Monday, May 14, 2007

Hanoi 2007: Ode to Banh Ook

Just before I left for my holiday to Hanoi, I wrote an email to a good friend of mine telling him of my holiday plans. He had lived in Hanoi for a few years in the nineties and I wanted to ask him about some of must-sees of the city. What I got was a reply by someone who was very passionate about Hanoi, her culture and her people, which piqued my interest to explore the beauty and the mystery for myself. Here's what he wrote.

Hey buddy,

I am sooo jealous that you're going to Hanoi without me. I would have loved to go back there. Are you going to scuba dive? Don't think it will be any good there - the northern beaches are flat and murky. Maybe you should try Da Nang in central Vietnam.

In Hanoi, oh, there is sooo much to do there. So many places to see, things to do, where do I begin? Ok, here are a few of my favourites:

1. I loved walking over the Long Bien bridge. It's the old bridge across Red River. You can get a nice view of the madness of Hanoi. Be careful of the traffic tho!

2. Having a coffee at the old Metropole Hotel near the opera house. It's pricey but the old world charm there is undeniably romantic. You almost feel like you're in Paris!

3. Walking around the Old Quarter is always a hoot. Lots of things to buy and great food too. I especially love the Silk Street, where the local silk is so colourful and the designs are breathtaking.

4. I loved to walk around from my old house round a small lake called Truc Bach lake. It's a nice thing to do...quiet.

5. Then of course there are the lovely old temples everywhere, just make sure you ask for permission to take pictures. I learnt that the hard way! :(

6. There's also the war museum and the humongous statue of Lenin in the park outside - great photo-op.

7. My absolute fave coffee place is Au Lac Cafe situated in the French Quarter just opposite the Sofitel. It's actually an old French mansion whose courtyard has been converted into a chic al fresco restaurant and bar that serves the absolute best cappuccino outside of Italy!

8. Do you have a motorbike license? If you do, try to hire a bike. It's a great way to get around the narrow streets of the Old Quarter and a fast way to see everything in a day. Just be mindful of the other motorbikes coz around here nobody stops at the red light!

9. Of course there's the food. Oh I so miss pho! And remember - the best pho in town can be at the squat stalls, just by the roadside. NOT the fancy restaurants. Those will charge you an arm and a leg!

10. Try to look out for a few other Vietnamese delicacies like banh cuon (like a crepe with pork and mushroom),

and xoi which is sticky rice. Ask for xoi ga if you want chicken with your rice. Personally I prefer the plain version. Oh, my mouth waters just thinking about it!

11. Of course you can't miss Hoan Kiem lake. Try going there early, like 7am to see the locals do their taichi or play six-man badminton. I wonder if my team-mates still play there.....

And that is just the beginning! Did I say I am jealous? If I had known you were going, I probably would have come with you. I have lots of fond memories of my time there.

Enjoy! I know you will have a great time in Hanoi and do take some great pics of the place for me.

P.S. If you happen to go a bar called GC bar, just say Banh Ook sends his regards to the staff there. ;)

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