Your insider's Travel Guide blog to Ha Noi
In Vietanm 🇻🇳 Since 2008
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI LOCAL INSIGHT: HANOI
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital, and a city of lakes
Want an incentive to travel to Hanoi? Nothing beats watching the sunrise over West Lake with a drink. There are many more lakes here than in Ho Chi Minh City, allowing for a quiet pocket of nature in the middle of the city, and ample opportunities to relax without heading to the outskirts.
A city of over 1,000 years, Hanoi has a lot of history packed into its clean, French-Vietnamese exterior. Perhaps this explains the conservative overtones – almost the entire city shuts down at midnight – as well as the brief moments of rebellion like fewer helmets and wafting smells of euphoric hand-rolled cigarettes in bars.
Head over to Hanoi from November to March, and you’ll escape much of the horrid heat that comes on from May to September. To most travelers, Hanoi is two lakes, a (dead) turtle, 36 rowdy streets, and some tough-headed Northerners. However, there is much to the destination rather than what’s glossed over in travel guides. If you’re looking for where to stay, there is an overflowing abundance of boutique Hotels in Hanoi. For high-end souvenirs, there is Tan My Design, which has the largest combined collection of unique handicrafts, art, bedding, designer clothing, and more in the region. In particularly touristic areas, avoid the shoeshine boys – they rip you off badly.
Getting around is easy if you rent a motorbike, but be warned that traffic gets horrific at times. Otherwise watch for ripoff taxis, as there are more companies operating here than in Saigon. If you want a taxi back to the airport, Noi Bai and Hanoi Airport Taxi are two companies that charge VND180,000-200,000 instead of the usual VND350,000-400,000. Grab and Go Jeck vehicles are abundant and cheap.
Like Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, Hanoi offers its own ex-pat enclave around West Lake and more specifically along Xuan Dieu. No matter what the phrase “ex-pat enclave” stirs in your heart, Xuan Dieu has some great eateries and nightlife, such as Chops, which serves meaty burgers, and Pasteur Street Brewery drafts. Similarly, Hanoi has a District 7 type of area called Cau Giay, larger than D7 and with many new developments including multiple companies’ headquarters highrises and Vingroup projects.
What Hanoi offers in spades is gastronomy, mixology, and caffeine – and you will not find any shortage of fine eats and drinks that rival the best Saigon has to offer. For restaurants head over to Luna d’Autunno for some superb Italian pizza and aperitifs, and to Don’s Tay Ho for cigars, clams, salmon, and more. The difficult-to-find Soft Water Restaurant is situated among lush vegetation and was closed for years by the owner for private use – until now. La Badiane has great French cuisine. Saint Honore on Xuan Dieu arguably has some of the best pastries in the country.
If you want the roaring nightlife a metropolis often lends its inhabitants, skip the backpacker-packed 36 street and instead go to the expat and local frequented places. Also avoid bia hoi – locally brewed cheap swigs are nothing special and you’re better off sticking to shipped craft brews from Ho Chi Minh City, or the Czech beer houses. Lounge 88 on Xuan Dieu provides nice respite.
Things get shut down at 12 p.m. so your night out might come to a halt – unless you know where to go. Luckily right on Xuan Dieu you have Nest Lounge, which comfortably goes past curfew. Bars along the same street offer quieter and less kinetic respite after hours.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI A QUICK GUIDE TO HANOI WEATHER
When is the best time to visit Hanoi?
Lo and behold! It’s not just exotic and tropical in Vietnam, at least not in the northern hemisphere. Saigon might be sunny and dandy all year, but its northerner sister Hanoi has more seasonal surprises. It can get horribly cold and misty in winter, scorching hot in summer, with some unpredictable months in between. But don’t let Hanoi’s fickle weather get in your way! Don’t be surprised, be prepared!
