Hanoi. The capital of Vietnam, and an absolute cacophony of sounds, sights and smells – a true sensory overload. Walking along the beautiful tree-lined boulevards, you’ll have to dodge both the sparks from the welders on the sidewalk and the never-ending swarm of motorcycles. The museums and surrounding areas of Hanoi are spectacular – to understand both the history and the encapsulating natural beauty of Vietnam. While it would truly be a crime to only go to one place in Vietnam, if this is your situation, it’s worth focusing on the north.
Eating in Vietnam means pulling up a plastic stool made for a child, cracking open a bottle of some local lager, and delving into a hearty dish of soup or noodles that you’ve probably never heard of before. The amount of food options in Hanoi, and across Vietnam are astounding, and I have so much more to try. But I’ve listed a few places below that I tried and loved. I cannot wait to get back here!
Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 Hang Dieu)
Bun bo nam bo is a vermicelli dish with beef, peanuts and pickled vegetables. This place is nestled in the crowded streets of Hanoi’s old town. They only serve one dish – bun bo nam bo – and it’s being prepared as you walk in, right at the entrance. Sit down and you’ll have a heaping bowl at your fingertips in two minutes. And in two more minutes, it’ll probably be gone.
Bún Cha Hương Liên (Bún Cha Obama)
Bún cha is oddly sweet, and sour, for a dish that originated in Hanoi. It’s made with grilled pork patties, vermicelli, pickled vegetables and sauce (nuoc cham) (picture above). It’s true comfort food. And this is where Obama and Anthony Bourdain shared a $3 meal of bún cha and beer in small plastic chairs. They’ve even preserved the table and chairs where the two ate in protective glass. This spot is a few miles away from other attractions, but it’s definitely worth taking an Uber and visiting.
Bánh Cuốn Gia Truyền Thanh Vân
Bánh cuôn are steamed rice rolls with pork and fried shallots. And they are delicious. This spot is in Old Town and only serves its namesake dish.
What to do when you aren’t eating:
- Drink as much bia hoi as possible
- Bia hoi, or fresh beer, is made daily. Where, you may ask? Who knows. But, where can you get it? Most restaurants, or even in a back alley. All you need is an entrepreneurial woman, a keg, and a couple plastic chairs. And the best thing? It’s 20-40 cents a glass.
- Stay in the Old Quarter
- Give Uncle Ho a visit
- The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – back when embalming tyrants was cool
- Hoa Loa Prison
- The “Hanoi Hilton” – this is where the late John McCain spent time as a POW – and the propaganda going on here is fascinating.
- Sa Pa
- Two-day hike (and home stay) with Sa Pa Sisters. Then motorcycle to Tram Ton Pass and the Silver Waterfall.
- Don’t take the night bus. Because then it will stop for 2 hours in the middle of nowhere at 1 a.m. with the door open and the A/C turned off just so the driver can sleep.
- Mai Chau looks like a great 1-2 day trip, though I did not make it there.
- Two-day cruise in Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay.
- The food on these fancy cruises is actually awesome.