One of the first thoughts I had coming into Hanoi was that it reminded me a lot of Charleston. The bridge coming from the airport made me think of the Cooper River Bridge, and the old Europe-gone-awry feel brought me back to walks down little alleys around Cannon Street.
We'd gotten in pretty late the night before to our hotel, The Artisan, so we high-tailed it to sleep before an early morning to take in as much of the city as possible. We ate breakfast at a cafe next door to our room while overlooking the street, loosely planning our day. You just try to look through these photos and not see all the French-i-ness here. What a beautiful city.
We were fortunate to be within a short distance of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, where our morning began. An extremely helpful Vietnamese man helped us find good places to visit, beginning with City View Cafe, where we were able to see the whole lake as well as take in the business from above. On the seemingly endless coffee tour we found ourselves on, we had some iced espresso, something I've always looked for since Café Strudel in South Carolina. Vietnam is definitely a winner in the coffee category, and we're not even done, here.
Over a bridge into the lake sits the Temple of the Jade Mountain. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this little island was full of color and Chinese culture as found in the city.
Enter phase three of "we shouldn't have paid that much for that." We took cyclo tours around the old quarter, and our first impression was the most sensory experience in the whole of our time in the country. Talk about color, smell, sounds. Talk about a huge dose of local life. Our drivers were nice enough to let us off to walk around and shop if we wanted, but from the road we were even able to get some insight into what life in Hanoi is all about for the locals.
One thing Vietnam is known for in regards to food is Banh Mi. This is a type of baguette sandwich with pretty much whatever you want in it. Normally you order it at a food stand on the side of the road, but when we stopped at La Café for lunch we tacked it on to our order of crêpes and caramel creme.
After lunch we scurried over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to see a (completely in Vietnamese) water puppet show. There were sparks, there was smoke, and it was truly something I'd never seen before or could have even thought of on my own. Imagine marionettes tied with synchronized swimming.
Of the two souvenirs I took home, coffee made the list. "Weasel Coffee" is a big deal in Vietnam, and you can read more about how that works here. We googled and searched for the best place to buy these beans and were pleasantly surprised by a shop where two cute Vietnamese girls let us try the different roasts before buying: with excessive amounts of sweetened condensed milk, of course.
Before heading around the lake to catch a taxi to the train station, we stopped for dinner at Green Tangerine, a delightful and delicious French restaurant with an Asian flair. We ordered things like vegetable ravioli and green tea cakes with salmon and cheese. Bougie if I've ever seen it.
With one last pass around the lake to kill time, we booked it over to Fanny Ice Cream per the recommendation of friends who had been to Hanoi before. The cinnamon flavored ice cream was to die for, just like they said, since apparently Hanoi is known for it's great cinnamon. Our last stroll around the lake was breathtaking. Definitely looking forward to more time in this capital city.