Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hanoi Holiday (part 1)


What is it about so much excitement that sometimes trips you up and knocks you down? Sigh…what that our bodies could run on excitement! In the wake of one crazy/fun time in Hanoi, coupled with wacky flight times (i.e. leaving Hanoi at 1am!), I lie here feeling crummy and sniffly with flu-like symptoms. Ah! The price I pay for eking the most out of my weekend!

I am happy to report though, that it was all worth it for me :)

Hanoi was a wild little city, its almost unreal amount of motorbikes zooming past me, making me gulp in fear and excitement. Over the din of horn-honking rose skinny buildings looking distinctly un-Asian, while in the streets decidedly Asian-looking food beckoned at my growling stomach. People chattered, children giggled, everyone stopped for a coffee. Old pagodas crowded shoulder to shoulder against newer buildings. For one brief moment, I seemed to be stuck on the curb (literally and figuratively), scared to take a step lest some rogue motorbike knock me down. And then I realized, in Hanoi, you just have to suck in your gut and take the plunge.

And what a plunge it was! Delicious food and friendly faces (except for the random errant taxi driver...but we all have those, don't we?), a surprise around every corner, old-world French charm and magical Asian energy. We managed to squeeze in quite a lot during our trip – here are my highlights (in no particular order):


My first bowl of pho in Vietnam – Our trip started out in the absolute best way possible: with a bowl of pho and a meeting with a local. We were total strangers, but Q kindly offered to meet us and show us a good bowl of pho…which she certainly did! The place at 49 Bat Dan was filled to overflowing, with a brisk turnover of customers. The pho came fast and furious, steaming and smelling of only good things. You line up, choose among the 3 combinations on offer, take your pho, and find a place to sit. This was the best I’ve had, the broth’s meaty backbone punctuated with the fresh, bright notes of green from the herbs. Pho Bat Dan: 49 Bat Dan, Old Quarter, Hanoi.



A lake in the middle of the city and a pen to write on the sky – Fortified by our pho, Q then showed us around. We walked through the colorful streets if the old quarter, then out onto Hoan Kiem Lake. Taking a leisurely stroll around it (as all strolls around lakes should be leisurely), I secretly wished that I had a nice lake I could walk to in the middle of my city! Especially one with a nice red lacquered bridge :) As we made our way across, hordes of school kids flocked about in neat lines, each one holding the back of the kid in front of them. Q pointed at the obelisk right outside – the Writing Brush Tower – “a pen to write on the blue sky”, she explained. I think we all should have more pen monuments around.



Vietnamese coffee – After our exploring, it was time for further fortification. Q asked us if we preferred the café with a view or one with some local artwork. “The one with the better coffee”, I said with a smile. Coffee is one of the things I cannot live without, and I already like Vietnamese coffee…to have it on its own shores was beyond exciting for me. We filed into the small café where people sat outdoors and motorbikes were parked inside. We settled into a backroom with low stools and tables, with sunlight streaming through the ceiling. Paintings by Vietnamese artist Bui Xuan Phai hung on the walls. I ordered coffee with milk and ice (it was a hot day). I was floored. The coffee came in a small glass with a strip of condensed milk on the bottom. It was dark as sin and almost syrupy in texture. And it was as strong as a blow to the head with a sledgehammer. If you know me and coffee, then you would know that this is a very, very good thing. I didn’t want it to end. Café Lam, Nguyen Huu Huan St., Hanoi.



The Temple of Literature – Just the sound of its name put me in a good place. How could I not like, by default, a temple devoted to learning? A peaceful sanctuary in the middle of the city, it is a complex of five interconnecting courtyards, ending with the National Academy, Vietnam’s first university. I imagined scholars still walking around its paths and ponds, pondering on life’s truths. Temple of Literature: entrance on Quoc Tu Giam St, Hanoi.



