Hypnotized by Hanoi: Part 2 | Reasons I don’t want to leave & a brief city guide |

Being an architect (yes, I am one unfortunately), old traditional parts of the city attract me more. Probably that’s why I fell in love with the Old quarters of Hanoi just when I saw the photos of it. By its name you probably would have guessed its significance. It’s the oldest part of the city of Hanoi and possibly the friendliest place in Vietnam. Much like Old Dhaka of my country Bangladesh, it has narrow streets with old buildings on both sides that houses a shop on the ground floor and residences on the upper levels. Also alike our Puran Dhaka, each of the 36 streets is dedicated to a certain product to sell – clothes, leather products, food, utensils, stationary…You name it, they have it.

Strolling in the Old quarters

The old quarters has a certain charm to it and will make you instantly fall in love with it. Cobbled streets, buzzing mopeds, warm toned houses and colorful shops with interesting people sitting on the streets – I am in love. Here is a photo story of my alone time just walking on the streets of Old Quarters one early morning.

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Flowers are everywhere on the streets in the early mornings of Hanoian life
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Love the sharp contrast between the upper and lower levels
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Screens of different forms to cut out the heat – love the green!
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An oddly familiar one.
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One photo and a diverse range of railing details. Sorry for the boring talk – sue the architect in me!
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All the AC outlets to the front – perhaps the only open side.
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We call these bamboo screens “cheek” . Wonder what they call them…
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Reminiscence of the last night’s party
Bach Ma Temple

I could literally go on forever with the photostream. But while strolling in the Old Quarter I ended up in the 11th century Bach Ma Temple – one of the oldest place’s of worship in Hanoi. Legend has it that King Ly Thai To was trying to build the citadel of Hanoi but it’s walls kept collapsing. Bach  Ma, a white horse who was the spirit of Thang Long (Ancient Hanoi) posed as a builder to help the king. This temple was then dedicated to honor the spirit of the spirit and the statue of a white horse still stands there. It is a serene place and a must visit.

Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư  Shrine

At a walking distance is a 12th century Buddhist shrine Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư
A simple look from the outside will invite you in to see soaring heights and heavy ornamentation.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

The morning walk ended at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Oddly resembles the Notre Dame of Paris, this Neo Gothic structure was one of the first ones built by the French during there rule. It is situated close to the Hoan Kiem lake and opens up to plaza in front. I ended up  there on a Sunday morning and am lucky to have observed the incredible Sunday Mass. Fun fact: All the material of the cathedral has been imported from France.

This ended my morning walk and I joined my friends to see Hanoi outside the Old Quarters. You can hire a motorbike or get  a Grab taxi or call an Uber. We were three people and hence shared an Uber ride to go to the next  destinations.

Hanoi Old Citadel

A UNESCO world heritage site and relics of the citadel of Hanoi is now open to public and a must visit. It was the house of the old monarchs. Entrance is  30000k dong and you will need around 1 or 2 hours to roam around the entire premises.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Located on an island like place on the West Lake is the oldest pagoda of Hanoi Tran Quoc Pagoda that dates back to 1500 years. It is famous as a Buddhist pilgrimage site and also attracts a lot of tourist during festivals. You will see the 15m high stupa from the road itself. It has 11 levels each with a centre gemstone. The landscape is stunning, although slightly urbanized. To see pilgrims walking around the Bodhi tree in circles or hearing chants was a treat.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

One of the widely visited site of Hanoi is the final resting place of the great leader Ho Chi Minh. It is a giant granite structure with a large square in the front, open to public. Admissions inside the mausoleum is free but make sure you are dressed right. The security is of course tight and bags and cameras are not allowed.

  • Opening Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
  • For maintenance the mausoleum is closed usually from October onwards.So its better to check once if you are headed there around that time.
  • Location: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
French Quarters

While the Old Quarter is cozy but it can also be chaotic. To take a break wander around the French Quarter which lies to the south and east of Hoan Kiem Lake. The wider streets, spacious pavements and posh architecture. It is rather sad that the original Vietnamese architecture were taken down and replaced with French inspired buildings that will clearly give you deja vu of Parisian streets.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Take a walk in the Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning as well. I went there the previous night but saw a different side of it in the morning. Don’t forget to try Note Coffee and leave a note.

Other places to check out:

Temple of Literature:

A series of pavilions, halls and courtyards housing the first national university of Vietnam. If you are into architecture, this is one of the rare well preserved Vietnamese structures you must visit.

