written by Monica Nilson
Bless the long weekends in Thailand in December, which gives you a chance of travelling even more while you are here in Asia. We decided to go to Hanoi this year during Fathers Day celebration, since my husband had not been there before. I had been there many years ago with a group of girlfriends from Singapore while enjoying my expat life there. The Hanoi visit was combined with Halong Bay that time. I will tell you about that at the end of this story.
Anyway, I booked us on Pan Pacific Hotel which is located right by the big West Lake, not to mix it up with the lake with the red bridge most of you have seen on pictures. The name of that lake is Hoan Kiem Lake.
I was happy I did that booking actually and I can highly recommend this newly renovated hotel. The hotel had just the perfect distance from the noisy streets further down the Old Quarter and I would like to mention a few things I appreciated with the hotel. The first impression was the immediate meeting with the reception girl. She was the perfect staff member in that position. Very friendly and very informative in the right kind of way and she even managed to sell me the upgrade to the Executive Lounge in a manner that I didn’t feel robbed and we didn’t regret it either.
We started our early evening by walking for 1.5 hour around West Lake and noticed just like I remembered, all the men sitting on the tiniest plastic stools you can imagine so they could be close to the ground. The ground
that held the table for their Mahjong game. The pollution in Hanoi was not good during our first 2 days and unfortunately choked me the most. It was almost unimaginably bad with PM 2.5 over 200 for those of you like myself, who have been hooked onto the air quality Apps.
I even said to my husband that “how can I write an article (that I want to be positive) about Hanoi without mentioning this? I just have to. Its in a way kind of part of our Hanoi story and memories forever now even if I would like it so badly to be different. I wanted to be a clear blue sky with small white clouds on it. People and especially children with no face masks etc.
China, India and Vietnam are the countries mentioned to be worst when it comes to bad air quality mainly in Vietnam because of coal mining, fossil fuels and industries. December in Vietnam is like Scandinavia and the northern part of Europe and the US in wintertime. When they have 17-18 degrees celsius they wear leather jackets and scarfs. When we in Sweden where I come from get 17 degrees in early May we gladly throw away our winter jackets and enjoy the warm temperatures. It sure is different in other parts of the world.
We head back to the cosy Christmas decorated luxury hotel for a glass of wine and some cheese in the executive lounge before going out again to a restaurant called HOME. I think I spotted it at TripAdvisor and I had a table reservation. The restaurant was worth the visit and also walking distance from the hotel. Nice setting with lots of coloured lanterns in the ceiling. The special with this place was also that they had live music, a guitarist and a violinist playing cover songs you recognised. Not too loud, just nice to listen to while you enjoyed the dinner.
The second day we wanted to go to the Old Quarter and to Hoan Kiem Lake. We took a tuk tuk ride for half an hour that lasted for about 20 minutes and the driver wanted to have extra money after the trip over and above the negotiated price, “just 200,000 Dong for some beer” he tried. Good advice in Hanoi is to be careful also with taxi drivers to have taxi meters with a speedy meter that shows you 6 times more fare than the taxi ride should cost.
It is very annoying but apparently well known by the hotel when I discussed it with the staff in the lobby. I was recommended to take a picture of the taxi and ask for drivers name. Another thing they do if you are requesting to take you back to your hotel – they don’t go up to the hotels entrance but instead drop you off at the side of the street. In that way you cannot get help from the hotels staff. The staff at Pan Pacific mentioned this to me.
We walked around in the smog and tried our best not to think about pollution so much, but to enjoy all the nice café’s and small boutiques there are. The Vietnamese people are coffee drinking people and you just have to try both egg coffee and the Vietnamese strong coffee with condensed milk in it.
It is sweet like a dessert so there is no need to have a cake to the coffee. Just the coffee is enough for your daily dose of sugar. There are of course hundreds of small shops everywhere but if you want to find a nicer more exclusive one we got this recommendation to go to Tan My on 61 Hang Gai road. It is a very nice shop, a bit pricy but lots of nice clothes and things of better quality too.
Out on the streets again my husband wanted to buy a helmet for his little (yes it is small) motorbike at home in Sweden and he found one of course and some jackets for future cold autumns and winters ahead. Because one day, in a few years from now we will leave Thailand and Asia behind us with all our fantastic memories.In Hanoi almost everything is transported on a motorbike unless it weighs a ton. In some ways nothing has really changed in 15 years since I visited the last time.
There are more high-rise buildings on the outskirts but in the city centre it is pretty much the same daily life going on. It is very interesting to see of course and you cannot help admiring, in Vietnam like in Thailand the street vendors, the struggle they do every day from early morning to late night. The 9 to 5 working day is nothing that seems familiar to their lifestyle.
That evening we went to a very nice popular restaurant by the small lake called Cau Go. We also happened all of us there to be witnesses to a young couples engagement. The man proposed after having stood up and explained to us in English what he was about to do. He knelt and held up the ring to his girlfriend and bride to be and she seemed so happy – the air was for a moment filled with passion and romance. A nice thing that we will all share with the cute couple forever. I hope they will be happy together. At least their beginning looks promising.
Our third and last full day I had booked a tour with GetyourGuide taking us a few hours outside of Hanoi to a picturesque place called Trang An as the last stop. The first stop was a Buddhist temple called Bai Dinh. The temple is rather new and situated on a huge land area. It was completed in 2010 after 7 years of construction. After lunch we were biking for 5-6 km in a fantastic landscape surrounded with beautiful limestone hills and mountains. The last stop and the main attraction for the day was the boat ride for 2 hours in a rowing boat. It was very relaxing and we also made a short stop at a small island where they filmed the monster movie from this year 2017 “Kong Skull Island”.
Overall my second and my husbands first visit to Hanoi was very good and I would very much recommend you to go there or to go back if you have been long time ago, like me. The people and the food very pleasant, they speak better English than in Thailand and the best part is: the quite inexpensive and short 1.5 hour flight there. It is not complicated to walk around in Hanoi and I really like the French architecture with window shutters that remain even today.
Halong Bay is also fantastic and to experience what we girls did 15 years ago, to sleep on the deck watching the starry night on a pitch dark sky and then wake up and jump in the sea right into the sunrise reflection was nothing but magical and I will never forget this as long as I live.