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.
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.
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.
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
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!
All photos posted belong to TabassumTrails unless otherwise credited.