One of the things we have found most helpful and useful whilst doing this trip is having recommendations of places to go, stay, eat and drink. Sometimes when you enter a new place and encounter the culture shock, combined with the weariness of travel, it can be very difficult make simple decisions, like where to eat dinner. We were very grateful for one particular recommendation that we resolved to try on our first night in Hanoi. See the first item on the list to follow.
On Monday we needed to check out of our hotel by 12 noon but our train wasn’t until 10pm, therefore effectively we had 10 hours to kill. The day before we had experienced a bit of a come down, so it was all the more important to have some sort of plan. Not feeling hugely excited by the sightseeing and museum offerings in Hanoi we decided to try and break our day into sections, take our time walking, and soothe ourselves from the heat with regular pit stops. I did some research on cafes, bars and restaurants and we worked out a route. I’m quite pleased that two on the following list of seven were found completely by chance and only one was a previous recommendation. We’ve been sort of relying on practical information and reviews like this so I hope this might be a little helpful to anyone planning on visiting the city of Hanoi in future… (Click on the name for more information)
KOTO Restaurant, 59 Van Mieu:
Koto is a popular Western traveller attraction it seems, as we never saw any Vietnamese locals dining here (on the two occasions we went). Koto recruit at-risk youths from the underprivileged locality and train them in hospitality; Chefs, barmen, wait-staff and managers. The cuisine is traditional Vietnamese or ‘Western'(burgers, pizza, pasta, fries, etc). Although why anyone would opt for the latter when the former is so good, I haven’t a clue. It’s a little pricier than elsewhere in Hanoi but certainly not expensive. 140,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) for a beautiful and generously sized beef stir-fry (approximately £4). The ambiance is relaxed and peaceful and the service is impeccable. It’s actually very moving to see how seriously the young people take their training, as it has literally saved their lives. The surrounding locality isn’t the pleasantest part of Hanoi, but this adds more significance to the initiative that is Koto.
Caps ‘n’ Taps Bar, Hang Be:
This place was our saving grace on our arrival into the city. We were beckoned in whilst passing, by an enthusiastic waiter, which ordinarily would put us off, but after doing a double take it looked so inviting that we couldn’t resist. We sat on the balcony terrace where the friendly barman brought us our own fan. From here we could take in the landscape of the bustling Old Quarter and played cards. We had a lengthy conversation with Tian, the barman (mentioned in Part 1) and after 2 gin & tonics (me) and 3 beers (James) we merrily went in our way. These aren’t the cheapest drinks but at the time we were pretty impressed with 75,000 VND for G&T (£2.20) and 35,000 for beer, although it was buy one get one free on Heineken. Result!
Cafe Trang, Van Mieu:
Located on the corner of the busy Van Mieu road, a few doors down from KOTO, Cafe Trang is shrouded in hanging plants, with small wooden stools looking out on the passing traffic. I was utterly delighted to find a decent cappuccino, but the Vietnamese coffee is a definite must try as well. The latter is 20,000 VND (about 80p) and 35,000 for a Cappuccino (£1.05). Note that they can’t get a good froth on the cappuccino as they only have condensed milk out here. It’s still darn tasty though and itches that scratch I have as a European craving a good coffee.
Quan An Ngon Restaurant, 18 Phan Boi Chau:
If you’re nervous about trying street food but are keen to sample real Vietnamese cuisine this is a very happy alternative. Set back from the street, Ngon is quite large, with an outdoor food court and indoor restaurant. Outdoors you can watch food prepared, but indoors is much cooler and quieter and hides the noise from outside, the menu is extensive and variable. From traditional Pho (noodle soup) to sparrow, eel and snakes head (!!!). Fresh spring rolls are a safe bet, as is the Pho. The salads are also delicious, dressed in a light but spicy dressing. Two courses, one spring roll and two beers cost us just £6 (200,000 VND).
Kem Fanny Icecream, Quang Trung:
I looked this up because I’ve really fancied ice cream this trip and haven’t yet got to have any. It’s a huge relief to walk into this cool, air conditioned cafe. This has to be a splash out treat though, as ice creams start at 45,000 Dong (approx £1.50) per scoop! It’s located in the business district of Hanoi, just North of the train station where roads are easier to walk down, although junctions and crossings remain chaotic and stressful. The ice cream is 100% natural and delicious.
New Gentry Beerhouse, Hang Manh:
Just as I was starting to lose hope of spontaneously finding somewhere cool and comforting for the next stop of our tour, this place leapt out at me amongst the growing rush hour traffic in the cities by popular Old Quarter. Completely empty, we found perches in the window and marvelled at the range of beers being served. From Vietnamese Truc Bach to Hoegarden, Duvel, Leffe, Beer Lao and Erdinger. I’m not a huge beer fan, but at 5pm after a sweaty trek across a city like Hanoi, there’s nothing like a cold beer to take the edge off. Easy access to wifi and if you check in on Facebook or Instagram you get free peanuts! AND beers start at 29,000 VND, less than £1.
The Hanoi Social Club, Ho Vu, Hoan Kiem:
As James commented almost immediately as we walked through the door, this place is blatantly targeted at your western “hipster” traveller. All the tables are filled with Europeans, Aussies and Americans. The staff are trained at KOTO, referred to earlier, so the service is fabulous. The menu is ‘health food’ orientated and not cheap, which we sort of resented as we’d rather pay more for local cuisine than something pretentious we can get back home. But the ambience and decor is undoubtedly a comfort. Gorgeous tiled flooring, cushioned chairs, fairy lights, books and quirky artwork. I hate to admit it but I was very at home here…especially on seeing the advert for travelling musicians, who can book in to play a slot. If only I’d known…There’s a balcony bar upstairs and a little crafty jewellery shop. A burger costs 145,000, or just short of £5, and beer 35,000, a fairly average £1.20.
Typograf Cafe, Le Duan:
Just when we thought our day of killing 10 hours was over, we arrived at the railway station 2 hours early and in need of somewhere comforting to sit. So we decided to burn some more VND and go for ANOTHER coffee. I’d spotted an inviting place across the road earlier in the day when we walked to find the station. Typograf has some sofa seating at the back, beautifully creative decor, wooden beams and industrial lighting and numerous inspiring quotes scrawled across the walls in attractive calligraphy. I ordered a hot coffee with milk but got some sort of hot cocoa, which was delicious and turns out was exactly what I needed. Just as I picked up ‘Pride and Prejudice’, a saxophonist and pianist got up to play. I was in heaven. Every destination so far I’ve had the utter privilege of listening to some of the best live musicians I’ve ever come across. Absolute bliss. This place is a beautiful haven opposite a rather gritty railway station. Comfort abounding for the weary traveller. Hot Cacao is 50,000 VND (less than £1) and Vietnamese code the standard 25,000.
(Not including KOTO on Friday and Sunday)
1 Vietnamese coffee
= 90,000 VND
1 Pho noodle soup
1 fresh spring roll
1 shredded beef salad
= 200,000 VND
2 scoops of ice cream
1 Vietnamese coffee
= 140,000 VND
New Gentry Beerhouse
= 105,000 VND
Hanoi Social Club
= 245,000 VND
1 Vietnamese coffee
1 Hot Cacao
= 75,000 VND
Total Days Spend = 865,000 VND, £25.25