Saturday, August 10, 2013

hanoi day 1 - learning about the streets

Decided to book another trip to Vietnam to fully complete our journey with her. Last year we went to south:Saigon and this year we plan to conquer the north: Hanoi. 

Hanoi is known to be the capital of Vietnam, based from what I saw... it is less busy compared to the daily happenings in Saigon. It also has less bikes, less people; more people on standby drinking beer. Just like Saigon there are plenty of Taxi's to get around the city. But take note, not all are trustworthy. Based from my experience, we were fooled when we decided to ride an unknown taxi instead of going for the usual TAXIGROUP company...and ended up paying for almost thrice the price. So taking cabs, make sure to ride TAXIGROUP taxi's only. The fun thing here is that even though a regular cab can fit 7 people <Innova van>, they allowed us to sit all 8 people without paying that's convenient. 

So to start of, we booked a flight with Cebu pacific on a sale thus costing around PHP 3,500 per person.  It was a very late night trip and we got delayed hours, we ended up arriving late at Hanoi causing our pickup driver to wait. We got the airport pickup offered by Hanoi Style Hotel, given that its late and we are a big group, its actually wiser to get something reliable. We only paid USD 25 for 8 people, we rode a big van and the ride was comfortable. It was an hour trip to the hotel.

Upon arriving at the hotel, we paid the driver and went on our merry way inside the hotel. The hotel was very unusual but spacious for a PHP 450 per person/ night hotel. Actually it costs more but we were able to get a steal from Agoda, causing us to get our 4 Superior Rooms with 8 Breakfast [2 nights] for only USD 171.28. As you can see on the image below, we have 2 separate big beds good enough to fit 2 people each, refrigerator, flat screen TV, closets, towels, and toiletries. Anyway upon getting to the hotel, I just washed up and slept since we have an 7 AM call time.

Upon waking up, just washed up and got down to eat my complimentary breakfast. They have made per order omelet, cereals, beef noodles, rice meals, etc.. It was yummy but decided not to eat much as we have a food tour scheduled at 9 AM. Our food tour was called Street Eats. Its a tour conducted by chefs of the Hanoi Cooking Center. It cost us USD 50 per person, this already has the 10% discount. Luckily since we are a big group of 8, we were able to have this tour exclusively. As the name suggests, we were taken around the city to eat different street food while exploring how the locals live their lives. I will share with you our tour and you decide if you want to participate on it next time you go to Hanoi. While waiting we were given a tea drink that is commonly drank by Asians. It was sweet/odd and the round object on the upper right image is where the tea came from.

Our tour guide was Hung Nguyen, he used to be the Iron Chef of Hanoi. He worked with Gordon Ramsay before. We were really lucky to have him as our guide as he knows "cooking" very well.

1st stop: Pho Huyen to eat authentic Pho Noodles. It is just right across the Hanoi Cooking Center. Hung explained to us the different types of noodles, and were given the chance to pick to eat either Chicken or Beef noodles. I decided to go with the Chicken noodle. It was really yummy! It was light and tasteful nothing like what I have eaten before. Even the beef noodle was great especially if you add the vinegar looking concoction on the lower left.

2nd stop: Wet Market! Here we saw several kinds of herbs. Hung was explaining what each is for. He also presented to us the best fish sauces based on his vast experience. He said that to know if a fish sauce is good, it should have bubbles on top and no sediments on the bottom. He also asked us to eat LIVE silkworms!?! Now that is insane that even he did not do it. I can eat worms as long as they are cooked or dead at least. Then there are other weird food like the one on the bottom.. its a pink goo that is fried. I think its a part of a pig mushed.


3rd stop: Best Pancake in Hanoi served at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen. Here we see Miss Hanoi 200+ cooking our pancakes. It was delicious and sweet. I tasted mushrooms and peanuts. There was an interesting experience it, we were introduced to the water bug. Basically it looks like a BIG COCKROACH that lives on the rice fields. Farmers capture and eat it. The juice pouches or intestines are eaten or for the fainter can opt to extract the juice and put it in a bottle for later consumption. Hung has a bottle and he dipped his chopsticks onto the water bug extract which he then dipped on the pancake sauce <middle left image>. It caused the sauce to smell like flowers and tasted more strong. It was cool!

4th Stop: Shrimp cakes by the sidewalk. This was yummy but after a while you get hurt by the sharp edges of the shrimp cakes. Crispy and tasteful. We were given beer/soda/sugar cane juice as drinks.

5th Stop: Pork Jerky Noodles at the sidewalk. Walking a few steps from the shrimp cakes store, we see this grandma grilling meat. This is Hung's favorite dish he says. Basically there is some grilled meat on top of the glass noodles. By this point, I barely touched it. I was so full and the place did not look sanitary at all. I took a bite of the meat and it was tasteful + soft.

6th Stop: Che at the side walk! This is a few steps from the grilled pork stand. Che is Hanoi's dessert, it is just like the halo halo in the Philippines. You mix different jellies and beans to some ice and milk.

7th Stop: Ca Phe Duy Tri. Hung said this is the best cafe he knows, better than the ever famous Trung Nguyen. From what you can see, it is very old and smells like coffee beans. I had the classic iced coffee. It was very smooth and strong at the same time. I liked the flavor. Another option you can choose is the Red Bean Yogurt, its pretty much a yogurt with red bean. Not much to say about it. I prefer the coffee. I also ended up buying their mocha beans as a gift to my uncle. Its about PHP 250 a small bag.

8th Stop: Came back to where we started. We got some picture ops with Hung as a memory and the school gave us aprons as a souvenir. We started at around 10 AM and ended around 2 PM. Though it was just 4 hours, it felt like forever. We did so many things, learned a lot, and experienced a whole new adventure. The $50 was definitely worth it.

So we still have the whole afternoon ahead. We decided to take the cab to the Women's Musuem. At first I was curious what it would contain and why its called that way. We paid USD 1 for the entrance fee. So it was really about the women of Hanoi, their history, culture, way of thinking. It was an information overkill, too much information and ideas. I ended up not reading the exhibit explanations.

We then walked over to the Hanoi Hilton <Hoa Lo Prison>. Paid 1 USD for the entrance. Saw a lot of history. The story how Vietnam was separated and joined. This prison was for those against the Russians. It was awesome but chilling that people used to die there.

We then took a cab to the Post office since a friend of mine wanted to mail a postcard. they have several post offices in one street. In front of it was the Hoan Kiem Lake. Took some pictures with it and the flower clock. It started raining thus we took cover and ate some snacks at the Conifer Hotel. We ordered some pumpkin soup and pizza. Then we went off to go to the French Quarter: Opera House, took some photos from the outside.

As the last stop of our day 1, we ate at Quan An Ngon. This is a vietnamese restaurant recommended by Hung. It was very big, it can accomodate up to a thousand people I would say. They offer a lot of Vietnamese food at affordable rates, I ordered some Hairy Mango Shake and Fried Baby Tilapia. I was not happy with what I ordered but my friends enjoyed theirs. This is definitely a place to try. 

Rode back to the Hotel, watched Murray and Djokovic play it out. Slept.