One pillar pagoda

Behind the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is this unique pagoda standing on one concrete column/pillar. It symbolizes a lotus rising from a pond and is open daily from 08:00-17:00.

 

Where did I stay?

Name: Rendezvous Hanoi Hostel

Location: Old Qaurters, Hanoi

Cost” $4 per night for a bed in a mixed dorm.

The hostel is right at the heart of the Old Qaurters’ backpackers’ area and at a close proximity to many restaurants and shops. Hanoi Rendezvous is 500 m from Dong Xuan Market, while Old City Gate and St. Joseph Cathedral are 600 m away. Noi Bai International Airport is approximately 21 km away. I used the red Vietjet bus to reach this place from the airport which cost me 40k dong and took 30 minutes.

The staff is very friendly and super helpful. You can trust them blindly for any ticket or tour bookings. Breakfast was not included but is served for $1-$3 every morning.

What else to eat?

Apart from what I have already posted on my previous post on Hanoi food tour, this place was noteworthy and is a must try if you want to try the Vietnamese sandwich Banh Mi. The restaurant is called Banh Mi 25 and is widely known for its freshly made sandwiches and coffee. Try going there early morning. One Banh Mi costs 25k dong.

Transport:

I have greatly relied on Uber and Grab. Please download those apps if you are in Vietnam and while you access to WiFi. You can easily split the fare if you are in a group. Or you could also hire a moped for real cheap rent per day. Please beware of scams and also bear in mind that the traffic is crazy in Hanoi but for the ones of you reading from Dhaka – it’s a piece of cake. 🙂

People:

The people are warm and welcoming. I had read so many articles on getting scammed (I’m sure they are out there) but I felt so safe and taken care of by the people there. Always with a smile on, eager to talk and always welcoming you.

I wish I had more time in just wandering on the streets or sketch more facades and cozy corners (and drink more coffee) for the next nth days in Hanoi. Do I want to go back to Hanoi? Definitely! (and never come back, may be?)

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If you link on the names of the places on this post you will be directed to the exact Google map location of the place. Leave me a comment if you have any queries, like always I will surely respond. I know the posts take a long time to come. Please have patience – my life has been continuously taking a toll on me.

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|Exploring Old Quarters the local way with Actxplorer|| Hypnotized by Hanoi: Part 1|

I have always believed whatever we do, whoever we meet happens for a reason. Sometimes I wonder what would my life be like if I didn’t come across these people I now know. I know Tas since when I don’t even remember. But she is the only friend I remember having from the earliest days of primary school. Yes, as early as the 2nd grade. One of my oldest and most treasured friends! Parisa is a new friend who I met on our online travel group Wanderlust but before I knew it we connected on a different level. NEVER in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’ll be hopping on a flight to Vietnam with either of them. Talk about spontaneous decisions. Yes, I have made quite a lot of them! So on March 25, three of us flew from different cities in Asia to meet at Hanoi – a magical city in Vietnam. 

Check out my previous post if you want to know about Vietnam Visa details for Bangladeshi passport: Click here

Our hostel was in the old quarters, some 15km away from the Noi Bai International Airport of Hanoi. Months of research on TripAdvisor and reading travel blogs had already made my transfer options clear. The cheapest and easiest one is the red Vietjet bus for 40k dong.

Through changing landscapes of first nothing at sight, then peculiarly linear buildings and finally beautiful buzzing streets of Hanoi, we finally arrived at the Old Quarters. The Google map on my phone made us walk more into the interiors. First impressions: cobbled stone pavements and crazy mopeds riding all around us. As I dragged my little carry-on through the uneven pavements, I was already falling for the beauty of the Old Quarters.

Words of wisdom: It’s probably better to carry a backpack if you are staying at the old quarters and using public transportation.

By the time we freshened up it was almost time for our tour. Yes we already had organized a food tour with a social platform called Actxplorer. It was our first day in Hanoi and what better way would it be rather than spending it on amazing delicacies of the city. Actxplorer organizes guided tours all over Vietnam where you get to see the city through a local’s eyes. But this is not what make them so special. What makes them special is that through interactions between locals and tourists they are encouraging and helping the youngsters to improve their English speaking and networking skills.

“We collaborate with local communities, social enterprises and non governmental organizations (NGOs) in Asia to feature people and projects in three ways that you can participate in: Travel, Volunteer, Invest.” – Actxplorer

We met Yen Nguyen, our guide (and now a dear friend) downstairs of our hostel. She is friendly and fun to be with. It felt like we all immediately connected and were soon off to explore the buzzing streets of Old Quarters. It was a Saturday evening and I could sense the weekend party mood in people. 