Hanoi in the Winter
What? So Hanoi weather is not tropical like the rest of Southeast Asia? Well, technically no. The city has a subtropical climate which basically means that it can get pretty cold during winter. It usually starts from mid December and typically lasts until late February or early March. The average temperature is around 15 degrees Celsius, though it sometimes can go below 10 degrees. It doesn’t sound that bad, especially if you’re from countries that are used to a sub-zero winter. But bear in mind that it is a different type of cold. It’s damp, it’s humid, and it seeps into your bones. On the top of that, most buildings in Hanoi don’t have central heating and are poorly insulated so the cold sort of follows you everywhere around. Be prepared. Make sure that you pack some seriously warm clothes when visiting Hanoi in wintertime.
Hanoi in the Spring
It’s wet! There’s no better word to describe spring in Hanoi. From February to April, springtime brings light drizzles and grey sky with air heavy with humidity, while the monsoon starts its heavy downpour in May. Temperature ranges from 15 to 20 degrees Celcius, and the constant drizzleing turns the city’s dress code from winter coats to rain coats. But there’s no need to be gloomed out by the grey, springtime’s damp weather creates superb conditions for the flowers to blossom, so expect to see bright, colourful flowers everywhere around in spring!.
Hanoi in the Summer
Hanoi’s summer lasts from June to August and it can get very, very hot. The average temperature is 32 degrees Celcius, though there have been times when temperatures of more than 40 degrees have been reported. It is humid and sticky, so bring clothes that are light, breathable and sweat-absorbent to beat the heat!
Hanoi in the Fall
Personally, I consider Fall as the best time to visit Hanoi. Lasting from mid September to the end of November, the weather is comfortable with the average temperature ranging from 20 – 25 degrees Celcius. It is less humid, with typically pleasant breezes and ample sunlight. It is the perfect weather to roam around, without being tortured by the heat or the cold!. What do you think about the weather in Hanoi? Have you visited Hanoi during one particular season? Any tips and trick to get around Hanoi’s unpredictable weather? We would like to hear about it!
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI HANOI – A FIRST TIMER’S PRIMER
Things to know before travelling to Hanoi
For Hanoi, Pack lightly, but not too light lightly
Am I boarding an airport bus in Ulan Bator or Vietnam’s capital? I can’t tell because every passenger is wearing scarves and mittens. It’s not Arctic cold, but I’ve just swooped in via the tropical bliss of Ho Chi Minh City wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt. Little wonder my tightly bundled fellow travellers smirk and my wife gives me that ‘I told you so’ look. Hanoi, chilly in January? Believe it.
Shuttle to Hanoi City
Just for kicks we fly to Hanoi on a budget carrier and board the airline’s shuttle to the Old Quarter. It costs VND 80,000 (about USD4), no hassles. A taxi ride would have cost nearly five times as much, maybe more – it’s largely dependant on one’s bargaining prowess. Interestingly, a competing airline’s shuttle tried to cajole us onto their bus: ‘Same thing, same ride’, said the clerk at the airport. Yeah, right!
Where to pick your Boutique hotel in Hanoi?
It’s a brisk 15-minute walk from the drop point to our hotel in the Old Quarter. When you visit Hanoi, stay in the Old Quarter. Consider it a strategic move that gives you access to most of the action. Our boutique digs, freshly built this year, are on Hang Be Street – The Street of Rafts, although today it’s more like the street of motorbike maniacs and pedestrians on autopilot. At our hotel they lay out the red carpet, for real: we arrive the night of an early New Year’s party and celebrations are in full swing. A warm crystal glass of mulled wine is thrust into my hands before I’m able to set down my Samsonite. Here comes the chardonnay and champagne! Then the hotel manager, all smiles up front and all business out back, introduces himself and beseeches Sue and I to ‘Come downstairs later and join the party.’ So we do – indeed we do! – and feast on fried fish, spring rolls, salads, fruit skewers and panna cotta. Best check-in ever.
Our room in Hanoi city center
Our room is tiny, like a Barbie condo, but fresh and modern. There’s an LCD TV on the wall. Custom embroidered cushions and towels. Teak furniture, blackout curtains and a lacquered tissue box on the writing desk. Bathroom fittings are European standard. Our sole gripe is the lack of hot water, only available in 40-second bursts each half hour, which makes showering together not only romantic, but a necessity!
Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake is the showpiece of Hanoi. Even with the winter wind whipping off its surface, chilling one’s beak, Hoan Kiem is a marvellous place for a stroll or some Chinese aerobics. Built on a small hump of earth on Hoan Kiem, Ngoc Son Temple is accessed via a flag-lined pedestrian bridge, the Huc. Pay VND20,000 (USD1) to cross, and then fight the crowds to get a look inside the temple, home to an enormous taxidermic turtle caught in the lake 45 years ago.
Exchange Cafe in Hanoi City
Set in a lively lane off Phan Chu Trinh Street, Exchange Café serves up world-class cappuccinos and creamy, comforting soups. What the café lacks in central heating it makes up for with piping hot drinks and a cosy ambience, sort of like grandma’s place at Christmastime. Although a tad drafty, Exchange Café makes for a good pit stop near Hanoi Opera House.
Mediterraneo Italian Restaurant
What’s better than authentic Italian food on New Year’s Eve? (In Vietnam no less!) Just a frankincense canister swing away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Mediterraneo Italian Restaurant stands on one of Hanoi’s most gorgeous streets, Nha Tho. As 2012 ticked over, Sue and I shared a della casa pizza, followed by tiramisu. I’m one cigar down and we’re off to the reflexologist for a much needed foot massage.
Massage studios in Hanoi
Massage is good business in Hanoi and you’ll find a clutch of studios near St. Joe’s. Expect to pay around VND200,000 (USD10) per hour, including tip. My masseur is a keener who keeps asking me questions in Vietnamese based on the scrap of Tieng Viet that I use to get our conversation rolling. But he speaks too fast and I’m caught up on a roiling sea of lingual confusion. It’s a short walk back to the hotel where the music of ABBA has been looping since we’ve arrived. I exchange words with the DJ. (But, having learned my lesson, not in Swedish.)
Revolution museum in Hanoi City
The Revolution Museum is across the street from the Natural History Museum, though you wouldn’t know it because it’s well cloaked and there are no signs advertising the place. God’s honest truth, I stumbled in here by happy accident. Inside, there are thousands of pieces of memorabilia that document Vietnam’s liberation movement from 1858 to today. Exhibits cover two floors, and yes, you begin your self-guided tour on the second floor – follow the wall signs. Admission is VND20,000 (USD1).
Water Puppets in Hanoi
No trip to Hanoi is complete without attending a water puppet performance at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Made of lacquered wood, these colourful marionettes dance across a pool of shallow water and are manipulated by veiled puppeteers using underwater sorcery. The multi-act extravaganza presents a condensed version of Vietnam’s cultural history and folk tales. Live singing and musical accompaniment performed on traditional instruments enhances the experience. Show times vary and you’d be wise to buy tickets in advance as the shows are usually jam packed.
In addition to an extensive menu of regional Vietnamese cuisine, Highway 4, under its Son Tinh brand, sells top-shelf liqueurs made from herbs and fruits. My nip of Passion Fruit arrives swiftly and goes down likewise. Although service is a little inattentive and our table spot draughty, the food is very good. Try the aubergine claypot even if you’re not vegetarian.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI HANOI: A HISTORY THROUGH AN ARCHITECTURAL LENS
Hanoi’s history can be separated into four eras: centuries of continual Chinese domination, a spell of French Colonialism, the Vietnam War and modern day Hanoi.
Perhaps one of the best ways to appreciate a city’s character is to understand its history. And what better way to understand a city’s history than by visiting its remnants? Before going on a journey through Hanoi’s buildings and historical sites, it’s important to note that the land’s inhabitants can be traced back to around 3000 BC. One of the first known settlements is said to be the Co Loa Citadel (est. 257 BC), which is located about 20 km north of today’s Hanoi.
