furniture, 6 on Sixteen has just six sparsely decorated rooms close to Hoan Kiem Lake. Breakfast includes freshly baked pastries and robust Italian coffee. Try to bag a room with a balcony as the rooms at the back have tiny windows (16 Bao Khanh; from £45).

A stylish hotel overlooking the St Joseph’s Cathedral, the Cinnamon Hotel deftly combines original features, such Sleep as wrought iron and window shutters, with more minimalist Japanese aesthetics. All of the six rooms have balconies (26 P Au Trieu; rooms from £45).


Dare for snake blood in Vietnam ?

Footsteps in Vietnam – Hanoi is well-known for its snake restaurants — restaurants that serve every body part of the snake.If you’re lucky, the snake will be a cobra; if you’re the guest of honor, you’ll be served the heart.

I could not imagine a better adventure in Hanoi!

Hanoi Backpackers Hostel runs trips to Snake Village most nights.  For $15, you get to visit a traditional snake restaurant on the outskirts of Hanoi and enjoy the full snake dining experience.  There’s a snake buffet, plenty of rice wine, and since it’s organized through the hostel, you know that there will be a great group of people.


You can help kill the snake.

You drink the snake’s blood and bile.

And if you’re truly adventurous, you can bite the heart out of the living snake, feeling it beat in your mouth for a few moments before you swallow it.

BEYOND badass!

When we arrived, we chose five snakes.  These wouldn’t be the ones we would eat, but they would definitely be the ones that we killed.

The snakes were killed one by one by inserting a knife just underneath the head.  Each snake was sliced open lengthwise, which gave these guys easy access to the blood and bile.

I initially wanted to eat the heart myself, but I couldn’t get myself to do it. Even I have my limits, I guess.  Someday.

My friend Dave, however, did splendidly.  He later told me he wasn’t sure whether he felt the heart beating in his mouth or if it was just his imagination.

Next, the blood was squeezed into glasses filled with rice wine.  How amazing is that picture?!

The bodily fluids were poured into shot glasses for us.

On the left: snake bile and rice wine.  On the right: snake blood and rice wine.

Down the hatch!

Honestly, it tasted more like rice wine — which tasted like whiskey — than anything else. But simply knowing that it was blood, blood that had been flowing through an animal only moments ago, was an insane rush!

We then feasted on a snake buffet.  No part of the snake was overlooked — we even ate the bones!

To answer your imminent question, snake kind of tastes like chicken.  Doesn’t everything, though?

Two of the best dishes:

Snake wrapped in seaweed.  So juicy and tender.

Snake spring rolls!

We toasted, again and again, with shots of rice wine.  (A word to the wise — rice wine is extremely potent.  Treat it like liquor, not wine.  Don’t do all the shots you’re offered.)

To conclude, I doubt PETA will be inviting me to hang out anytime soon.  And I wouldn’t be surprised to lose a reader or two over this.

But I don’t care.  My experience of drinking snake blood and bile was nothing short of extraordinary — and one hell of an adrenaline rush!

You can see my friends agreed!

Next time, I promise you, I’m going for the heart!


Five (Somewhat Controversial) Tips for Living in Hanoi

Very good experiences from you, man!

Good Evening Vietnam

At the end of my seven-month stint as a volunteer living and working in Hanoi, I feel it’s fitting to pass on some of the “wisdom” (charitably defined) I have accumulated over my time here. As such, in my final post to Good Evening Vietnam, I’d like to present five lessons for living in Hanoi that you won’t find in any guidebook. I emphasise ‘living’ because I’m not suggesting that anyone who visits the city for only a few days should necessarily start following these prescripts: you’d probably get yourself killed. But if you’re due to bed down here for a month or more you’re unlikely to go wrong by following these simple instructions.*

*Of course the author holds no legal liability if you should “go wrong” by following these simple instructions.

1. ‘Boil it, peel it, cook it’ … forget about it!

