Vietnam destinations – Hanoi

Without a doubt, the first thing that grabs the attention of first time visitors to Hanoi would be the tube houses (pictured above). They look like stacked Lego bricks, and interestingly, every brick can have a different design. Overall, it gives Hanoi a very unique character.

Invariably, everyone asks why the buildings are so. Many will guess that it was related to taxation, where the tax is higher for houses with a wider front. I did not find an authoritative answer, but the taxation theory was probably true, and it’s not difficult to figure out the logic behind it. There is a store front in probably all the buildings in Hanoi old quarter. Even owning a narrow store front was better than having none. It is certainly cheaper to build narrow buildings than it is to build more roads.

It is not hard to imagine, though, that it is not comfortable living in a crampy and windowless room inside one of these buildings. That’s probably the reason why the balcony is such a treasured space.

Beloved balcony
Beloved balcony

The reason we were in Hanoi was because we had a 21 hours flight transit. In fact, I chose the longest transit timing on purpose – so I could have ample time to check out Hanoi. It was a bonus to my trip.

Arriving at 130pm, the first thing we did, naturally, was to get lunch, despite being already full from the airline food (which was very nice as it was prepared by Japanese caterers). With the limited time I had in Hanoi, I had to choose my meals carefully, and Quan An Ngon was the logical choice. They sell a wide variety of Vietnamese food in a single venue.

A yellow building with yellow tentage
A yellow building with yellow tentage
Fried glutinous balls with meat and mung bean fillings. Quite good.
Fried glutinous balls with meat and mung bean fillings. Quite good.
Fritters. Very tough. Avoid.
Fritters. Very tough. Avoid.
Fried spring rolls. How can one not have spring rolls in Vietnam.
Fried spring rolls. How can one not have spring rolls in Vietnam.
Grilled pork. A must.
Grilled pork. A must in Vietnam as well.
Pho. The very first bowl i have sampled inside Vietnam (those in the airport don't count). The best ever.
Pho. The very first bowl i have sampled inside Vietnam (those in the airport don’t count). The best ever, even though this was Quan An Ngon and not a Pho restaurant.
Grilled octopus. Needless to say, the Vietnamese are very good at grilled food.
Grilled octopus. Needless to say, the Vietnamese are very good at grilled food.

The food at Quan An Ngon wan’t cheap by Vietnamese standard, but it was still good value for what it is. From here, it was a 15 minutes walk to Banh Mi 25. It was actually interesting to walk through the streets of the old quarter despite the heat.

Hanoi style seating. I really wonder how much bananas the Vietnamese eat everyday.
Hanoi style seating at Banh Mi 25. I really wonder how much bananas the Vietnamese eat everyday.
The Banh Mi was obviously very good, having been perfected over decades. The baguette was as crispy as it gets.
The Banh Mi was obviously very good, having been perfected over decades. The baguette was as crispy as it gets.
There street activity is enough to entertain you while you munch on Banh Mi
There street activity is enough to entertain you while you munch on Banh Mi

It was another ten minutes trek to the hotel. After checking in and having a short rest, we were out and about again.

Quaint looking building next to the hotel
Quaint looking building next to the hotel
St Joseph's cathedral was just a stone throw away
St Joseph’s cathedral was just a stone throw away from the hotel
The cafe scene in Vietnam is rather vibrant. The old fashioned ones (those with a neon sign) are being replaced by boutique cafes like this one.
The cafe scene in Vietnam is rather vibrant. The old fashioned ones (those with a neon sign) are being replaced by boutique cafes like this one. I still can’t quite get used to the vanilla-infused Vietnamese style coffee.
Turtle tower - one of the must-see attraction in Hanoi.
Turtle tower at Hoan Kiem Lake
The Vietnamese are pretty good at cultivating flowers
The Vietnamese are good at cultivating flowers
A sign made of flowers serving as a reminder of the election day
A sign made of flowers serving as a reminder of the election day
The Vietnamese take exercising seriously
Vietnamese take exercising seriously
Weight lifting by the lake
Weight lifting by the lake
I'm not a fan of mint, but these mint-lemon ice popsicles actually tasted fine
I’m not a fan of mint, but these mint-lemon ice popsicles actually tasted fine
Another boutique cafe. I can fully empathize with the bored security guard
Another boutique cafe. I can fully empathize with the bored security guard
Unusually narrow and short
Somehow they didn’t manage to maximize the usage of this plot of land
The streets were full of flags as well as music and messages blaring from the city wide public address system
The streets were full of flags as well as music and messages (propaganda) blaring from the city wide public address system
Grabbed some fruits just before dinner. I was especially interested in the custard apple.
Grabbed some fruits just before dinner. I was especially interested in the custard apple.

I basically relied on TripAdvisor for all the meals in Hanoi, and dinner was at Red Bean. Nearly all the customers were Caucasian, obviously because the food, service and ambiance were “western standard”. We had the a la carte Vietnamese dishes, which were good value. Partly because we were still full from the meals before, we couldn’t enjoy this one as much. The draft beer was very good though, but it came in such a small mug. The restaurant closes fairly early (they stopped taking in customers around 830pm).

Appetizer - rice roll, Vietnamese specialty
Appetizer – rice roll, Vietnamese specialty
Bun Cha.
Bun Cha (grilled pork). Kind of ordinary. The grilled pork from Quan An Ngon (which was probably not done in traditional style) was better.
Cha Ca (grilled fish). This was unexpectedly good, except it was a little cold, but tasty nevertheless.
Cha Ca (grilled fish). This was unexpectedly good, except it was a little cold, but tasty nevertheless.
Love the way they light up the streets
Love the way they light up the streets
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