For those who are archeologically inclined, the site of the fortress is easily reached by either bus or train. There is a free museum which provides a historic overview of the area, two temples, ancient earthen walls and a few tombs. It is generally a bit off the beaten track and therefore not tremendously popular with tourists. There are no sleeping facilities but food is available not far from the citadel, as is the opportunity to visit surrounding villages.
Technically, therefore, when Hanoi took to the streets to celebrate its thousandth anniversary in 2010, it should have been celebrating its 4000 years of existence. Formalities aside, Hanoi’s first milestone is marked sometime in 1010, when Ly Cong Uan, the King of the first-ever powerful Vietnamese-led Dynasty, established the city as the imperial capital.
It was under Ly Cong Uan’s rule that the city oversaw the construction of the Confucius Temple of Literature in 1070. Six years later, the temple would go on to host the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first university, which was established to educate the Vietnamese elite, notably bureaucrats and nobility.
Despite years of war and disasters, this area of land has been able to preserve its architectural style for over a thousand years. Today, the place teems with revellers looking to find tranquillity in its quiet courtyards, ancient trees and neatly trimmed green lawns.
For most of the next 800 years the Chinese periodically invaded the area gradually causing the city’s decline. By 1802, the Vietnamese-led Nguyen Dynasty moved the imperial capital to Hue, making Hanoi a particularly easy target for French colonists. By 1887, only four years after the French occupation, Hanoi was made the capital of French Indochina.
At the time of invasion, the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the Old Quarter. Each street specialised in a particular trade, whether it was silk, ceramics, jewellery or clothes. Throughout the years prior to the French occupation, it had gained a reputation as the business and trading hub of the Red River Delta. The historic Buddhist One Pillar Pagoda and one of the oldest surviving temples in Hanoi dating back to the 9th century, the Bach Ma Temple, are also found in the Old Quarter.
One of the most interesting architectural aspects of the Old Quarter is the way the houses have been shaped. For hundreds of years, King’s stipulated that citizens should not build higher than the height of the king’s palanquin. Given the dense population and small spread of land, people found that they needed to use the front of their houses as space for their stores. The inside of the house would be widened in length so as to make room for manufacturing, dining and living. These sort of short and narrow but extremely long tubular houses characterise the Old Quarter to this day still.
It is said that no era may have shaped Hanoi’s architecture more than the many years of French occupation. Naturally and gradually, and in typical French colonial fashion – wide, tree-line boulevards started to come into existence, giving name to the so-called French Quarter. There, one can find Trang Tien, a shop-lined street, known for its bookshops and jewellery stores. The Hanoi Opera House, built in 1911 and modelled after the famous Parisian Palais Garnier is also an important landmark. There are no tours of the opera house making it only possible to view the interior by visiting one of the plentiful performances.
Apart from the many beautiful colonial villas, once belonging to wealthy families, there is the opportunity to visit the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, arguably one of Hanoi’s most attractive pieces of colonial architecture. Charlie Chaplin is said to have spent his honeymoon in this hotel and Graham Greene had stayed here in the 50’s while writing The Quiet American.
It was during the 1950’s, after the Vietnamese had achieved independence, that the hotel was renamed Thong Nhat Hotel or Reunification Hotel by the Communist government. By the 1960s, the classical structure was being used as a bomb shelter to protect guests during the American air raids.
The Hoa Lo Prison, christened the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War, is probably one of the most historically interesting, albeit infamous, places to see. It was first built by the French to incarcerate Vietnamese prisoners but was later used to hold American prisoners of war. Needless to say, it is hardly the place to experience that colonial grandeur and timeless elegance that you would if you were to see a ballet or theatre performance at the Hanoi Opera.
By 1954, French forces were eventually defeated by the Viet Minh and Hanoi became the capital of the newly established communist state of North Vietnam.
To understand what post-Imperialist, post-Colonialist and post-War Hanoi is today, it’s probably best to take the elevator to the 67th floor of the second tallest building in Southeast Asia, the Hanoi Lotte Centre and look at the city from there. You will be able to observe the monumental nature of the Brutalist-style Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum, the abundance of embassies now housed in yellow and white colonial houses, the rapid construction boom of the 21st Century and the everlasting tight streets that make up the labyrinth that is still the Old Quarter.
