Archive for the ‘vietnam’ Category

Hanoi Hotels

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

The grande dame is the centrally located Sofitel Metropole, the new 5* Intercontinental on West Lake is a great option although about 10 minutes distant from the center, and both the Hanoi Hilton and Melia are accessible and comfortable. They all run $200 + per night. The Church Hotel at 9 Nha Tho, near the Cathedral, is about $70 per night and a sister hotel at nearby Hang Gai 95 has just opened. Two new downtown hotels are the Opera and the Golden Silk – both ultra-modern but over the top glitzy with crystal chandeliers and mirrors galore. My favorite budget hotel, the $35 a day Freedom Hotel at 57 Hang Trong Street, has died and joined its ancestors, but an excellent substitute is the Lucky 2 Hotel at 46 Hang Hom at $55. Perfect location in the heart of the Old Quarter – 5 minutes by foot to Hoan Kiem lake and to the Cathedral area, friendliest staff possible, absolute security for guests and their belongings. Ask for one of the sixth floor rooms with a balcony and city views, and yes, there is an elevator.

Hanoi Moments

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Thoughtful moments: To appreciate the beauty and vibrancy of Hanoi and its people, walk around Hoan Kiem lake, then park yourself on a park bench and observe. For non-denominational feelings of peace and reflection, visit the One Pillar Pagoda at Quang Trung. To realize that while the Western world was mired in the Dark Ages, Vietnam had an active university, visit Van Mieu, the Temple of Literature. And to appreciate Vietnam’s history and culture, visit the History Museum, the Ethnology Museum, and the Fine Arts Museum.

Hanoi Restaurants

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Hanoi has terrific food, both in restaurants and on the street. Here are some of my favorites:

Vietnamese: Garden cafe, 36 Hang Manh (regular and veg) tel 38243402; Ashima, 44 Phan Dinh Phung (hotpots) tel 37344600; Chim Sao, 65 Ngo Hue (seating on cushions, ethnic specialities) tel 39760633; Press Club, 59A Ly Thai To tel 39340888; Au Lac, 13 Tran Hung Dao (upscale) tel 39333533, A La Carte at Hang Bun 21, in the very north of the Old Quarter, tel 39275655.

Italian: Pane e Vino in alley off Trang Tien 29; Mediterraneo, 23 Nha Tho tel 38266288

Baan Thai at 3B Cha Ca St, 39232336

Vegetarian: Tamarind Cafe at 80 Ma May St, Com Chay at 79A Tran Hung Dao St

Upscale: Verticale on 19 Ngo Van So Street gets my vote for the most amazing culinary experience in Vietnam (and maybe Asia) thanks to chef Didier Corlou. Buying spices in the entrance floor of the French villa will remind you, when you’re back home, of the wonderful tastes. Sadly, Corlou’s second restaurant, Mme Hien, serves bland and uninteresting Vietnamese dishes. Stick with Verticale.  Or the newer branch, Porte D’Annam,  opposite the Cathedral at 22 Nha Tho St. La Badiane on 10 Nam Ngu offers French cuisine with lovely garden dining. See also Wild Lotus on Nguyen Du St, and Spice Route at the Sofitel Metropole.

Street food: Bun Cha on Hang Manh, 1 corner north of Hang Bong – the best spring rolls and grilled meat in Hanoi! For non-meat lovers – Amazing crab rolls with all the local fixings, every day between 11am – 2:30 pm, at the stall on Hang Ma st corner of Hang Dong. Great food stalls on Quang Trung, opposite the One Pillar Pagoda. Fanny Ice Cream  is not to be missed – try the cinnamon (que) and young rice flavors. And pho ga, the national dish of chicken soup, is best sampled at Quan Com Pho or Mai Anh, both on Le Van Huu Street. Ask for ‘quay’, a dumpling, to be added.

Joma bakery and cafe at 22 Ly Quoc Su is wondrous – banana bread, pastries, great coffee and spacious large a/c rooms and a terrace, all with wifi. Marilyn, with a balcony overlooking the Cathedral, is perfect for quick snacks. Puku, at the very top of Hang Bong street (on ‘Food St’) is open 24/7 and serves the best cappuchino in Hanoi, as well as live music and cafe food.

If you’re staying for a few days and love fruit, stock up on whatever is seasonal. Apples, grapes, anona (custard apples), pineapples, watermelon, bananas and oranges are all in abundance. Sidewalk vendors are everywhere or look around the small shops just across from the old Hang Da market.

For stocking up on staples – water, beer, crackers, snacks and also dairy products – milk, yoghurt and imported cheese – try Hapro, a supermarket near Hoan Kiem lake, hidden behind cafes and shops on Le Thai To. The Wine Cellar at 59 Hang Trong has an excellent variety of international wines.

