{travelogue} I Went to Hanoi, and All I Did Was Eat and Take Pictures. If That Sounds Good to You, Read This

Hanoi is a fun, vibrant, dirty, smoggy, incredible city that I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s modern and old-fashioned and surprising and busy. It’s Vietnam with a French Instagram filter.

Just when you can’t take almost being run over by 22 dozen mopeds anymore, you can duck into a soothing courtyard oasis and eat something wonderful. And in hindsight, I spent nearly a week there and basically all I did was eat and take pictures. So if that sounds good to you, keep reading!

There is no shortage of fantastic things to eat in Hanoi

When you first arrive, you might be longing to pull up one of those tiny stools on a street corner and dig in. But perhaps you want to ease in a little. There are two places you can try which were aptly described to me as “street food without the street”: Quan An Ngon and Nha Hang Ngon. While they have a similar vibe, they specialize in different items so both are worth a visit. They will recommend dishes from their huge menu and show you how to eat whatever they have recommended. The food is delicious and approachable, and both places are popular with both foreigners and locals. At Nha Hang Ngon, don’t miss the bun cha or the shrimp paste and sugar cane rolls. Quan An Ngon: 18 Phan Boi Chau. Nha Hang Ngon: 26A-B Tran Hurng Dao.


If you do go for street food, there is no shortage – look for a crowded place and prepare to make lots of hand gestures. You won’t be sorry when you’re slurping down a big bowl of pho for 1 or 2 bucks with the locals!

For something a little more relaxing, the colonial-style courtyard at Madame Hien is almost as delightful as the food – especially the fresh rolls.

Green Tangerine has an equally cute courtyard setting that feels like an oasis when you step in from busy Hang Be, but serves creative Vietnamese fusion food that sounds a little weird but works on the plate. Madame Hien: 18 Chan Cam. Green Tangerine: 48 Hang Be. 

The simply named , right by St. Joseph’s Cathedral (see below) has a cool vibe. They play good music, hang local art on the walls, and everything they make is tasty. The fried spring rolls should not be missed for any reason. Là: 25 Ly Quoc Su.

And then there is the famous Cha Ca La Vong. Beware! There is also a totally fake Cha Ca La Vong across the street that tries to trick customers. Don’t go there! You need to find 14 Cha Ca and go up the stairs to the place where they only serve one dish. That’s how you’ll know you’re in the right place. So what is the dish, exactly? A hot bubbling fried catfish with turmeric, dill, spring onions, and noodles. It sounds weird but it is excellent and it is famous, so you should definitely try it. Cha Ca La Vong: 14 Cha Ca.

If you want excellent French pastries, breads, imported cheeses, and most importantly the finest homemade ice cream in all of Southeast Asia, stop in the fancy shmancy Sofitel Metropole Hotel’s L’Epicerie and pick up any and all of the aforementioned items. While you’re there, why not duck into Bamboo Bar, their poolside boîte? There’s no more perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and feel like a rich old colonialist, at least for a few minutes. The cocktails are impeccable.

Another ice cream stop that is just about the exact opposite of the Sofitel is the kooky Kem Trang Tien, which is both walk up and drive through (scooters and motorcycles only) which can make getting an ice cream cone or popsicle quite the death-defying adventure.

Breaking my rule of not taking tours… here are two pretty incredible ones

If you are into hidden spots and learning to take better photos, try a tour with Vietnam in Focus. I had a great time! It was just me, another guy, and an instructor – who was an expat, ex-photojournalist. I learned a lot about Vietnam and about taking pictures!

There is also a street food tour that I didn’t take but that was recommended to me by literally almost everyone I asked for advice. They don’t allow kids under 6 so I was out of luck on this one. (I had already done the photo tour by myself, so I thought it would be mean to leave my husband and kid alone again.) So if you can swing it, I think you should try it.

OK, OK, so I did see a few things there…

Sights? What sights? Are you telling me there are there other things to do in Hanoi besides just eat and take pictures? If there are, I know precious little of them. But admittedly I happened upon a couple of sights on my way to or from eating something delicious. For example, St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Day and night at Hoan Kiem Lake.

A trip over to the Temple of the Jade Mountain on the lake.

A walk along the raised train tracks where people live, work, and grow food (right up until the train passes by. I’m guessing they have the schedule pretty well memorized.)

A peek in the apothecary shops in the Chinese section of the Old Quarter.

This woman with her Louis Vuitton bag cleaning vegetables.

Long Bien Market, which is amazing and fantastic and messy and insane, but which closes up around 8 AM, so necessitates a 4 AM wakeup. (I went with the photo tour but you could go on your own, as long as you’re comfortable with that kind of thing!)

A combination of Christmas, New Year’s, and Tet decorations and flowers for sale – it was exactly the right time of year for it.


And of course, if you’re in Hanoi, you’d be remiss not to make the overnight trip to Halong Bay. I have more information and photos on my Halong Bay recommendations here!

And now, a few things to skip

I don’t usually mention places I don’t like, but I thought I would in this case.  There were 2 disappointments. Avalon Cafe, right by the lake, had a pretty rooftop setting by lake but weird service and bad, expensive coffee. We also had high hopes for Purple Cherry, with their astronomically positive reviews on Trip Advisor, but other than their romantic and intimate 8th floor rooftop setting, it was terrible. Our hotel manager told us he thinks they are somehow in cahoots with Trip Advisor because apparently our experience is a common one. So avoid those two spots if you can.

(What happens when you call these numbers?)

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