Vietnam’s geographical location has made it a place where people come to represent a mixture of races, languages and cultures. Hanoi’s history, much like the history of Vietnam, is turbulent and complex but the city’s architecture and in some cases the lack of it will always be able to speak for itself. It is through these buildings that we can understand Hanoi’s history at its best.
Suggested Tours in Hanoi
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC IN HANOI
Hanoi is the New York of rush hour traffic.
If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. No, seriously. To be honest, I am lost for adjectives that I could use to describe the rush hour traffic in Hanoi. It is chaotic, maddening, noisy, fascinating, hectic, noisy, turbulent, wait… have I mentioned noisy? It is noisy! It is as if everyday from 7 am to 9 am and 5 pm to 6 pm most of the main roads in the city are being hiked up a couple of decibels. But of course! It is rush hour and the roads are mega-loaded with scooters, cars, bicycles, cyclos, buses, and even some three-wheelers, and they honk every two seconds.
I am not exaggerating. I recorded this morning’s rush hour traffic.This is how it sounds. Tourists and newcomers are usually intimidated by its madness, doing everything they can to dodge rush hour, and follow the standard advice on “crossing the street in Vietnam” which usually falls along the lines of “look both ways but don’t second guess” or “walk with a steady pace and let the scooters work their way around you”.
But those who have no choice but to brace the daily havoc will definitely tell you that riding along in Hanoi’s rush hour is really not as hard as it looks.
Two years ago when I arrived, I was extremely terrified by the sight and, like many others, tried to avoid getting caught in the Hanoi rush hour like the plague. I fixed all my meetings for after 9 am, and all daily chores that required my getting on the road had to be done before 5 pm or after 6 pm. It seemed like a viable solution at the time, but I quickly realized that it made me lost a lot of potential clients and limited my movements.
So I toughened up. Pretty soon I found myself weaving through the rush hour traffic like everybody else. At the beginning it was not easy – I would drive at 15km/h, amidst a honking hell – but after just a couple of days, my apprehension lessened and my scooter was swiftly moving with the flow.
There is no special trick, really. It just needs a little getting used to, and of course, some common sense. Make sure that your brakes are working, use a full-face helmet for decent protection, and oh yeah, it can get very intense on the road so extra patience might help too. And yes, like I said earlier, once you can make it through Hanoi rush hour traffic, you can make it anywhere!
What do you think about rush hour traffic in Hanoi? How’s the traffic compared to other cities you know? Any tips you can pass on?
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HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI ONE PILLAR – ASIAN RECOGNITION
The One Pillar Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi, has been recognised by the Asian Records Organisation as having the most unique architecture on the continent.
Originally dubbed Dien Huu, which means long-lasting happiness and good luck, the pagoda was built in 1049 on the orders of King Ly Thai Tong. During the Ly Dynasty, to mark Vesak or Buddha’s birthday, it was the site where an annual royal ceremony to celebrate the event was held.
Legend has it that Ly Thai Tong, who had no children, used to go to pagodas to pray to Buddha for a son. One night, he dreamt that he met Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Goddess of Mercy, sitting on a great lotus flower in a square-shaped pond and handed him a baby boy.
Months later, when the Queen gave birth to a boy, the King was advised by a monk to erect a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, similar to the one he had seen in his dream, in honour of the Goddess of Mercy. It was built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25m in diameter, 4m high and resembled a lotus blossom, the Buddhist symbol of purity.
With all its architectural and historical values, the pagoda was classified as a national historic site in 1962. On May 4, 2006, it was recorded in Vietnam ’s Guinness Book of Records as the pagoda with the most unique architecture in Vietnam. During its long history, the complex has undergone a number of renovations and has become one of the most interesting architectural complexes in Hanoi, attracting large numbers of domestic and overseas tourists alike.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI LOTTE CENTER HANOI: OBSERVATION DECK
The Lotte Center Observation Deck is the highest view point of Hanoi since 2014.
