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Free Day, Tailored Clothes and Comparing Hanoi and Saigon

Hanoi Travel Blog

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Colorful view from our room.

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.

Leisurely stroll along Hoan Kiem Lake.
  Then we walked by the Opera House - pretty building, but not particularly interesting. 

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.

Closeup of Turtle Pagoda on the lake.
  There were:  spring rolls, sugar cane shrimp, salads, fish in clay pots, pho, sauteed veggies, eggplant with meat, grilled pork on rice noodles, rice vermicelli soup with crab, various asian desserts and fruits, etc. etc.  We really enjoyed it - and I think it was only about $10-12 per person including beverages.

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 love relaxing days!
 

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.

Lovers and readers hanging out by the lake.
 

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.

Opera house (near Sofitel).
  How amazing!!!  We were so full afterwards, we waddled back to the hotel - thank goodness it was only steps away.  :)  While we may be hotel snobs - no one can accuse us of being food snobs - we are equal opportunity eaters!  (as long as we disregard the scary looking kitchens and alleys behind the food stalls...)

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.

Another view of the Opera House.
  In Hanoi, however they were a bit more hostile and would honk at you to get out of the way.  Also, Saigon at least had walkable sidewalks; in Hanoi's old quarter, the sidewalks were used to park motorcycles so pedestrians and vehicles had to compete for space on the roads - quite nervewracking!

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.

Press Club - the sign is misleading, the entrance is around the corner.
had a definite sweet taste; Hanoi seemed to prefer more savory, spicier flavors. 

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.

In front of Brother's Cafe.
  At markets or hostels bottled water tended to be between 2000 - 5,000 VDN.  In the restaurants they were charging as much as 18,000 VDN for bottled water. 

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.

sybil says:
i am glad you are still in one piece. be careful with those crazy drivers!!! we do want to see you back, you know.

on a happier note, i can't wait to see your new clothes. :D
Posted on: Apr 14, 2008
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Colorful view from our room.
Colorful view from our room.
Leisurely stroll along Hoan Kiem L…
Leisurely stroll along Hoan Kiem …
Closeup of Turtle Pagoda on the la…
Closeup of Turtle Pagoda on the l…
I love relaxing days!
I love relaxing days!
Lovers and readers hanging out by …
Lovers and readers hanging out by…
Opera house (near Sofitel).
Opera house (near Sofitel).
Another view of the Opera House.
Another view of the Opera House.
Press Club - the sign is misleadin…
Press Club - the sign is misleadi…
In front of Brothers Cafe.
In front of Brother's Cafe.
A may have broken their little sto…
A may have broken their little st…
Brothers Cafes quaint courtyard.
Brother's Cafe's quaint courtyard.
One of the stands making fresh sou…
One of the stands making fresh so…
Fresh spring rolls, etc.
Fresh spring rolls, etc.
Mmmm.. buffet lunch at Brothers C…
Mmmm.. buffet lunch at Brother's …
More food...
More food...
Cute little statue at Brothers Ca…
Cute little statue at Brother's C…
Just walking around town - wonder …
Just walking around town - wonder…
Cool looking building.
Cool looking building.
Flower vendor.
Flower vendor.
St. Josephs Cathedral.
St. Joseph's Cathedral.
Highlands Coffee (starbucks of Vi…
Highland's Coffee (starbucks of V…
Waiting for our caffeine kick!
Waiting for our caffeine kick!
Ahhh - that hits the spot!
Ahhh - that hits the spot!
View of lake from Highlands Coffe…
View of lake from Highland's Coff…
Still at Highlands - it was hard …
Still at Highland's - it was hard…
Mad Traffic!
Mad Traffic!
More mad traffic - note theres no…
More mad traffic - note there's n…
Stuck on the other side!
Stuck on the other side!
Trying to cross...
Trying to cross...
Still trying to cross...
Still trying to cross...
Yeah!  I made it!
Yeah! I made it!
Dinner place.
Dinner place.
Sitting at the roadside food stall.
Sitting at the roadside food stall.
Mmmmm.. see our platter of meat an…
Mmmmm.. see our platter of meat a…
Our dinner - beefsteak with scalli…
Our dinner - beefsteak with scall…
Check A out!  Eating with the loca…
Check A out! Eating with the loc…
Hanoi
photo by: mario26