In her recent TV programme on The Ganges, Sue Perkins recently said that India’s Varanasi was not just an assault on the senses, it was all out war.
The same is true of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
The streets are lined with fish that have just been killed and the city is home to more motorbikes than it is to actual people.
In 2016, the city’s air pollution was ranked second highest in the world.
So, it’s no surprise that any initial experience of Hanoi would be somewhat overwhelming.
I, however, was gobbled up and spat out by Hanoi within the space of 24 hours. The city wasn’t just an assault on my immune system. It was all out war.
Here’s how we spent the first two days of our time in Vietnam (including a lovely account of how I contracted food poisoning within the first 12 hours of our travels).
1. BAHN MI
We’d checked into our hostel – Republik Backpacker’s – and learned how to braid each other’s hair (obviously a vital skill that every 21st century gap yah student needs to possess) before we realised it was time for lunch.
So, we used our trusty friend TripAdvisor to locate the nearest cafe and off we went. In an effort to live the truly Vietnamese lifestyle, we opted for a traditional Bahn Mi.
Bahn Mi is essentially a baguette version of the French colonial legacy, filled with mayonnaise, cucumber slices, pickled carrot, onion, coriander and in this case, cheese.
In all fairness, this was probably the best Vietnamese dish I ate all holiday.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos of our Bahn Mi so here is one of the view from our hostel instead.
2. HOAN KIEM LAKE
Not all of Hanoi is overridden by the smells of pollution and dead animals. In the very centre of the city lies Hoan Kiem Lake, where locals come to practice Tai Chi, yoga and for the occasional evening stroll.
During our time in Hanoi, we spent a couple of peaceful moments sitting by this lake when our senses were feeling particularly assaulted.
It’s an oasis of calm in an otherwise chaotic city. Highly appreciated when you have just spent the past hour trying not to get killed while crossing the road.
3. THE FOOD AND DRINK
DO NOT EAT AT CUISINE VIET. I repeat, do. not. eat. at. Cuisine Viet.
OK, so I am obviously slightly biased here but do not be fooled by the pretty exterior.
Unfortunately, my first Vietnamese meal happened to be Cuisine Viet’s ‘chicken,’ which put me out of action completely for 24 hours and 12 days later landed me a stay in Vietnamese hospital with gastroenteritis.
Anyway, their beer was good and so I’d say go in for the ambiance (if you really must) but pro tip – if you have a fragile stomach, avoid anything in Vietnam that resembles meat.
Unfortunately, we didn’t really do much else over the rest of our stay in Hanoi. We got our nails done and then I spent the rest of the time in bed trying to recover in time for our 3 day cruise around Ha Long Bay.
Stay tuned for my next post to see how that went!