Free Day, Tailored Clothes and Comparing Hanoi and Saigon
Hanoi Travel Blog› entry 18 of 24 › view all entries
Today was our free day. We had a lovely breakfast at our hotel - yummy croissant sandwiches made to order.
Since it was Monday, a lot of the museums and other tourist places were closed, so we had no real plans. The day was sunny and beautiful so we took a lovely stroll down Hoan Kiem Lake towards the Sofitel Metropole Hotel. It was pretty, but a bit removed from the heart and life of the city. I wouldn't recommend it for people who want to truly experience Hanoi. We also noted where the Press Club is located but it was a bit early for a drink. I'll try to stop by on my last night in Hanoi after Halong Bay.
We had some time to kill before lunch so we walked westwards and stopped by a shopping center on the south side of Hoan Kiem - a bit rundown - clearly a tourist trap, but there was a supermarket on the top level so we bought some coffee to take home. Then we headed past the lake towards our lunch destination - Brothers Cafe- which is recommended by all the guide books, as well as our friend V. We had expected it to be divey since the surrounding area was a little decrepit but when we reached it we were pleasantly surprised by a beautiful storefront and a gorgeous patio - a bit removed from the incessant honking so prevalent in Hanoi. Brothers Cafe offers a buffet lunch with a variety of traditional Vietnamese cuisine - it was fun trying all sorts of different things, and everything was well prepared.
In the afternoon we napped - I was coming down with a cold and felt quite feverish. I hope I get better for Halong Bay...
I was very groggy when I awoke and desperately needed caffeine. We went to Highlands Coffee - a Starbucks of Vietnam - located on the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake in a large building on the 4th level - it commanded amazing views of the lake and the Old District. We decompressed there and really enjoyed the cool breezes blowing through.
I had a few things ordered from various tailors and headed back to Hang Gai Street to pick them up. A had a few things altered and we picked those up first - they were perfectly done - 4 pieces shortened for only about $6.25. I had a dress altered at 99 Hang Gai (can't remember name) - there was a problem with the way it lay in the back so they said they would fix it right away - it still wasn't perfect when I returned but doable. I would recommend this place only if you had ample time for them to fix your stuff. The second place - Lua tep or (Nice Silk) - located on 74 Hang Gai was much better. I had two dresses made there and they fit perfectly! It only took them less than 2 days! Random note - While shopping, I almost got run over by the traffic - scary! A has mastered the skill of crossing Hanoi streets better than I.
A few nights ago while returning from dinner, we noticed a road side food stall near our hotel that had the most delicious smells of grilled meats ever - we decided to give it a try tonight. Bu Nuong on 47 Ma May - they spoke very little english but were very helpful and happy to serve us. We sort of just pointed and got beefsteak, some baguettes and drinks. The steak was nicely marinated with loads of garlic and was grilled with green onions, onions and tomatoes - so delish! (not as tender as the steak we had the night before, but very well-flavored) We sopped with the juices and bits of caramelized garlic with our bread - A even got a food injury because the garlic splattered and burned her. I think the whole meal came to $8.
Tomorrow we go to Halong Bay for a 2 day/ 1 night cruise - I hear it's beautiful and am super excited! :)
Meanwhile, I thought I would note what we think are the major differences between Hanoi and Saigon:
1. Traffic - both are crazy, but in Saigon, the motorists seemed better at swerving to bypass pedestrians so long as you kept a steady pace with no sudden movements. If they honked it was to give you a warning that they were near you.
2. Honking - both cities have incessant honking - I think I had a headache the entire time - but again Saigon's honking seems to be more of a friendly warning, whereas Hanoi's honking was more obnoxious.
3. Coffee - Generally we liked the coffee better in Saigon, but A did like the ice coffee we had in Highlands today (but that's a chain coffee place).
4. Bread - the pastries and bread were definitely better in Saigon.
5. Food/Taste - Saigon tended to prefer sweeter foods - all their juices, pho, etc.
6. Dollars - both cities seemed to quote prices in dollars - have them convert to VND and try to negotiate that down (more of a range). Also prices seem a tad higher in Hanoi - probably because there are more tourists here.
7. Tourist trap - both are probably tourist traps but I felt we were subjected to more scams and propaganda in Hanoi, then in Saigon.
8. Weather - Saigon seemed more humid and hot; Hanoi was wetter and cooler.
9. Beauty - Hanoi is prettier than Saigon; more interesting architecture, pretty lakes, etc. I can't say I say any pretty places while we were in Saigon...
Random note: there is quite a range in water prices here.
And A (who was in China last year) wanted to note that the bathrooms in Vietnam are cleaner than in China, and tend to be more western style toilets than eastern style (i.e., hole in ground). I would still bring my own toilet paper - there were a few places (not many) that lacked toilet paper.