There are places I know I will like once I step off the plane. Hanoi is one of them. The city is a feast for the senses. On the streets, the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes come at you like a 3D movie. Everywhere around you, there is something going on. The city has a European vibe. Parks, cafes, and people out strolling the streets in the evening, all add to the attraction of this city.
First, for the aviation heads, I have been getting around the country on Vietnam Air. My experiences with this airline have been nothing short of good. I have taken the following flights:
- Ho Chi Minh to Cam Ranh (Nha Trang) – Business Class
- Cam Ranh to Da Nang – Economy
- Da Nang to Hanoi – Business Class
Priority services in the country are excellent, from check in, to the dedicated security lines. Also, the lounges have good food especially at Cam Ranh where they had Pho. The recline in business class is probably the most I have experienced from a non lay flat seat.
Back to Hanoi. Getting out of the airport, I noticed a couple of things – the weather was cool, a nice relief from the humidity of Saigon, and surprisingly, everything was calm and not chaotic as you immediately notice usually, getting out the airport in a large city especially in Asia. I am fine with chaos. In fact, I like it. I was born in Manila after all. However, the calmness is something you will notice upon exiting the Hanoi airport.
On my way to the hotel, the second thing I noticed was the large open freeways. I stayed at the Sofitel Legend Metropole. I love the French Colonial style and how the staff greet you with Bonjour and Bonsoir. I also love the Hermes bath products. The smell always brings me back to a trip to Brussels over 10 years ago, where I also stayed at a Sofitel.
After check in, I had a drink at the nice hotel bar by the pool. Making use of the free SPG member drink. I had a Manhattan, which was very well made.
Next, time to stroll the city. I had two goals gastronomically in Hanoi: 1. try Pho in the North to compare with the South, and 2. Eat Bun Cha. I headed to Pho 10. The streets around the hotel were closed to vehicle traffic, and everyone was out enjoying a night stroll. The buildings and vibe reminded me of great European cities, with an Asian vibe of course.
After a short walk, I came across the Hoan Kiem Lake with the lit up pagoda in the middle. The feeling I got upon seeing this was the same feeling I get every time I see the Eiffle tower for the first time upon arriving in Paris – awestruck. No matter how many times I have been to Paris, the first time seeing the tower always brings the same feeling, and this was a similar experience.
A unique thing I saw in this area of Hanoi, were all the electric toy cars parked on the street, available to rent for kids. It was awesome.
Walking a bit more, I came upon the impressive St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
…and finally, Pho 10.
I had the special beef with what I am used to calling “Chinese Donuts”. This was my first time having pho with the donuts and they were delicious. The broth was clear, and unlike Pho experiences of the past, you are not given a side of other vegetables and herbs to add in.
After pho, it was dinner time! For dinner, I had a reservation at Duongs. The food was delicious, and my first Bun Cha experience. The dish consists of grilled minced pork, a nuoc mam cham like broth, vermicelli rice noodles, and fresh herbs. I loved it.
After dinner, more strolling around this great city. Its beautiful at night with a great vibe. People are on the streets singing karaoke, dancing, sitting, walking, eating…
Then, we hit up the Angelina bar at the hotel. They have a good selection of whisky, and make fantastic whisky cocktails. My favorite was the Angel in a Box. It comes out in a smoke filled box. The smoke, unlike other similar presentations, was not just for gimmicks, it actually imparted a nice smoky flavor to the drink. The drink had nice hints of mushrooms also. Fantastic. The music at the bar was good too.
Next, day 2 in Hanoi……