We read a lot about our destination for our team's first ever seeking adventure together before we even booked our airline tickets. It was the city's charm, mystery, and coffee culture that got us reeling with excitement prior to departure. It turns out, no amount of reading can ever prepare a group of giddy first-timers in Hanoi.
We arrived in the wee hours of the morning from a red-eye flight but woke up refreshed and rejuvenated to singing song birds beside our hotel and the almost intoxicating aroma of Vietnamese drip coffee.
We stepped out and were instantly greeted by swarms of motorbikes left and right. Soaking in the whiffs of boiling pots we spot in every corner, we found a barber setting up shop on the side street. Bikers in conical hats balancing the local produce and shop vendors getting ready for the day. All these scenarios and more, tell tales of a typical day in Hanoi's Old Quarter.
The tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake divides the bustling Old Quarter from the tree-lined grand boulevards of the French Quarter. Here, one can bask in French colonial architecture with the Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel and the Opera House leading the pack. This side of town is also home to the capital's fanciest restaurants where the wide streets are way easier to navigate than that of the Old Quarter's sometimes stinky alleyways. Stink aside, we still preferred the latter.
However contrasting the two sides may seem, both were interesting enough to be a great source of inspiration to our team. Every corner, every alley, every hawker we encountered can easily make for an exhausting getaway but simply put, Hanoi is a place that grows on you the more you experience it. All the more so after unearthing great finds-- which was the very reason why we were there in the first place.
If you ever find yourself in this charming corner of the world, here's a tip or two..
Think worldly and sophisticated Mademoiselle you just want to hang out with. This hotel is so charming we spent more time here than what we originally planned. It was as if we were transported back to 1920's. We literally had to peel ourselves off our comfortable patio chairs and snap out of girly chitchat.
A "bang for dong" recommendation by our trusty LUXE guide. It was comfortable with good service and is right smack the bustling Old Quarter. It didn't hurt that it had free WIFI too!
Also a LUXE guide reco, this hotel was one of our choices but decided against it, as it sits next to the lake and is a little far from all the seeking action. It is said to have a modish Asian flair to it that I think is worth a try-- next time.
We tracked this down on our first day and covered a good number of blocks and alleys to find it. It's famed for its vegan fare, strong cocktails with good vibes for dessert. After lunch, we discovered the place has a roof garden perfect for sundowners. If only we had the time to while away. 6 Hội Vũ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
If you only have time for one cup of coffee in Hanoi, it has got to be in Cong Caphe. I'm not big on cold coffee but the Vietnamese drip with coconut frozen yoghurt is to die for.
We chanced upon this courtyard hideaway of a resto and we couldn't be happier. Food is French-Vietnamese experimental bites and is a little on the high side, price-wise. Although the refuge it offers from the chaos of the Old Q makes it all worth it. 48 Hang Be Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
No better way to experience authentic local fare than at the side streets. Where hole-in-the-wall eateries abound, it's best to ask your hotel concierge for recommendations. We had our own share of the 'real deal' right outside our hotel!
There is practically nowhere else to shop in Hanoi than the Old Quarter. This is where you'll find snaking streets of trade each aptly named after their specialty, from silver to silk, to bamboo and even down to coffins (!).
To sum it up, Hanoi is a sweet escape. Try to make it there for more than a weekend as there are lots to see and lots to eat! If you don't have the time, leave the shopping to us. We have sought great finds you can seek right from your desk or your mobile phones sans the three-hour plane ride.
'Til our next seeking adventure!
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