During my first week in Hanoi my…

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Street food Hanoi

Footsteps in Vietnam – Hanoi: Old versus new, rural versus urban, East versus West. Despite these conflicting elements, Hanoi is a city of harmony and equilibrium. The character of Vietnamese cuisine is the balance between sweet and spicy, hot and cold, fresh and cooked. Ishai has 24 hours to taste and enjoy the various foods of the city and maybe even find his own sense of inner balance! During the episode, Ishai will try the famous Pho dish, meet with Chef Bien Duc Nguyen, and hell brave a taste of some fascinating snake liquor.

Source: National Geographic TV

A perfect trip to Vietnam

From the island-studded seas of the north to the meandering waterways of the south, Vietnam is a country defined by the diversity of its land and the resilience and generosity of its people. Lonely Planet Traveller magazine shows you how to take the perfect trip to Vietnam.

Halong Bay: best for coast

The mystical landscape of Halong Bay, where over 2000 limestone islets rise from the Gulf of Tonkin. Photo by Matt Munro

Once upon a time, a friendly dragon lived in the heavens above Halong Bay. With invaders from the seas threatening Vietnam, the gods asked the dragon to create a natural barrier to protect its people. The dragon kindly obliged, performing a spectacular crash landing along the coast – digging up chunks of rock with its flailing tail and spitting out pearls – before grinding to a halt. This scene of devastation is now known as Halong Bay – Halong literally translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’.

Less exciting explanations of this landscape involve eons of erosion by winds and waves – but nobody disputes the splendour of the end result. Rising from the shallows of the Gulf of Tonkin are thousands of limestone islands – towering monoliths lined up like dominoes, some teetering at worrying angles. The islands’ names testify to the overactive  imaginations of sailors who’ve spent too long at sea – Fighting Cock Island, Finger Island, Virgin Grotto. Having largely resisted human settlement, the islands have become home to other creatures. From above, sea eagles swoop down to pluck fish from the waters, carrying their prey – still flapping – high into the air, and squawking congratulations to each other from their nests.

Hanoi: best for city life

Fruit seller heading to market. Photo by Matt Munro

It’s rush hour in Hanoi, and the streets of the city’s Old Quarter throng with hundreds of scooters. The pavement and the central reservation are fair game in the chaos; zebra crossings exist more as a personal challenge than a guarantee of safe passage. Hanoi is a city that refuses to grow old gracefully – a millennium-old capital of crumbling pagodas and labyrinthine streets, now undergoing a werewolf-like transformation into a 21st-century Asian metropolis. In the Old Quarter, ancient temples now neighbour karaoke joints, and dynasties of artisans ply their trade next to shops selling cuddly toys the size of grizzly bears.

Few have studied the changing face of the city as closely as Do Hien, an artist who has spent a lifetime painting Hanoi’s streets. He welcomes me to his studio, and idly leafs through sketches of city life – couples waltzing beside the willows of Hoan Kiem Lake, and alleyways where hawkers prepare steaming bowls of pho. ‘Hanoi is a place that runs in your blood,’ Hien says thoughtfully, sitting cross-legged among stubs of incense sticks and paintbrushes strewn across his studio floor. ‘Had I not lived in this city I might not be able to paint like I do.’

Sapa: best for walking

Ripening paddies near Sapa. Photo by Matt Munro

An evening fog hangs over Sapa. Clouds sporadically open up a bit to reveal a village, a chunk of a mountain, a patch of jungle, before obscuring them from view again, like stage scenery sliding into the wings. Eventually the clouds lift, and the Hoang Lien mountain range emerges. It is a landscape of extraordinary beauty – the Asian highlands half-remembered from childhood picture books and martial-arts films. Above are peaks thick to their summits with greenery. Below, rice terraces run down the hillsides at right angles, as neatly as the folds in origami paper.