And speaking of life’s truths…this girl’s got to get some rest and put a dent in the work that has piled up in her absence! Time for a spot of Berocca! I’ll be back with more as soon as I can :)

22 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Thanks for the wonderful post and great pictures! I'd love to go there! I'm glad you loved your trip...

Cheers,

Rosa

Manggy said...

Ah, nice to hear Hanoi did not disappoint :) You are seriously heavily infested by the travel bug! What's not fun, though, is getting a real bug. My dad got a cold a month ago and the cough's taking a LOONG time to die down (he never rests when I tell him to). While there, did you solve an ancient puzzle? Haha.

Take care Joey!

Ruy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruy said...

I've been aching to go to Vietnam to see Hue and Ho Chi Minh but I have a feeling this Hanoi series will have me making some adjustments to my schemes.
The pho and coffee have me craving. I'm hungry!
Whew! That's a lot of haves!

Glad to hear you had fun.=)

Em Dy said...

I presume you took Cebu Pacific. Honestly, I think they should change their flight schedules. Those midnight flights are back breaking.

I also want to go to Hanoi someday. Thanks for the tips.

Veron said...

I have a craving right now for pho! It's funny that I never tasted pho in the philippines but my cambodian friend introduced it to me over here and I really love it!

emilyrena said...

I`m still waiting to try my first bit of Pho!

katrina said...

I actually like those late night/early morning flights for practical reasons. I appreciate how it allows me to make the most of each day I'm abroad.

I need to know...what is that doughnut-looking bread on top of the pho??? Is fried dough a common Vietnamese treat? If so, I cannot wait to go already! And I am so wanting to drink that coffee off of the screen...

I had originally planned to include Hanoi in our upcoming trip, but now I'm torn between that and Hue. I don't know if we can do both, since we are also going to HCM and Siem Reap. Thanks for posting so quickly, Joey! (I was very surprised!) I'm excited to see the rest.

christine said...

Those kids are just too too cute! And the bowl of pho is calling my name, almost as loud as the coffee is! Hanoi is such a great place for the wanderlusting palate no? :) Your pictures are so colorful and vibrant!

Katrina, I agree with you about the convenience of the flight schedules. It's especially perfect for people who can't or don't want to take too many days off from work but still have a decent amount of time to explore a new city.

Marvin said...

I could almost smell that bowl of pho through your picture. What combo did you get? It looks like there's some beef in there, and beef tendon?

Anh said...

Jo, I am glad you had the chance to try one of the best Pho in Hanoi (which literally means one of the world best :P). And the coffee, sooo nice. I would go crazy for it.

I am glad Q had the time to show you around. She's such a sweetie with lovely knowledge about the place. :D

ChichaJo said...

Hi Rosa! I’m glad you enjoyed the post as much as I enjoyed writing it! :)

Hi Manggy! My dad is exactly the same…I keep bugging him but he never listens! I’m feeling better already…my throats still blech but things are looking up :) Cool puzzle!!! I love things like this in theory…in practice I am horrible at them!

Hi Ruy! I have never been to Ho Chi Minh (though I’ve seen him the person…omg!) nor Hue so I can’t compare, but Hanoi has all that lovely French architecture and little bits of its colonial past weaving in and out of its present day setting…nice :) I hope I get to see more of Vietnam someday…

Hi Em Dy! Yes, I did! It was great going there because I didn’t have to miss any work, and supposedly coming back as well…except I think all the excitement, coupled with lack of sleep, finally caught up with me!

Hi Veron! C and I are big pho fans…there is a local place here were we have it regularly…it’s good and affordable!

Hi Emilyrena! I hope you get to try it soon!

