How to spend two days in Hanoi
Eating, drinking and getting lost in the Vietnamese capital.
8am: Banh Mi Hour
Amid the chaos of Hanoi’s Phu Doan Street first thing in the morning, you’ll find the affordable and cozy An Bread cafe (15 Phu Doan St.). Inside it’s all brick walls, plants, dangling bulbs and vintage paintings, but we recommend taking your banh mi pate—fluffy, meaty, fresh and bursting with flavor—to eat at one of the street-side tables. Enjoy it with a cup of egg coffee served hot on a candle burner.
10am: History Lessons
Seven minutes’ walk from An Bread lies the historic Hoa Lo Prison, or “Maison Centrale” (Central House). Built by the French in the late 1890s, many a Vietnamese politician, communist and freedom fighter found themselves confined and tortured here. Exhibits of prisoners being whipped, beaten, locked in handcuffs and hung on metal hooks make for a shocking start to the day.
Pho Gia Truyen
Noon: Fill Up
Pho Gia Truyen (49 Bat Dan St.) makes it into nearly every guidebook for one thing: authentic pho. Old, dusty and seemingly on the verge of collapse, this little shed shouldn’t be judged by its appearance. The permanent queue outside line up for classic Vietnamese noodle broth with some of the best beef in town. Choose between tai nam (rare steak and flank, VND 45,000), tai (rare steak, VND 40,000) and chin (well-done steak, VND 35,000) then enjoy as the sweet broth intertwines with the soft noodles and thin-sliced beef cuts.
2pm: Book Searching
Explore the world of Vietnamese literature at Hanoi’s “book street,” Pho Sach. A four-minute walk away from Hoa Lo prison, this village-like street is home to little wooden huts along a stone-brick walkway, each one selling international and local literature. Don’t worry if you’re just tagging alongside a book-loving friend—there are plenty of cafes with free Wi-Fi.
6pm: Street Shopping
ld Quarter was originally a giant marketplace laid out according to 36 guilds (silk, incense and fish to name but three). Start from Hang Dau Street (“shoe street”) then head west to Dong Xuan Street. It’s so much like JJ Market, with a seemingly endless range of clothes, souvenirs and home decor.
Ta Hien Street Credit: Assadajd Via www.flickr.com
8pm: Beer O’Clock
Packed with both locals and tourists, the vibe on Ta Hien Street—aka Beer Street—is fun and carefree. People sit outside on tiny plastic stools, sipping up bia hoi, a locally brewed draft beer. Bia hoi production is unregulated, which means it tastes different from vendor to vendor and day to day, even hour to hour—all the more reason for bar-hopping.
8am: Morning Ritual
Opened in 2011, the expansive old three-story villa of The Hanoi Social Club (6 Hoi Vu St.) hub for the city’s hip and creative set, who are drawn in by the many couches and sun-dapped terrace (as well as the Western-style espresso and ginger crunch shortbread). The menu is filled with healthy and organic options.
10 am: Art Space
When Hanoi’s artists want to unwind, they go to Manzi Cafe & Bar Art Space (14 Phan Huy Ich St.), where an old French villain a quiet part of town now hosts contemporary exhibition from rising talents. Wooden floors and whitewashed windows are pure Indochine era, with artwork displayed lying on tables throughout the cafe.
Cha Ca La Vong Credit: Alpha Via www.flickr.com
12pm: Unique Eats
Lunch at the century-old Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca St.) means taking a leap of faith. There’s no menu and the staff speak little English, but that doesn’t matter since they only serve one dish: cha ca, or fried freshwater fish with herbs and spices. Armed with fresh basil, dill and scallions, vermicelli and various condiments, you will be preparing your own meal on a tabletop electric cooker. Some say it isn’t worth the relatively hefty VND 200,000 per person but we beg to differ—cha ca remains one of those dishes you have to try at least once.
4pm: Flip the Board
The Nest (4A Trang Thi St.) offers a new spin on the board-game cafe with a collection of games that are distinctly Vietnamese (definitely no UNO cards). When it’s either too hot out or raining, this cute coffee shop makes the perfect shelter with a boozy kick—skip the coffee and try the peach mojito or any other of the fruity, reasonably priced cocktails.
Pasteur Street Brewing Bar Credit: www.facebook.com/PasteurStreetBrewing
Pasteur Street Brewing Bar Credit: Premshree Pillai Via www.flickr.com
7pm: Cold Brews
What makes Pasteur Street Brewing Bar (1 Au Trieu St.) so unique? Aside from being located in a giant treehouse, the Saigon-hailing brewery also infuses American-influenced brews with Vietnamese ingredients to create new flavors. With tree branches winding round the patio and lit up by fairy lights, the atmosphere is magical. Try the Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout, which is like drinking a smooth chocolate shake intertwined with a tinge of beer.
Where to Stay
The city’s highest hotel, Intercontinental Hanoi Landmark 72, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing you to make the most of the amazing views. Prices start at B3,580/night and the location’s walking distance from the Hanoi Museum and main shopping area.
B1 = VND 714 (Vietnamese Dong)
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