Hanoi – What’s old is new again

Some may say that travelling with your parents is passe. Uncool. That you should be getting wildly drunk with your fellow backpackers and having nights you can’t remember on local vodka that tastes more like ethanol than a legal spirit. Which is all well and good, I can do that (and suffer the disastrous hangover afterwards). But these people are missing out, because sometimes it’s really nice to get taken out to nice restaurants and not worry about food poisoning, and catch taxis, instead of schlepping for kms in the roaring sun; to live the over 60s holiday lifestyle.

And I was lucky enough to enjoy these small luxuries during my time in the enigmatic Hanoi, capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, where I crossed paths with my mum and dad, who also happened to be in Vietnam.

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Fresh with raw, beach burnt shoulders after a wonderful couple of days in Phu Quoc (see above for expected backpacker experience), I was ready to see and taste everything that this bustling city had to offer. When it comes to the bustle, Hanoi is a busy city. With roughly 8million people crammed into it’s windy streets and tiny alleyways, the honking of horns and near-miss amputations from passing motorbikes is inevitable. But there is an old-world charm and perpetual beauty that exists in this city, as the result of years of French rule that I found utterly irresistible.

Just walking round the streets, taking in the distinctly European architecture, with pops of bold colour, neat Juliet balconies and hoards of ivy cascading down their facades creates an almost mini-Paris, exactly what the French were after…if it wasn’t for the steaming bowls of pho being hastily consumed on the footpath. And the bread. God bless the Vietnamese for embracing French bread!

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Waking up in my cosy little capsule dorm room at Republik Hostel, my first port of call in this new city was to meet up with friend and fellow nomad Claire for a taste of the famous egg coffee. Though we met in Melbourne (well Burning Man to be exact), Claire has been living primarily in Thailand for the past year, as well as stints in Guatemala and Bali, where she has been teaching english and studying yoga. Vietnam is her new home, for the moment.

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Catch-ups over curry

Egg coffee isn’t as gross as it sounds, trust me, it’s quite the opposite. Whipped egg yolks are combined with sugar and milk to create a smooth, frothy, thick meringue that sits above a hot or cold coffee. Very sweet, very delicious. Claire and I met for an indulgence and a long overdue catchup at Giang Cafe, a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cafe, and the home of the original egg coffee, before I headed to Ho Hoan Kiem lake, also known as Sword Lake, for an explore and an ill-advised jog.

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Freshly showered, after becoming the human version of a sweat fountain, I trotted down to meet the fam, who had spent a couple of days in Saigon. I filled them in on my most recent adventures as we indulged in one of the best Bahn Mis I’ve had the privilege to consume from a little stall on Hang Mahn street. Look for the two quarreling Bun Cha restaurants at the top of the street, it’s nestled next to the “#1 restaurant”. Cue all out war.

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Asia-Pacific reunion

To get a better idea of the city, its history and its culture, I organised one of the many free city walking tours that operate in Hanoi. Usually run by university students, the tours give you that deeper local perspective that you may not get from self-navigating. Our guides, Rick and Ju from Hanoi Free Tours By Foot were sweet as pie, and had great knowledge about both the trials and celebrations of the city, and the plight of the Vietnamese people, who are virtually unable to hold a grudge. These two are also the future of environmental and technological development – watch this space.

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Our trusty guides

During our three-hour adventure, we covered much of the old town, including the White Horse Temple, Dong Xuan Market, a traditional preserved Vietnamese house, the lake including the Japanese bridge (note: wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees or get denied like me), and an egg coffee with a view. I’m just going to leave you with a whooole bunch of snaps from the walking tour.

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Dad with some mates
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Traditional Vietnamese house

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More egg coffee!
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This time with a view!
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Former King of Vietnam

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Feeling sufficiently informed, and ready to re-energise, we pulled up a table at Cafe Runam, part of a chain of up-market Vietnamese cafes. Whilst the price is slightly more than your normal backpacker budget, you’re definitely getting what you paid for in quality, interior styling and impeccable service.

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Look at this coffee machine!

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Dinner (yes we’ve skipped forward to the good stuff) was indulged at the famous Quan An Ngon, which somewhat resembles a food hall, and quite possibly has the biggest selection of Vietnamese street food and traditional dishes known to man kind. Just trying to narrow your choices down to a top 3 is an ordeal in itself. I can highly recommend the Banh Xeo, a dish I’d been meaning to try the whole time i’d been in Vietnam, which comes out like a giant omelette, stuffed with shrimp, which you then proceed to wrap into your own DIY rice paper rolls.

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Delectable Banh Xeo
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Attempting to look “backpacker fancy”
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Coconut shrimp and pork skewers

I profess that there was just too much to do in Hanoi to fit in one post. Coming up next, more street food!

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