Hanoi cultural venues

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Two international cultural venues in Hanoi should not be missed: L’Espace at 24 Trang Tien, where the French Cultural Center offers a rich schedule of films, art exhibitions and music, and the German Goethe Institute at 56 Nguyen Thai Hoc, which also offers a rich selection of art exhibitions and films. Manzi is an artspace/cafe/bar which always has interesting things and cool people, at 14 Phan Huy Ich (a healthy walk north of center).

Hanoi Shopping and Services

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

Shopping in Hanoi is delightful. Clothing, gifts and souvenirs are beautifully made and reasonably priced. Silk material, at $3 per meter, is a bargain in the Dong Xuan market, upstairs, and in the Hom market, south of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Clothing: The shops on Hang Gai (Le Minh, Kemly, Tan My, Thuy Ky) are best for standard items – shirts for men and women, pajamas, scarves, etc. Khai Silk is the big daddy of clothing shops, which is why I prefer the littler guys – Ami at Hang Gai 35 for linen shirts and men’s ties, Hien Silk at Hang Gai 100 for an excellent selection of silk scarves.  For boutique items and made to order – highly recommended if you have at least 3 days in town and/or have something you want exactly copied – check out the area around the Cathedral: Bambou Silk (Mrs Loan) at 10 Nha Chung St tel 39288168, Marie-Linh at 11 Nha Tho St tel 39288773. An Australian shop, Things of Substance, has nice clothing in Western sizes, 5 Nha Tho tel 38286965.

Souvenirs: lacquerware is everywhere. Check out shops on Hang Trong and around the Cathedral. For beautiful decorative stoneware objects – vases, boxes, trays, business card holders – the place to go is Van at 44 Luong Van Can, tel 39285249. Hanoi Moment at 101 Hang Gai and Marena at 28 Nha Chung both offer well made crafts.For feel-good antiques priced at under $300, the address is Minh Thuy, 32 Hang Duong, tel 38258706.

Banks: HSBC at Hang Trong corner of Nha Tho (Cathedral) and ANZ at 14 Le Thai To. Both have 24/7 ATM service, and their location, on Hoan Kiem lake, is perfect. The HSBC main branch is at 83B Ly Thuong Kiet Street, in the Pacific shopping center.

Travel agent: Handspan at 80 Ma May. Their Halong Bay overnight boat trip is wonderful. For flights, the Thai Air office in the Hanoi Lake Building at 28 Thanh Nien Road, near West Lake, offers famous Thai service as well as unbeatable business fares to Bangkok, LA and London. Air Asia is the new budget airline that flies from Bangkok to Hanoi for ridiculously low sums. I haven’t tried it, but lots of my friends have. It’s perfect if you don’t have much baggage and are not on a tight schedule.

Cinema: the still unofficial Cinemateque at 22A Hai Ba Trung tel 39362648 screens golden oldies and film festivals you won’t find elsewhere. Opposite the American Club and down an alleyway, definitely worth searching for. The French cultural center at 24 Trang Tien Street screens French films, as well as showcasing local artists.

Face, hair and body care: QT (just moved, their previous address was 28 Le Thai To Street, tel 39286116) is the place for ultimate pampering, and ask about their seasonal discounts. Orchid Spa at 108 Hang Trong is a recent addition, more casual but equally professional with massages, manicures and pedicures (mani-pedi $10). My favorite massage place is Yakushi Clinic at 6, Alley 28, Xuan Dieu, a 2 minute walk from the Sheraton. The venue is serene and spic and span, and the masseuses super professional. A one hour massage is $10, best to book at 04 3719 1971.

Bookworm has a huge selection of new and secondhand English books in the Old Quarter.

Storytime: Treasure Hunting in Hanoi

Tuesday, June 15th, 2004

In 1995, I moved to Hanoi with a thirteen year old son, four suitcases and a manuscript. We lived in the Old Quarter, in a tiny house which opened onto a common courtyard. Our front door was a metal grate, which opened accordion-style to accommodate visiting bicycles, and we breakfasted on the sidewalk along with our neighbors, sitting on tiny stools and sipping fragrant bowls of beef pho with noodles.
I had taken a sabbatical to write. Every morning, after the rickety school bus collected Jack, I wrote for four hours straight. And then I was free to do as I pleased, until Jack’s return in the late afternoon.
At first, I spent every free moment exploring Hanoi’s magical alleys and markets. Only when the days fell into a routine did I realize that I was without my bookshelves, or a library, or even a bookstore. Of the four suitcases we had brought, one was packed with books. Within a month, I had read them all.
I combed embassies, cultural centers, even hotel lobbies, but found only faded photocopies and technical handbooks. I was irritable and frustrated. Jack complained my withdrawal symptoms were driving him crazy, and would I please keep my hands off his schoolbooks.
And then I discovered the Green Bamboo. A typical Asian backpacker cafe, the Green Bamboo in Hanoi offered soothing fruitshakes and banana pancakes. Backpackers lolled for days, writing postcards and reading. And before moving on, these international wanderers would sell the books they had read, now dead weight in their packs.
The Green Bamboo had a whole wall of used paperbacks, arranged on wooden shelves behind dirty glass doors –  familiar books I was thrilled to reread, and new authors I discovered.  And best of all, every week meant new backpackers and new books.
Every Sunday, I strolled down busy Hang Bong Street, past the camera shops and clothing stalls, the stationery stores and noodle restaurants. Ignoring the art galleries, the uniformed schoolchildren and the dance hall, I burst into the Green Bamboo, lured by the seductive call of books, more books, new books. The young Vietnamese who worked in the cafe would point out the latest acquisitions. When the books were too many to carry, I rode home by cyclo. Seated in the small rickshaw with my stack of books, the driver cycling behind, my happiness was complete.
A decade later, back in the Western world, it is easy for me to buy books. I can walk two blocks to the nearest bookstore, or order books online. But nothing is quite as exciting as hunting for treasure among the grimy bookshelves of the Green Bamboo.

