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