By Jacqui Gray
So, here’s a brief backstory: I met a guy in Thailand and he had to return to Vietnam. Messages and phone calls ensued, he asks me to come to Hanoi, so he could take me out and show me around. Absolutely!
Three days later, clutching a hastily obtained visa, I am met at Hanoi airport by my bemused suitor. And so, my multiday date begins.
Like anywhere in Southeast Asia, street food can be an absolute triumph or spell disaster. Luckily, trusty suitor took me to places that didn’t require me to hack up my food while being wooed. The BEST Pho ever – big call I know, but I am going to go there.
I felt like a giant squatting above the tiny plastic stool, (my 5-year-old niece has one of similar size, so I doubted its structural integrity to hold my adult body weight), on the uneven footpath. Happily I slurping down the glorious concoction, while being openly stared at by the crowd of locals. Welcome to Vietnam.
Valentine’s Day comes, where else to go but The Fat Pig? Bacon + BBQ + cocktails = my perfect valentine! Enjoyed Fat Pig Martinis and dinner on the outdoor terrace area with views of the West Lake. Dinner was sufficiently romantic and now we are off to the Flower Markets.
A short scooter ride away involves me clinging to my suitor with my head buried behind his shoulder, eyes tightly shut. A pleasant surprise awaited; in the middle of the night, in some random dark back streets, a riot of colors, smells, and life – a wonderful balance of beauty and crazy in this strange little community. A nightmare for the pollen challenged, but for me bliss. Thousands upon thousands of flowers crammed onto the back of bikes, being tossed down from trucks, stalls overflowing. My suitor is haggling earnestly – ah the romance.
The Old Quarter is what I had imagined Hanoi to be like; streets packed with scooters – often straddled alarmingly by entire families and sometimes a slaughtered pig strapped to the back – bicycles, cars, narrow shop houses, delicious food for nix. Be brave, go on foot – the traffic seems to just flow around the bold.
While I love the chaos of the streets, it is un-freaking-relenting, so we took some time to enjoy the opulence and quiet of the Sofitel Legend Metropole, a hotel in Hanoi. A wander down The Path of History, a hallway of local history and some fantastic photos, and we arrive at the relaxed Bamboo Bar. The Charlie Chaplin cocktail is the specialty, a drink that makes it is very easy to just melt into the luxurious surrounds and enjoy some people watching. My world is a positively Zen right now.
Time to keep the good energy flowing and head to Hoan Kiem Lake to try and learn some graceful Tai Chi moves. I end up jerking along awkwardly with a line dancing group. You can take the suitor out of Texas but somehow, he will manage to find, quite possibly, the only line dancing troupe in Hanoi.
Oh well, when in Rome.
Did I fall in love on this amazing multiday date? It didn’t happen for suitor and me. But, my heart has totally gone to this crazy city. You are a strange little seductress, Hanoi. I will be back.
- Street Food & The Old Quarter: Short on time? Combine these two must-see spots by booking a guided tour.
- Hanoi Opera House: an elegant building that regularly hosts a variety of shows and performances. If you want to get a peek inside, you’ll need to book a seat for a performance in this grand setting. Hotels can arrange tickets or you can check at the front gate.
- Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel: Chocolate lovers, you MUST visit in the afternoon. There is a daily extravaganza you are not going to want to miss. For those lucky enough to stay, you will have exclusive access to a guided tour of the bomb shelter that housed many famous people during war time.
- Hanoi Flower Market: The absolute best time too see the gorgeous flowers in the market is between midnight and 5am.