Hanoi | Reasons to Visit

7:16:00 PM

Hanoi: Reasons to Visit | Awesome in Manila
Unless they've been ripped off in ways too hard to recover from, I'm going out on a limb to say that anyone who's been to Hanoi—the capital city of Vietnam—will agree that it's a special place. I fell in love with it (and I so rarely fall in love *wink), enough to make me certain of a return trip in the not-so-far future.

If you would allow me the time, I wish to humor you with a list of things I loved about the city and why I think it deserves a spot in your must-visits:

1. If you want to know what I mean by this: There ain't no coffee like Vietnamese coffee, then the curiosity is all the reason you need to go—really. Vietnam takes it coffee seriously, and, girl, I mean SERIOUSLY.

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When I first ordered from a cafe, I was taken aback at the sight of this piddling of a teacup of coffee that was being served in front of me. It was practically a shot glass with a handle. If there was anything shorter than a Starbucks short, this was it. They don't serve tall, grande and venti—and now, I'm starting to wonder if they've ever even seen a proper mug—and it felt like a joke. Internally I was like, "Whuuut I'm paying two dollars for this atom-sized drink?", but as soon as I got a sip of the cà phê đá (coffee with sweetened condensed milk), all my reservations went down the drain.

Vietnamese coffee is heart attack in a cup, yo. It's surprisingly strong, whether you have black or with a thick layer of condensed milk or an even thicker froth of custard (egg coffee, because...yaaaas), Vietnamese coffee punches like an uppercut you never saw coming. The saying "a little goes as long way" comes alive at every sip of Vietnam's cà phê.

2. You can—literally—eat your way through Hanoi. It wouldn't be so difficult to find the best places to eat in Hanoi because all you have to do is go out to the streets. There's a hole-in-the-wall that sells all kinds of phở (noodle soup), bún cá (grilled pork and noodles) and gỏi cuốn (spring roll) at every turn in the Old Quarter, and a number of secret cafes to uncover.

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3. Hanoi has a flourishing art scene. It was fortunate that my trip coincided with Tet Art 2016, where I was able to get a glimpse of Vietnam's contemporary art, but the art experience is something that can be had all year long in Hanoi.

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Here's a quick roll-call of museums and art galleries that you can visit: the Fine Arts Museum, Institut français du Vietnam, Nguyen Art Gallery, Goethe Institut and the Nha San Studio. If you want to be where the cool kids at, head on over to Hanoi Creative City—a newly opened art and entertainment compound at Lương Yên.

4. Visiting touristy spots at Hanoi is like turning pages of a history book. Of course you'd say it's the same for every country and its capital city but, I mean, it's not everyday that you'll find yourself walking amongst reminders of an iconic, bloody cold war that remains controversial to this day.

Among the sites that could pique the interests of your inner history buff, there's the Hỏa Lò Prison, which was built by French colonists to house its political prisoners and later on by the Vietnamese for American prisoners of war; the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, revered Vietnamese president and communist leader; the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater; the Presidential Palace; the neo-Gothic St Joseph Cathedral; the thousand-year old Temple of Literature; the Hanoi Opera House, still operational today; and the five-star Metropole (now owned by Sofitel) which had been graced by heads of state and famous personalities (Charlie Chaplin to name one) in the past.

5. Hanoi is a good jump-off point for more adventurous side trips. Compared to Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is relatively closer to other attractions in Vietnam such as the limestone islands of Hạlong Bay, the rice fields of the Muong Hỏa Valley in Sapa, and the mountainous views of Ninh Bình and Mai Châu to name a few.

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As soon as you've had your fill of the city, you can visit one of the many travel agencies that can arrange a trip for you. There are daily trips to Halong Bay and Sapa (not sure about the others), and you always have the option to stay overnight. And the best part is that it's not too hard to find a deal that won't burn a hole in your pocket. I booked a day trip to Halong Bay with APT Travel (through my hotel) for only 40 USD (PHP 1900+)—inclusive of roundtrip transportation, a satisfying seafood lunch on the boat and entrance fee to the Surprising Cave. More on that in a separate post!

6. And if you're itching for some "r and r", Hanoi has plenty of lakes where you can have momentary peace and tranquility.

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I read somewhere that lakes are to Hanoi, as temples are to Bangkok and as grand palaces are to Seoul. Perhaps the most popular is the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which is in the middle of the Old Quarter. It's populated by both locals and tourists at every hour of the day, and is naturally a good spot for quiet reflection and people-watching.

7. In Hanoi, you won't need much to go around and to make the most out of your trip. The cost of living in Vietnam is recognizably lower than in Manila. A budget of PHP 2,000 a day (the standard budget for an SE Asian trip, I learned from friends) is already comfortable. It will get you lodging, complete meals with dessert and coffee, transportation, leisure and souvenirs.

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You can go lower than that and still not shortchange yourself on the best of what Hanoi can offer. It's so inexpensive to go around Hanoi, I barely haggled.

8. And lastly, it's not too far home. It goes beyond geography. There's something about Hanoi that makes me feel at home. Hanoi, in little ways, feel like Manila. The people aren't intimidating, their history is something we can empathize with and the culture is not too shocking. It helps that it also looks a bit like Manila, except being slightly rural and its buildings being slightly shorter.

It's kind of hard to explain in detail, although I'm sure it's something that y'all will agree with me once you've been there. ★


Want to know what other people have to say about Hanoi?

"I like that Hanoi doesn't have that modern city vibe. Considering it is the capital, I was surprised to see less tall skyscrapers, fancy cars, big malls and snob locals. It's also closer to nature - you can go hiking, biking through rice fields, swim or kayak in the bay, etc. in just a few hours drive from the city centre. If you want to have that real Vietnamese experience, Hanoi is the place to be."
Ella Jacinto, frequent traveler

"Actually, the one thing I am going to remember most about Hanoi is the traffic. It might sound like a bad thing to highlight but for me, it was very fun. [Whenever I crossed the street] I felt like one more vehicle in the traffic jungle of Hanoi."
Camila Poch Sagner, from Chile and currently in Paris

"One of the reasons to definitely visit Hanoi are the people. Super friendly and welcoming. I met a university student through couchsurfing, and he ended up giving me a tour all over the city -- on the back of his motorcycle! Another reason to visit Hanoi -- the food is so fresh, delicious, and cheap. I can't emphasize the freshness enough -- there are markets located all over the city, and it is a big part of daily life for the restaurants and shops to go early around 3AM to the markets to get the freshest ingredients. Cheap -- on average, I spent $1-$3 USD for a meal there. And the beer is less than $0.50 USD!"
Cesar Rufo, eatclimbtravel

NOTE: I'll add more to this as soon as the people I got in touch with send in their two cents!

Sharing time!

1 - Are you going on a trip to Hanoi soon? What are you most looking forward to?

2 - Or maybe you've already been! Is there anything you loved about the city? Share it with everyone!

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