Standing at 272 metres, it dominates the area of Ba Dinh District, about 3km to the east of Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. Located at 54 Lieu Giai, the tower offers Southeast Asia’s first-ever skywalk. Lotte Center Hanoi contains a 5 star hotel, modern offices, a premium department store, luxury serviced residences, Lotte Mart, restaurants and the superb Lotte Observation Deck. The deck is surely one of the five top things to do in Hanoi and offers 360º of unrestricted, stunning views of the capital, both during the day and at night.
Visiting the Lotte Observation Deck, the fun begins from the moment you step into the elevator, which is one of the fastest elevators in the country. Among the biggest highlights of the Lotte Observation Deck are the skywalks, two large glass “boxes” that jut out from the side of the building.
The Observation Deck attracts many visitors who come to brave the height and conquer their fears. There is a fixed camera on the ceiling of one of the skywalks, allowing visitors to capture photos of themselves looking down at the city below. They have a special offer on at the moment, whereby if you buy one photo, you get a framed copy free of charge. The Sunset Lounge here is one of the best places in Hanoi to enjoy a spectacular sunset. For a romantic experience, visitors can try the View Terrace, with lovely views of Hanoi’s night sky. Hanoi at night is a breathtaking sight, and the shimmering lights and the movement of the traffic create an unforgettable moment.
Everything about the Observation Deck is state of the art, including the technology. The entire deck is fitted with interactive elements, such as a touchscreen street map where you can locate places of interest, and a fun interactive wall where your message is displayed in large changing fonts as you type on a keyboard. A photo counter allows you to view your photos as scan through a media gallery. Other memorable activities include a Bamboo Path, a tranquil walk through bamboo trees and a simulated starry sky, a preferred space for wedding photography. The Lotte Center Hanoi Observation Deck bamboo path Binoculars are also provided so visitors can take a closer look and discover Hanoi.
On the Observation Deck, there is the Angel-in-us coffee bar and a Lotteria restaurant. Visitors may stay as long as they wish, and with plenty of things to do, this is a great way to spend your day. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of entertaining events on the Observation Deck, especially on weekends and during holidays. These include wonderful activities such as dance battles, live acoustic music, magic shows and more.
Only a 15-minute taxi ride from the Hoan Kiem district, travelers will delight in stunning views and high-tech activities at the Lotte Observation Deck. To make a really good day of it, the hotel has many food outlets where visitors can eat, drink and enjoy themselves.
LOTTE Observation Deck | 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
Opening Hours: From 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI BEST BANH MI IN HANOI
1. Bánh Mì Trâm
Situated at the corner of Đình Ngang and Cửa Nam streets, Bánh Mì Trâm has been around for more than 20 years. Its specialty is Bánh Mì Thập Cẩm, with a dish of assorted ingredients: a slice of pâté, a fried egg, Vietnamese ham and pork skin sausage, and cucumber all slathered with the store’s signature sauce. Having all the ingredients deconstructed is not the traditional way to serve bánh mì, and that’s exactly why Bánh Mì Trâm is unique in its own right. Beside Bánh Mì Thập Cẩm, you can also try Bánh Mì Sốt Vang, which is the Vietnamese version of beef bourguignon — a French beef stew made with onions, mushrooms and other veggies — served with the bánh mì.
2. Bánh Mì Bảo Quyên
This store used to be located on Lãn Ông Street. It became synonymous with that location and many still call it “Bánh Mì Lãn Ông”, even though it is on Chả Cá Street now. Bánh Mì Bảo Quyên is famous for its pâté, which used to be the main ingredient. Presently, a serving of bánh mì here is more filling than in the past, with pork floss, ham and barbecued pork added, together with cucumber and cilantro.
3. Bánh Mì Phố Cổ
Another store serving traditional bánh mì with pâté, Bánh Mì Phố Cổ is conveniently located on Đinh Liệt street, near Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Here you can choose from a range of ingredients to put in your bánh mì, including barbecued pork, pork skin sausage, Chinese sausage, and Vietnamese ham. The store also has Bánh Mì Bít Tết, or bánh mì served with eggs, fries, pâté and steak on a pan — as Bít Tết is the Vietnamese pronunciation for beef steak.
