Walking the perimeter of Hoàn Kiếm Lake was first on the agenda upon arriving and plopping our bags down at our Airbnb. Cloudy’s homestay with its beautiful exotic plant themed mural is a difficult place to vacate but the alure of the bustling, crowded and loud streets beckoned to us. Walking the streets of Hanoi can assault your senses…in the best way possible. The walk to the lake kept my eyes open in awe. The city moves at a quick clip and the hundreds of scooters that ride along side of your walking keep you on your toes. Reaching the lake you are given a relative reprise from the chaos. After walking the bridge of Welcoming Morning you enter the island holding the Temple of Golden Jade. It is simply gorgeous and holds history and mystery amongst its walls. You can meander along and sit on steps that face the tiny Turtle Temple. The sight of Hanoi from the short distance the temple provides is breathtaking. Watching the city we were filled with a calmness and desire to trade our city in S. Korea for this one in Vietnam.
We let our stomachs lead the way this morning and they took us to the highly rated Banh Mi 25. This spot is adorable! The food and decor is even better than the reviews on the interwebs boast. They have a plethora of banh mi options to choose from. Vegetarians, this place has got you covered. There is a decent sized menu to satisfy anyone – carnivore or herbivore. We started with the mixed meat and lemon grass chicken options and fell head over heels in love with the house meat mix. We made our way back to this place three separate times over the five days we spent in Hanoi. We love this place and loved that fact they were willing to pile on the veggies and extra cilantro once we asked for a bit more.
As we sat in the tropical oasis that is the dining area of Banh Mi 25 we spied a cozy little pho bo place across the street that was brimming with locals. When I said brimming I mean it was filled to the max with people who looked so content with what they were devouring we could not help but dart across the street to join the party. It was worth it. We ordered one meal to share and it was more than enough for both of us. This place, like most street food in Hanoi specialize in their one main dish and make it super duper delectable. The food also comes faster than even a fast food joint because employees only have to think about and prepare the one item. The table was filled with large bowls of chilis, minced garlic and herbs galore to make your individual pho to your liking. We stuffed ourselves quickly and were in and out in less than 15 minutes. Grand total for both meals, two coffees and a pineapple juice was 5 bucks, usd. If I could give that meal and that price a standing ovation then I would…actually, what’s stopping me!? Hold one moment – I just stood up and clapped while yelling encore, encore. Not really but I did in my head.
If you love yourself and you love books then make your way to The Bookworm. For years upon years I preferred books over people so this used bookstore that proclaims itself to be the best bookstore in all of Southeast Asia was right up my alley…it was also literally right up an alley so there you go. This place was an excellent escape from the hectic world outside its walls. The prices are great, the little bench/couches comfortable and no one bothers you if you nestle in a corner with a book and read it for 20 minutes to make sure you want to buy it. Kole bought several phrase books all for the grand total of 11 dollars. He collects these books and loves that the Lonely Planet brand fits so easily into his pockets. Lucky him, being a man and all. Truly, my phone doesn’t even fit in my pants pocket.
While leaving the bookstore we realized the front building that shares a beautiful courtyard with The Bookworm was actually a cooking centre by the very straightforward name, the Hanoi Cooking Centre. We walked inside and a lovely woman, Nguyen, told us everything we needed to hear to schedule a class right then and there for the following day. We were excited to learn how to make Vietnamese dishes and about food culture in Vietnam.
Everywhere we travel we almost always find a pub that we watch a game or two in. In Hanoi that night we found Prague Pub. It is located in the Old Quarter down the street from our Airbnb apartment and nothing in the pub reminds me of the city of Prague at all. There is African inspired art adorning the walls, multiple foreigners strewn about, and a large screen where we were able to see the Tottenham game with comfort. The employees were nice and the mozzarella sticks the biggest and best I have ever had. I remember them fondly.
The best experience of our trip was our time spent at Hanoi Cooking Centre! We set two alarms to make sure we wouldn’t miss our 9 o’clock appointment time. We also made sure to get there a bit early to enjoy the complimentary tea that is provided with every lesson. Upon arrival we were lead up the beautiful spiral stairs to a beautiful dining area overlooking the busy street below. The bartender, a real nice fellow, came over with two lychee teas and one dried lychee from which the tea is made from. He educated us about the fruit, the tea and the medicinal uses of tea. Soon afterward, we were met by Chef Nguyen. With a bright smile on her face she informed us that we were the only couple confirmed for the class and that we would have her all to ourselves. Together, we left for the market. Learning about all the different produce unique to Vietnam was such a special experience. Nguyen walked through the market with confidence explaining how to pick the best fish sauce, the differences between rice noodles and glass noodles, etc. It was information overload in the best way possible. We gathered some treasures but many things were already at the cooking centre prepped and ready for us. After, walking back into the professional kitchen we learned all about the procedural requirements to make the best pho possible! It includes 6 hours of pre work! Nguyen continued to cook and explain her steps all at the same time while I freaked out trying to grab a pen to write verbatim what flew from her month but she reassured me everything she was saying was already in a recipe booklet that would be given to us. I calmed down a bit and let her instructions sink into my brain. As the hours passed we were able to create beautiful dishes with her guidance leading us. Our time there was cherished.
The last day in Hanoi consisted of a mad dash to see everything we had yet to see before our early morning departure. We hit up Banh Mi 25 once more for a quick brekky and continued onward to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Working our way through the several floors of the museum was a delight. Never before had we visited a museum so intent on celebrating the contributions and achievements of the nations women. A particularly fascinating permanent exhibit was “Women in History“. The exhibit highlighted the sacrifices made by Vietnamese women during the countries wars.
Afterwards, we headed to the Temple of Literature. The grounds of the temple are tranquil and a sweet escape from the busy streets of Hanoi. Immediately after entering it is like the volume from the ouside the temple walls gets turned down and you are alone to explore Vietnam’s oldest university in peace for a few hours.