Storytime: Hanoi and Counting

Wednesday, February 6th, 2002

Thirty eight motorbikes, ten bicycles, seven cars. The light changes and traffic flows by in downtown Hanoi. Suzuki FX 125’s, Honda Dreams, Honda Waves. Chinese no-frill bicycles, taxis and cars with diplomatic license plates.

When I first came to Hanoi, eleven years ago, the bicycle reigned supreme. Motorbikes were a luxury and cost two years of hard labor. One evening, we heard a commotion in the courtyard we shared with fifty local families. A thief had attempted to steal a neighbor’s motorbike. He was pinned down, kicked and beaten until the policeman, who had been summoned to take him away, took pity on him and hauled him off to jail.

Behind me shimmers Hoan Kiem lake. The legendary giant turtle swims up from its murky depths and lumbers onto the grassy bank only once or twice a year. Whoever is lucky enough to see it will enjoy hanh phuc, good fortune. I was on my way to the post office several years ago when I saw people swarming excitedly toward the lake. I ran too, and there it was, purply green and enormous. In Vietnam, legends and life are often indistinguishable.

Fifty three motorbikes, nineteen bicycles, twelve cars and four taxis. The number of cars in Hanoi is increasing geometrically, although female automobile drivers are still rarer than snow during the monsoon.

Walk/don’t walk signs blink at most corners, but in Vietnam, their message is purely theoretical. Pedestrians are the lowest rung on the traffic ladder, and must weave through streams of speeding vehicles while constantly looking left and right – think of watching a live tennis match – to avoid being knocked down. It’s easy to identify a tourist in Hanoi: s/he’s the one pawing nervously at the curb. After awhile, you get the hang of it and it’s fun until whoops, you forget to look both ways and a motorbike driver snarls at you, or thuds into you, or both.

I celebrated my first day in Vietnam flat on my face in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The overland crossing from Phnom Penh, Cambodia was a deadening eight hour trip by shared taxi on rutted roads. We were five people in the back seat, four in the front, of an ancient vehicle. The driver honked at everything that moved including bicycles and ducks, so the trip was basically one unending honk. Finally arriving at my hotel, I should have showered and gone to bed, but instead went outside, tried to cross the street and was promptly mowed down by a motorbike.

After regaining consciousness and checking for contact lenses and teeth, I noticed a worried looking man hovering. He’s the motorbike driver, I was told, you really should apologize to him. He could get in a lot of trouble for running over a tourist. I apologized, he gallantly forgave me and a tiny scar under my left eyebrow accompanied me for many years before disappearing under a convenient wrinkle.

Eighty motorbikes, ten bicycles, five cars and a lone cyclo. Cyclos, relics of French colonialism, once wound leisurely everywhere in Hanoi. Drivers pedaled away on their bicycles pushing attached carriages piled high with entire families, great bolts of silk and the marketing. When it rained, a sheet of plastic was tucked around the passengers to keep them dry and in the fierce midday sun, an accordion canopy was opened for shade. Cyclos were once king of the road, but the Hanoi authorities have decided they slow down traffic and are bad for the city’s modern image, so the downtown area is now off limits to them.

You can still find low-tech transport near the marketplaces. Cyclo drivers ring their bells, looking for business. A peddler walks his bicycle, which he has outfitted with display cases. Over the front wheel are hammers, pestles and knives. The back wheel displays rope, pins and ribbons. Market women, straining under 25 kilo baskets balanced from a pole across their shoulders, offer sugar cane and oranges. Another cyclo passes, twenty chicken heads peeping out of their bamboo cages.

A silver-haired orange seller points to her pyramid of fruit. Very sweet, she insists, and pushes an orange into my hand. No, I say, I really don’t need any oranges. No problem, she smiles, peering into my face. How old are you? Fifty. You look young, she says. Here, we’re old at fifty. Are you sure you don’t want to buy my oranges?