4. Bánh Mì Bà Dần
Established in 1979, Bánh Mì Bà Dần is one of the oldest bánh mì stores in Hanoi. Bà Dần’s son is now the owner of store, and he has managed to maintain its reputation among locals as well as travelers. What’s unique about Bánh Mì Bà Dần is the freshness of the baguettes. Every three hours, new baguettes arrive from the bakery, and this means the baguettes at the store are always crunchy. The ingredients are nothing but traditional, including pork liver pâté, Vietnamese ham and pork skin sausage.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI THE MUSEUM OF HOA LO PRISON IN HANOI
What shall you know about the Hanoi Hoa Lo Prison history?
Widely known as the “Hanoi Hilton”, a nickname used by Americans during the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French colonial government in 1896 in order to hold political prisoners. Many Vietnamese revolutionaries were incarcerated there, including the famous Phan Boi Chau and five future general secretaries of the Communist Part . Hoa Lo. “Furnace”. “Hell hole”. These names originated in the pre-colonial era, coming from the adjacent street, where wood and coal stoves were sold. During French Indochina, however, the French simply called it “Maison Centrale” (Central House).
Built near the French Quarter of Hanoi, it was specifically designed to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, though common law prisoners were also incarcerated there. With a capacity of 600 seats in 1913, it was completely overcrowded (with 730 prisoners in 1916, 895 in 1922, 1,430 in 1933 and 2,000 in 1954), and the conditions of detention were particularly inhumane.
The museum depicts tiny cells and a collective enclosure where the prisoners were chained to each other. Various historical French documents have been exposed that illustrate the problem of overpopulation and sanctions. The tour also provides more information on the various escape attempts, some of which were successful attempts that lighten the dark history of this prison. Preserved from destruction during the Japanese occupation in 1947, the various reports on these escapes are a rich source of information about the inner workings of the colonial administration at the time.
We learn that between the 1910s and 1930s, hawkers had made a profession of transmitting messages through the bars of the prison. Conversely, for a fee, they would sometimes throw tobacco, letters or packages through the prison bars. The prison itself was a laboratory of political ideas; many future leading figures of the Vietnam Communist Party developed in the “Central House” in the 1930s and 1940s.
After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords of 1954, the prison came under the authority of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Between 1964 and 1973, the prison held inmates including several American pilots captured by the North Vietnamese – among which, were the future Senator, John McCain, and Pete Peterson, who, in 1997, became the first American Ambassador in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. In 1996, most of the prison was demolished to make way for towers. The southernmost corner however, was preserved and opened to the public in memory of Vietnamese revolutionaries who died there.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI HANOI’S SNAKE VILLAGE OF LE MAT
Is eating snake the kind of things you want to experience?
Hanoi’s Snake Village of Le Mat The villagers of Le Mat, just 7 km northeast of central Hanoi, welcome many curious travellers craving a different type of lunch, namely, one of snake meat. Surely a dining experience that cannot be filed under ‘blasé’. The restaurant’s owner is a man of few words and many scars. Indeed, his arms are covered with wounds, ugly souvenirs from the slithering reptiles with whom he shares a roof.
Says the snake wrangler: “I have been handling snakes since I was a child. A bite from one of our snakes is very painful, yes, but not fatal. There is no venom. The first thing we do is extract the venom from the snake.” Most of the snakes are cobras, arranged in securely closed boxes. Some of them are quite large. In Vietnam a snake dinner is considered a ‘man’s dish’ and thought to promote strength and virility.
Eat Every Part of the Snake
After I choose a scaly specimen it is im/mediately sliced open and its blood collected for drinking. Minutes later a waiter arrives carrying two glasses: one filled with the snake’s blood, the other with a fluorescent green liquid, the bile. Both of these ‘beverages’ are cut with rice vodka. There is also a small dish containing the snake’s heart.
