Hanoi, Vietnam; what to do and street food

Hanoi city is lively and fun, and although at first it might appear pretty hectic, the city has a certain light heartedness about it. There is a lot to explore and eat so a few days here is needed. We really enjoyed it.

What to do:

Get a blind massage: for a relaxing start or end to the day support the blind community and get a blind massage. There are a few around Vietnam, this one was recommended in lonely planet. We went there for a 1.5hr massage and we were very impressed. A spine tingling experience. Booking is a must, we wanted to extend our massage to 2hrs but they were fully booked!

Karaoke: We went into a busy bar, with Bia Hoi (local beer) on the walk back to the Old Quarter from our massage, couldn’t tell you what it was called, but it was full of locals on a lake. We ordered a pork dish that was delicious but turned out to be incredibly expensive and we immediately thought we had been given tourist prices – it was 4 x as much as we had been paying everywhere else. We questioned the waitress, to our embarrassment a kind man, slightly intoxicated inquired into what was the problem. Vietnamese people are extremely hospitable and do anything to ensure you leave liking their country. Instead of getting the bill changed he insisted on paying our whole bill, which we tried to refuse profusely, but he was most insistent. With his mind made up, we offered him a seat at our table so we could at least buy him a beer. This escalated quickly and before we knew it we not only had the old man but the owner of the establishment sitting at our table. The beers kept on coming…

The owner looked like a Mafioso, donning huge jewels on his fingers and a tiger’s tooth on his chest. He had seen a lot in his time and we really didn’t want to piss this guy off.

Unknown bar drinking bia hoi with a mafioso and an engineer

We kept drinking beers until we thought it was time to call it, and head back to the Old Quarter, with the other tourists.
They would not let us leave and insisted on taking us to Karaoke. They called a cab and before we knew it, there were 6 of us squashed into it. The old man was sitting on Rick’s lap, then Rick was sitting on his lap. After trying to get into the good Karaoke places that were all full, Rodrigo got a turn on the old man’s lap too! It turned out the old man was very affectionate (i.e. a bit of a groper)!

Finally we found a place that had space, and they took us to a private room with a selection of fruits, snack and comically light beers (2.9%). We sang the few English songs they had available and then listened to them sing many more in Vietnamese. The old man turned out to be a fantastic singer! It was a hilarious night. Karaoke is not really our thing, but if it’s yours about 25mins out of the Old Quarter there are literally 20-30 huge Karaoke places all on one road. Fun for a big group of people, ensure to book ahead as they seem to be fully booked 24/7.

The Local Market: Full of fruits, vegetables, dried animals, alive animals and many other wonders. Definitely worth a wander. The dried squid is fantastic!


Drink Bia Hoi, Old Quarter: This locally brewed and really cheap Beer is made daily, but runs out fast. From early evening the streets diverge into absolute madness as patrons sit on the street on little plastic stools drinking 40c jugs of beer. However the laws states that no stools are allowed on the road before 8pm so its like a Mexican wave every time the police do the rounds; bar owners frantically collect the plastic stools at lightning speed to avoid being fined, while patrons are left juggling drinks and food. Not everyone understands what’s going on as their seat gets whisked away and hidden inside. When the police have moved on, the staff just as swiftly return all the stools and service resumes on the road. A fantastic spectacle.

Where to stay:

Staying in the old quarter is a must if you want fast access to cheap eats, street food tours and of course the abundance of bars.

The streets become alive from mid afternoon until the beer hoi runs out. Although the old quarter has a curfew people tend to start early and finish early. So a good night sleep is still very possible. Although with a bit of searching, you can drink to the early hours if you so desire. We found a luxurious double room (for our low budget) for $14USD/night but there are a lot of cheaper places, air BNB and couch surfing are also all around the city.

Street food:

Theres no shame about it, we ate our way around Hanoi!

Bánh xèo: This was the best one we had in Vietnam, unfortunately we didn’t find this place again after our first visit!

Egg Coffee with Bánh mì

Bánh rán: Fresh vietnamese rice donuts. Literally translated to fried pie, can be filled with yellow bean, or plain.  Really nice with a coffee in the morning, or afternoon.

Bún chả: Rice noodles, pork patties and slices of Vietnamese pork, in a delicious sweet and salty broth, served with fresh herbs

Bia Hơi: Draught beer with many different kinds of bar snacks; below we have dumpling and fried crabs.

A selection of different rice based sweet things… we stumbled across this and it happened to be one of the most popular places in Hanoi for the locals to eat.  We just pointed at other peoples food and ordered what looked interesting!
Che 4 Mua (tea for the seasons): 4 Hàng Cân, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam