First Day in Vietnam, Hanoi

Mobile fast food stall

Mobile fast food stall

Our arrival late last night at Hanoi Elite Hotel was met with smiling, helpful and knowledgeable staff that ensured we were comfortable and that every possible need and desire was catered to. Our accommodation is a small boutique hotel, stylishly decorated, the design maximising space in both public areas and rooms. I still cannot get over the bargain, though – we are paying only $50USD per night, and while there is no lift, and we are on the 4th floor (by request – the quiet is lovely), we only have to get ourselves up the stairs, never our luggage! The location is perfect, too – right in the middle of the Old Quarter. It is one of several in a chain of boutique hotels, all rating strongly on Tripadvisor, and it’s easy to see why.

We went for a wander today through the Old Quarter, getting a feel for the city and training ourselves up in crossing the road with that steady, calm, purposeful walk as motorbikes, mopeds, cyclos and cars dart around us. Many photos were taken, much gallery gazing indulged in and shopping began in earnest. I was particularly impressed with the incredibly fine silk embroidery work for sale at some galleries. There is plenty of ordinary quality product available in many stores in the shopping district, but a few of the high end galleries have pieces of outstanding quality; very fine, detailed work that actually captures light and moments in the same way a fine painting does.

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We walked to the lake with the intention of buying tickets for the Water Puppet Theatre, but there was a box office sign stating that all shows were sold out for the next 3 days. Will have a chat to the concierge about trying to get some through ‘contacts’ for a show tomorrow.

We are loving the hustle and bustle of the this part of Hanoi. The street vendors are strong and agile with their wares either balanced on two baskets dangling on the ends of a shoulder pole, or threatening to topple the motorbike piled high and laden with all possible combination of wares. My favourite sight of the morning was at the centre of an intersection where 3 women were squatting, backs together, their pole-baskets resting on the road, acting like their own little roundabout for the traffic to negotiate, or pause at to pick up some fruit and veg on the way home!

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It’s really quite cold here at the moment – it has yet to reach the 15 degrees of the season average top temperature. The locals are really rugged up, and we had to don the jeans that we didn’t really think we’d need on this trip. Had to buy a lovely little black velvet jacket to keep me warm for our NYE dinner at the iconic Metropole Hotel…and a silk and cashmere scarf – silk print on one side, cashmere on the other – very pretty!

Lunch was had at Tamarind, very good vegetarian fare and free wifi. We found a wine shop and bought some cognac for an evening tipple, and then bought some chocolate in the shop next door. The cognac was very nice (Remy Martin champagne cognac), but the chocolate was crap! The brand is Roshen, and it’s apparently ‘fine chocolate since 1996’ – absolute rubbish! I should know better than to buy a brand of chocolate I’ve never heard of, even in Asia!

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We had a very special (and posh and expensive) dinner for New Year’s Eve at Le Beaulieu Restaurant, at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. There are very few pics, because John was actually treating me to a ‘date night’, and we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and the food and the wine. We had the vegetarian degustation, which was half the price of the regular degustation – thank you, Le Beaulieu for observing the difference in cost, and passing on the savings to the customer! The menu was: baby vegetables in Greek style flavoured with coriander; shaved vegetables and cheese thin tart, aromatic herbs salad; sautéed mushrooms raviole, emulsion; vanilla pumpkin and chestnut velouté; cognac granité; quinoa stuffed tomato, ratatouille, and pesto; brie cheese stuffed with truffles; smooth biscuit, raspberry chantilly and jelly, red berries sherbet. Have no idea of the wines, but the sommelier gave us a reisling to go with our first couple of courses, then a pinot noir for the next couple, and a sweet wine for the cheese and dessert. Most happy!

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The big surprise of the evening for us was simply the amount of people out and about for New Year’s Eve. Our research had led us to believe that only the ex-pats and tourists bothered marking the celebrations, and that the Vietnamese people only cared about Tet (their New Year celebrations in February). But the crowd we negotiated on leaving the Metropole belied THAT one! It was a tad intense, as the mass migrated towards the Opera House for the big count down. We actually caved before the magic time of midnight – which meant we were actually able to get a taxi back to our hotel (which I doubt we would’ve been able to to post the witching hour).

Gotta love a new range of Lindt!

Gotta love a new range of Lindt!

Before dinner, we had a wander around the Metropole and visited their onsite deli. Was very happy with the discovery of a new Lindt range that I hadn’t seen before. Each has ‘Hello my name is….Nice to sweet you, pleased to meet you’ on the cardboard. They had 4 flavours and we bought all four! Caramel brownie, cookies & cream, strawberry cheesecake, nougat crunch. These will be rationed out with care! (But there was certainly no need a chocolate hit after our scrumptious dinner tonight!)

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About bontaks

Nic is the the ‘Bon’ part of ‘Bontaks.’ Together we are Nic and John – two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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