Sapa is a town where the weather seems to operate on random rotation – switching between brilliant sunshine, thick fog, driving rain and occasionally a dusting of snow, before coming full circle to brilliant sunshine, often all within the space of a few minutes. A hill station settled by Vietnam’s French colonists, Sapa now serves as a trailhead for hikers happy to run the meteorological lottery of a walk in these mountains. ‘We have four seasons in one day here,’ explains Giang Thi Mo, my guide, shimmying along the edge of a rice paddy as a rain cloud approaches. ‘There’s no way to predict the weather – just be lucky!’

We pass through a village, and Mo points to bamboo irrigation systems that send trickles down the hillsides and into rice pounders that see-saw with the current. ‘There’s a Hmong saying that “we flow with the water”,’ she explains. ‘It means we don’t worry too much, and take things easy.’

Hoi An: best for food

Le Hanh gives a demonstration at her cooking school, Gioan. Photo by Matt Munro

Hoi An is a small town that likes a big breakfast. As dawn musters strength on the horizon, a small army of chefs sets to work on Thai Phien street – firing up gas cookers and arranging plastic furniture on the pavements. Soon, the city awakes to sweet porridges; coffee that sends a lightning bolt of caffeine to sleepy heads; sizzling steaks; broths that swim with turmeric, chilli and ginger. In Vietnam, street food is a serious business – a single dish prepared day after day by the same cook, perfected and honed by a lifetime’s craft.

‘Food in Hoi An is about yin and yang,’ explains Le Hanh, a young female chef scrutinising vegetables at the morning market. ‘It’s about balancing hot with cool, sweet with sour, salty with spicy.’ True to Hanh’s philosophy, cooking in Hoi An goes big on contrasting flavours; food that plays good cop/bad cop with the palate. The sharpness of fish sauce blends with the subtlety of fresh herbs; cool lemongrass makes way for the eye-watering panic of accidentally chomping on a red chilli.

Mekong Delta: best for river life

Watermelons being offloaded at Cai Rang floating market. Photo by Matt Munro

A heavy rain is falling on the Mekong Delta, flooding the footpaths, swilling in the gutters, turning riverbank mud from light tan to a rich coffee colour. A tangled network of rivers, tributaries and canals, the waters of the delta criss-cross the lowlands of southern Vietnam, before emptying out into the South China Sea through mighty, yawning estuaries. For centuries, life here has ebbed and flowed in tandem with the current of the Mekong – an all-in-one launderette, bathtub, highway, toilet, dishwasher, larder, social club and workplace for the communities surrounded by its waters.

‘If you live on a river island with twenty other people you have to learn to get along with everyone,’ explains Mrs Bui Nguyen, beckoning strangers to shelter in her bungalow beside the Cai Chanh canal. ‘That’s the reason why people in the Mekong are so friendly!’ A 77-year-old who attributes her longevity to a lifetime avoiding doctors, Mrs Nguyen wistfully reflects on the delta of old – in days when the only artificial light came from peanut oil lamps dotted along the riverbanks; an age long before roads had reached the villages. Times have changed. However, human life still instinctively congregates on the water’s edge. Lining the riverbank nearby are grocers’ shops, cafés, a gym, a billiards club and a blacksmith’s. Floating markets, too, are still held every morning at nearby Cai Rang – with creaking barges from across the delta bashing into each other as they offload cargoes of watermelons, pineapples and turnips.


10 Reasons to Try Bia Hoi in Vietnam


Footsteps in Vietnam – It’s a foamy, light-alcohol beer found mostly in northern Vietnam. Made fresh each day with few preservatives, the dregs are chucked down the gutter at close of business each day.

This quick turnover and easy brewing means it’s exceptionally cheap — about 20 cents a glass, though Vietnam’s rapid inflation may see that rise before publication — and the establishments that serve it are also relatively basic.

1. Bia hoi is cheaper

Far, far cheaper  than its Czech-inspired counterpart. Though both cost peanuts compared to most places back home, there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing your dozen beers cost only US$3.

2. People are friendlier

It’s a rare night you’ll spend with friends clustered round the low-slung plastic stools of a bia hoi where some blinking, red-faced bloke won’t lurch up to your table to repeatedly grasp your hand and yell, “Helloo! Hello! Helloh?” then invite you to join his mates for some rounds of cheap, rice-based spirits.