Sensing my reservations, the owner grabs the glass of blood, plops in the still-beating heart and after a resounding chant of ‘Mot, hai, ba!’ (one, two, three), downs the explosive cocktail in a flash. After this initial ritual of chest-thumping machismo, the slaughtered snake (a relatively small one, incidentally) is taken into the kitchen. Here, chefs will turn nearly the entire reptile into numerous traditional dishes. Using a variety of seasonings and lots of lemongrass, the chefs turn out skewers, spring rolls, a salad, a soup and porridge. Even the skin is grilled.
Although the taste of the snake meat itself is somewhat obscured by the sauces and complementary dishes, its texture is halfway between that of fish and red meat. Truly, snake meat is a unique Vietnamese speciality. And should you recoil at the thought of eating snake, you may want to try a snake-infused digestif believed to carry aphrodisiac properties. Don’t worry: Venom is dissolved in the alcohol.
A Lucrative, Recognized Speciality
There are roughly 100 snake-farming households in Le Mat. These farms employ nearly 400 people. As well there are two large specialized farms that breed snakes and produce snake meat. Every day Le Mat receives around 1000 Vietnamese and foreign travellers looking to try this serpentine speciality. Hard to believe that not long ago the business of snake breeding and meat production almost disappeared. From the 1960s to 1990s snakes around Le Mat were bred for restaurants and pharmaceutical purposes. Then, in 1993, Vietnam ratified the international convention on the protection of wildlife and imposed restrictions on the snake-breeding industry.
Snake meat disappeared from menus. In 2007, aware of the negative repercussions on the local dining economy, Vietnamese authorities granted Le Mat a ‘craft village’ status. On this basis plans for development were drawn to reconcile snake breeding and meat production with increasing tourists eager to sample this most unique Vietnamese dining experience.
The easiest way to get to Le Mat Village is to jump on city Bus No. 10 to Long Bien Bus Station (VND3000/ticket). From Long Bien it’s only a few hundred metres to Le Mat. Allow 20-30 minutes for bus travel. Snake is considered a luxury food in Vietnam. Plan to fork out between VND300,000-600,000 per person for a group of four.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI TELLING THE STORY OF VIETNAMESE WOMEN
Femininity is inherent in Vietnamese culture, and women play an immensely important role in the country’s history as well as in modern society. Vietnamese women are just as hardworking as men are, and contribute a lot to the economy, as can be observed everywhere in the country.
Located at 36 Ly Thuong Kiet, the four levels of the building are filled with over a thousand documents and artifacts, labeled in English and French. It took nearly 10 years to collect these from all over the country. Walking inside, you can see a glass dome on top. The exhibition floors are designed as large circles, so as to let light it collects in through to the first floor.
The second level showcases artifacts from the daily life of women from different ethnic groups, including jewelry and clothing, arranged in a way as though to tell the story of the typical life of a woman from getting married to giving birth to family life. You will be able to learn about different wedding customs, rituals and superstitions surrounding the birth of a child and the many roles of a woman in the family.
Moving on to the next level, women’s contributions to the country throughout history, especially during wartime, will leave you mind blown. Vietnamese women are shown here as true heroes, from the very first queens and warriors in history, to those who gave all their youth and their life for the mission of bringing peace to their home country.
On the third level, the focus is on the history and activities of the Vietnam Women’s Union, including a stunning collection of propaganda posters, and gifts from other women’s unions around the world. The final level is where you can take a look at the evolution of Vietnamese women’s traditional clothes, in different regions, ethnicities and periods.
There are ongoing exhibitions on specific topics, including the worship of mother goddesses in Vietnam. The colorful exhibitions, conducted with the supervision of experts such as Dr. Laurel Kendall of the American Museum of Natural History, showcase and explain a mysterious part of Vietnamese culture.
From 8 March to 8 May 2018, in celebration of International Women’s Day, there is an art exhibition called “Mother and Nature” by artist Van Duong Thanh with a selection of 35 artworks, depicting the beauty of the mother and the child in the settings of Vietnamese nature.