Hi Katrina! Sounds like a fantastic trip you’ve got planned! Sick and uptomyears in work you still can’t keep me away from here…hehehe ;) I get blog-withdrawal :) Ok, that little bit of doughnut-looking bread is something that you can dunk in and eat with your pho…good! The coffee was amazing…I bought some home to replenish my stash :)

Hey Nens! Thank you sensei!!! You should have seen us scarfing the pho down like starving children! Hehe :) I know what you mean about the flights, with the amount of vacation time I get, every second counts! I guess I was already running on empty on the way back…

Hi Marvin! The shop had 3 types, 2 of different cuts of beef and 1 combination of both…we got the combination :) It didn’t seem like tendon, more like the other type, flank or brisket?, and the other cut was raw and just cooked once the hot broth was poured over it :) So good!

Hi Anh! Am I glad too that I got to have it! And the coffee as well! Many thanks again for all your help :) Q was such a lovely person and we all are so grateful to her! :)

Bordeaux said...

Isn't Cafe Lam just great? And the pho- I am so jealous. I'd go again tomorrow if I could. All your pictures and descriptions make me miss Hanoi so much. Looking forward to reading more, and hope you feel better soon!

Jen Tan said...

joey!!!!!!! I soooooo love Vietnamese coffee too! They way you described itis just they way I remember it ....ahhhhh I love!!! hahaha =)

I had a great time in Vietnam when I had a vacation there...did you see the water puppet show? It's relly nice!

A food paradise that country is! I swear no one will go hungry there as the food is GREAT AND ABSOLUTELY CHEAP! hahhaha

Are you visiting other partsof Vietname? Saigon? ---Hoian???---do vosot hoian---THE CLOTH MARKET--they customize clothes..suits..bags shoes...cheap...you'll likey-likey!!!

Lovely post! Take care and enjoy!

mtan said...

I love that bridge, and yes we need a lake with a romantic bridge to walk over. Hanoi is far more picturesque than HCMC, and the french influenced architect does evoke that turn of the century colonial past.

Katrina - the fried doughnut is eaten with congee in China and soup in Indochina. It's just deep fried dough, has no flavor on its own and gets pretty makunat if you don't eat it right away.

oggi said...

Pho (any Vietnamese food) is one of my favorites in Manila...I don't remember having it with those twin Chinese donuts though.

A friend emailed me a collection of Vietnamese bikes loaded with all sorts of cargo from baskets of produce to tires, poultry, and of all things, large panes of glass, unbelievable!:)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I never knew I needed a bowl of pho until seeing your "My first bowl of pho in Vietnam"! That looks amazing! Sounds like a perfectly wonderful trip.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Bordeaux! Yes, loved the vibe and looooved the coffee :) The pho was likewise amazing! I’m still a bit sniffly but hope to post more soon!

Hi Jen! Yes, we also saw the water puppets :) The food was indeed terrific and wonderfully affordable! Always a good combination ;) We just went to Hanoi…it was a weekend trip as a result of one of Cebu Pacific’s famous/infamous seat sales!

Hey M! That’s why I picked Hanoi for this trip…in my mind, and from travelers accounts, it seemed more picturesque :) But now I need to explore more HCMC and Hue…not including the other Asian countries I have yet to visit! Thanks for the info on the fried dough stick :)

Hi Oggi! We don’t have those dough sticks with our pho here either…I wish they would though! C and I regularly enjoy pho here too :) Those fully-loaded bikes were a sight! Just coming from the airport to our hotel when we just landed we were already marveling at them!

Thanks Tanna! It was really fun! :) Pho is the type of soup that really hits the spot! Full-bodied flavor, yet light and fresh too (thanks to all the fresh herbs) :)

Rasa Malaysia said...

When are you going to KL? ;)
Air Asia is cheap and very good.

Lina said...

lucky you! Ive never visted vietman but hope to do so one day...

Cenk said...

Drooling over the pictures here, especially Vietnamese coffee. I recently used it in a traditional Turkish recipe and the result was amazing! Thanks for sharing the delicious moments of your trip!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Bee! I really want to go! :) I must save up first...will check out Air Asia!

Hi Lina! It's really a lovely place...and fantastic food!

Hi Cenk! Glad you enjoyed my moments :) I love that coffee!