Here is a brief overview and opinion from each of us about where we traveled while in Hanoi and Northern Vietnam in general, what we ate and where we stayed. And sometimes what we wished we had done.
Hanoi Moment Hotel
Jill: the best service we have ever received. Hands Down. Nice accommodation and the complimentary breakfast was great (you can order whatever is on the menu and keep on ordering. There were many who took advantage of this to an obscene degree).
Zac: The staff at the Hanoi Moment Hotel seriously redefine stellar customer service in my mind. They were warm and friendly, remembered our names and seemed genuinely excited to see us and ask us how our day was, or if there was anything they could do to help. They anticipated our needs in several cases.
Sapa Lodge Hotel
Jill: Nice service but this hotel has problems. The breakfast, while complimentary, is not good. Electricity was out when we were here and the room was cold with no hot water. The manager checked on us several times and refunded our night’s stay. So that was nice.
Zac: The hotel was a total let down. We got a little wet and cold hiking through the foggy and muddy fields and trails around Sapa, and in my mind I kept returning to the idea of a hot shower and warm dry room at the end. But since the power was out the room was freezing and there was no warm water. The breakfast was terrible. But yeah, they were nice enough about the situation.
Listed below are activities we did as part of our organized tours to Sapa , HaLong Bay and Hoa Lu and Tam Coc.
Night Train to Sapa
Jill: sharing a shoe box with 2 other strangers? Ok! Going to Sapa is a must do and this was definitely an experience. Our hotel booked the sleeper cars which we found just fine actually.
Zac: I was really looking forward to this. Not just the physical beauty, but the journey getting there.. The famous Night Train to Sapa. It didn't disappoint in any way.
Trek in Sapa
Jill: just a little trek through the rice terraces accompanied by one proper guide and 3 -5 unofficial new “friends”
Zac: Our guide was amazing and seemed to know everybody along the route. The only thing I would change would be falling on my ass in the mud, but that's part of the fun, right? It was nice to see some of the craft like weaving and batik from the black Hmong.
HaLong Bay Cruise
Jill: We were booked with V’Spirit Cruise. The boat was nice and accommodations better than expected. The food was abundant and pretty good. HaLong is amazing and people flock here on these cruises for a reason.
Zac: HaLong Bay is stunningly beautiful. When I come back in the next life I want to be a bird who roosts on one of the karsts. We had several planned activities from the boat like a short hike to some cafes and a peak for sunset, so while it was formulaic (it's a tour after all) it was spectacular. I would put up with a lot of shit to see those karsts shrouded in the morning mist.
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc
Jill: Tam Coc is called the inland HaLong Bay for its karst formations but really this just felt like a long bus ride for no reason. We were ushered into a tourist restaurant where the food was not good at all and then onto a body of water that was filled with other tourists in boats going to the same point and turning around. It was pretty but, meh.
Zac: Highlights for me include opting for a coffee over a bikeride and having a great conversation with that teacher from LA on the bus. Before it all went to hell when the driver pulled a live goat off a moped and shoved it into the trunk of the car.
Listed below is what we got up to in Hanoi proper.
· Walk – a lot. Walk to Hoan Kiem lake, West Lake, French Quarter, Old Town. Just walk
· Ngoc Son Temple – in Kiem Lake. Beautiful temple. Mind the hours as its closed over lunch.
· Hoa Lo Prison – Interesting visit. Small section on American POWs larger sections devoted to French imprisonment of the Vietnamese.
· Vietnam Fine Arts Museum – not worth it in my opinion. Propaganda art all over the place, but just sort of neglected and downtrodden.
· One Pillar Pagoda – Cute. Not sure what all the fuss is about, but still lovely to see
· Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – Sadly, they decided to close this the day we were there (though wasn’t regularly scheduled as such) so we did not get to see Uncle Ho. The largesse and symmetry of this place certainly make if worth a visit
· Temple of Literature – Beautiful. Somehow manages to remain peaceful even with all the tourists.
· Vincom Center – We came to watch a movie. It was busy, over the top and I was transported to another place altogether (completely forgot I was in Vietnam). Well worth it to me.
· Bookworm Hanoi – Great used book store near West Lake. Sadly, I ended up buying a regrettable book. No fault of theirs, but I just didn’t like it.
We sampled a small amount of street food and can’t really describe where we found them (fleeting moments). Otherwise, we tried to keep to inexpensive restaurants that felt like food stalls but maybe a bit safer?
· Noodle & Roll – Inexpensive and a great veg Pho (though I think this was really a chix broth). We went two times, though the first was the best.
· Tadioto bar – also a two timer for us. Once for a morning warm up and dry off the second post dinner NYE. Both times were full of great ambience. The drinks are good too.
· Amato – NYE dinner. Tapas never tasted so good. Great atmosphere, the drink list looked fabulous and the service was sweet. Would have gone back but felt like we needed to spread the love.
· Izakaya Yancha – Wish we hadn’t. Sad really.
· Namaste Hanoi – Really, really good. Weird space aesthetically and is really pretty loud, but the food more than makes up for it.
· Banh Xeo Zon Pancake – We had to be shown how to eat this dish. Cute environment started our love of this pancake for sure. Lots of young professionals here on lunch.
· Giang Café – Inventors of the egg coffee? Not sure. But they were pumping them out like there was no end in sight. Delicious.
· Cong Caphe – I know this is a chain, but they do put out some good stuff. The atmosphere is great as well and quite cheeky. Try the coffee with yogurt and sticky rice. Really. Try it. You will not forget it.
· Koto Restaurant – I love the concept behind this place – helping disadvantaged youth. The food was just ok, though. We sat on the patio which had a nice view and was quite lovely.
· Banh Mi 25 – Worth the Trip Advisor hype? I would say yes. The bread is perfect and they offered a well-seasoned veg option (had egg) which is hard to find in this city. And super inexpensive.
· Aummee – Vegetarian. Delicious. Great atmosphere. Would have gone back several times.
· Pizza 4-Ps – Surprising. I felt bad for going to a pizza place in Vietnam but this place was filled with Vietnamese enjoying the pizza as much as we did. It was surprisingly good, with different ingredients. Salad was excellent as well and had a homemade ginger ale.
· Café duy tri – Small. So small. Hard to find but so worth it. Coffee with frozen yogurt. Frozen yogurt with fermented sticky rice. Obsessions have been made over these items.
· Manzi – Didn’t eat or drink really, but the space is a refuge and it felt like a breath of fresh air to see some contemporary art.
· Bun Bo Nam Bo – They serve one dish. You go in and sit down, they bring the dish to you. No options, no discussion. Be warned it’s beef and it’s really good.
· 10 Luy Quoc Su – Pho. The line is worth it. Beef is the only option. Super tasty broth. Skip the fried things.
The following list comprises those places we wanted to try but for whatever reason could not get it to work out:
· Red Bean – fancy. Wanted this to be NYE but couldn’t get a table. Gets great reviews and felt nice
· Madame Hien – Just never quite made this one work. Not sure why. Seemed spendy for what it was maybe? Who knows, people seem to like it.
· Pot n Pans – Really wanted to go here but their menu just never hit it for me. Too bad because it’s a cute space and would like to have tried it.
· Rosemary kitchen and sandwicherie – I really wanted a sandwich. They had no bread. How are you a sandwich shop without bread?