3. You can relax

Smoking, slurping, dumping chicken bones on the floor — all are acceptable behavior here. Nay, they’re encouraged.

4. The food

Some bia hoi’s serve execrable rubbish, but plenty serve excellent, freshly prepared dishes for very little cost. Banana flower salad (nom hoa chuoi), barbecued chicken (ga nuong) and fried rice (com rang) are stalwarts. Just watch out for the mixed hotpot (lau thap cam) or pig stomach (da day).

5. Interesting local spirits

Vodka Hanoi (cheap, rice-based vodka with a slightly greasy aftertaste) is a standard but many places also stock ruou ong den — rice wine infused with the whole bees’ nest, not just the nectar — or ruou dua, rice wine left to ferment in a coconut shell (it tastes a hell of a lot better than Malibu, believe us).
The hangover’s never worth it, mind.



6. Street life

Usually these beer barns are open-walled and tables and chairs often spill onto the street. You may get a lungful of motorbike exhaust with your fried spinach, but you get a nice view as well. Others back onto lakes or parks, or the Mausoleum.

7. Watery, weak, but unique

It’s rare in the south but unheard of in the rest of the world. Fresh, brewed daily and cheaper than any other beer, anywhere. That has to count for something in a world of generic, international brands. And it’s no more watery than Bud or Coors, anyway.

8. Colonial heritage

Think of this: the French colonial oppressors brought bia to Vietnam to stop people wrecking themselves on dodgy rice spirit.  This is where bia hois originally came from. The pilsner beer halls are a result of people studying in former communist nations back in the days when everyone still knew the words to the Internationale.  But the leftovers of colonial rule — the bia hois — are still working men’s brew halls while the results of the egalitarian international brotherhood are there mostly for the rapidly emerging middle class.

9. It’s egalitarian

Bia hoi gets more egalitarian yet. A bia hoi can be nothing more than a tiny grandmother sat roadside with a table, chairs, a keg and a few glasses.  Using technology no more complicated than a rubber pipe she sucks some frothy beer from the keg, so you can usually have a drink morning, noon or night. As Vietnam modernizes, beer for breakfast has become less common, but it was once a grand tradition.



10. No hangover

Though some drinkers will vehemently disagree, bia hoi doesn’t usually leave you with a pounding hangover. It’s low alcohol content means it takes a concerted effort to get drunk enough to feel dreadful the next day. Most problems come from people getting a stale batch, something you have to watch out for. Drinking at busy places is a better idea.

Travel tip shared by ngocvht



Footsteps in Vietnam – Sitting at a street corner in Hanoi old quarter with a beer glass, chatting with your freshly made friends while watching people pass by might be one the most memorable pages in your travel journal.

It is said that the word “Bia-hoi” is third in importance only after “Xin chao” (Hello) and “Cam on” (Thank you) when one learns Vietnamese. In the severe heat, not many things can beat a glass of cooled draught beer.

The good news is that draught beer is a popular refreshment drink in all over Vietnam. The bad news is that it is way too affordable that you may have to restrain yourself from going for a fourth glass (each glass costs you 20-30 cents!).  Ta Hien street is one of the hot spots for beer hoi. And because it is such an enticing gathering place, you will be likely to run into many tourists and local alike, ready to converse over the weather or some latest gossips in town.

While taking your sip, mind the life evolving around you- of shops selling books and pirate dvds; ; of elderly strolling by in peace and of course different vehicles flowing freely. This seemingly chaotic picture can be both intriguing and entertaining, if you are sitting and watching over a beer glass.

Travel Tips:  
* It is customary for Vietnamese to have beer with boiled or roasted peanuts. Try it and love it!
* There is likelihood that street vendors will corner you off to sell postcards, chewing gums and who-knows-what. A determined “no” will do the job if you don’t want to buy anything and get yourself into further trouble.
* Be aware of pickpockets whenever and wherever you are.