On our first day in Hanoi, Daniel and I took a city tour ($20 per person). First we visited Trấn Quốc Pagoda, a Buddhist temple located on West Lake that means “Stabilizing the Nation”. It is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and was built in the sixth century.
Next we went to the Ho Chi Minh complex. We were so disappointed that the mausoleum was closed (as it is every Monday and Friday). Make sure you check the opening hours before you plan your trip! We did see the changing of the guards, the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house, and One Pillar Pagoda.
Then we stopped at a small shopping center that sold mostly embroidered pictures. You could see the people making them and that made me really want one, since it looked so time-consuming! So I got one (US $15).
We went to the Temple of Literature next. It is a Confucian temple that was Vietnam’s first national university, built in 1070.
Finally, lunch time! We had various Vietnamese dishes, including chicken curry, tofu, and spring rolls.
Our last stop was the Bat Trang Ceramic Village, where we got to watch people making and painting pottery. Once again, I couldn’t resist a hand-crafted souvenir (US $6).
That evening, Daniel and I wandered the streets of the Old Quarter. We had dinner at a pho bo (beef noodle soup) stand. It was surprising delicious (and cheap at around US $2, although I’m sure we were overcharged as foreigners)! We ended the night with fresh beers at a roadside bia hơi (fresh beer) joint (US $0.50).
After we got back from our Halong Bay trip, I was ready for some non-Asian food. We had chicken “Caesar” salads and pasta at a nearby hotel restaurant (can’t remember the exact prices, around US $3 for the salad and US $5 for the pasta).
That evening, Daniel went out with our friend Jason from Korea and a guy we had met on the cruise, Jimmy. I stayed in as my jellyfish sting was still bothering me. They ended up having an insane night (Daniel got his phone stolen and showed up at the hostel at 3:30am; Jason woke up the next morning on a bench!). So, on our last day in Hanoi we didn’t do much of anything. That night we met up with Jason at Highway 4 to try some interesting food. Or in my case, watch them! I had black pepper beef (US $5) but I shared some cured buffalo meat (US $5) with Daniel and tried one of his spicy satay-grilled frog legs (US $6). Tasted like chicken! Then Daniel and Jason split crickets roasted with lemon leaves (US $3). Ewwwwwwwwwww…
Overall, I really loved Hanoi. The Old Quarter seemed like a small town, just with lots of motorcycle traffic! I found crossing the street to be quite safe though. When we first got there, a man took my arm and helped me cross after Daniel left me and ran to the other side. Then he called Daniel a “very bad man”. LOL. But after a day I was much more brave! The city has a lot of character and charm. I highly recommend a visit!
(As you might have guessed, US dollars are widely accepted in Hanoi. $1 = 20,000 dong.)