Our first stop was Bún bò Nam Bộ. If you ask me what is the best food I have tasted in Hanoi, without even thinking twice I will say the beef noodle salad of this place. It is a rice noodles with marinated beef, herbs and peanuts drenched in a mouth watering sauce. It is so good that I literally cry when when I think about it now.

Yen walked us through the whole process of preparation of this dish and showed us what all goes in. The cooking was live and as you enter the shop you get to see all the ingredients too.

One of the thousand reasons I will be going back to Hanoi is this beef noodle. No, I am serious.

We then stopped to get some sugar cane juice. Unlike what we see on the streets of Dhaka, this was very hygienic and clean. And an added blessing – no extra sugar!

It was time for us to try the Vietnamese staple dish – Phở, a rice noodle soup cooked in a meat broth and garnished with lots of herbs. I am not a fan of rice at home and a crazy addict of soupy noodles. Oh, how I wish this was my everyday food.

Fun fact here that Yen told us. So there are many types of PHOS in Vietnamese dictionary: phố, phổ, phô, phơ, phờ, phở, phó.

  • Phố  is street, district, neighborhood.
  • Phở is the Vietnamese noodle soup. Pronounced “fuh”
  • Phò means prostitute. Pronounced “fo”

Now you better get your P H O right. Otherwise when you walk into a restaurant and ask for pho bo, you are asking for a beef prostitute. Hahaha! You don’t want to do that. 

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say “Fuh”
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Beautiful Yen

What is a food tour in Vietnam without some spring rolls right? Yen brought us to this next restaurant where we had the “freshest” seafood spring rolls. What I loved about every food we tried was each had its unique way of eating style and Yen taught us them all. Something I want to especially mention here – I am a Muslim and although I am not actively religious, I don’t eat pork. In Vietnamese cuisine a lot of pork is used in different forms. While I was discussing this tour with Actxplorer, I did mention it. I am so impressed that they took care of it so well. We munched on everything that was there but they made sure that our restrictions are respected. This is not something everyone does.

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This is wrapped in rice papers…
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…rolled with herbs and dipped into the papaya vinegar sauce P.C: Parisa

I am a coffee addict, did you know? We had to try the famous Vietnamese egg coffee and Yen took us to a cozy cafe which did serve some heavenly coffee. Over the coffee, we tried convincing Yen to join us for Sapa. She was half convinced too but then her work didn’t let her go. We even thought of options for her to make an excuse and run away. But Yen doesn’t lie. 😥 “Kidnap her may be?” 😛

We didn’t realize our food tour had also turned into a city tour! It was the perfect timing and we had arrived at Hoan Kiem Lake district. This place turns into a walking zone every weekend and attracts a huge lively crowd from all over the city. Live dance performances, concerts, street art – you name it. Also from around 7 pm every weekend, the streets running north from Hang Dao to Dong Xuan Market are closed to vehicular access and vendors put together a Weekend Night Market on the streets.

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People…
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…everywhere
Beautiful Hoan Kiem lake

Four giggling girlfriends now walked through this amazing place till quite late at night. What an amazing night! Honestly the best part of the whole tour were the conversations and interactions we had with Yen. She gave us a  complete local insight of the Old Quarters and its many specialties. Of course we loved the food but without all the laughing, giggling and enormous amounts of talking this would not be as much fun as it was. They say it right “company matters” and Yen from Actxplorer was just perfect. I highly recommend them as I am definite without them we would not even have known all these even existed.

Photo credit: Mehnaz Ahmed Parisa

Till this experience even I was not a fan of “guided tours”. But trust me when I say this – this tour with Actxplorer has been one of the most fun experiences of my time in Vietnam. The reason I would ask you to choose Actxplorer is for the young kids who are investing their time in us and are so eager to learn more about languages and the outside world. So if you are in Hanoi, I would ask you to give this a try. It will surely open up a new perspective of the city to you. Vietnam is beautiful but what makes is magical are the people.

Check out Actxplorer on

Website: http://www.actxplorer.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Actxplorer-Vietnam-296877840746964/?ref=br_rs
https://www.facebook.com/actxplorer/

Let me know your thoughts on this post in the comment section. Would you try out something like this? Stay connected with me on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on my trails. Next post: Hanoi city guide. Stay tuned!

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We also stopped by the St. Joseph’s cathedral ❤

All photos posted belong to TabassumTrails unless otherwise credited.