It has been a year since my first visit and while the city looks the same, there have been casualties. The small corner shop where I had my first ‘banh mi’ (baguette) has gone. The cool cafe where I had lunch is now a hair salon. Even the magnificent Maison D’Orient has undergone some minor interior surgery, unnecessary in my opinion however it’s still a beauty as I catch up with the owner for coffee but regrettably no eggs this time.
The old quarter is still tricky to navigate on foot and though I revisit some of the sites of my previous stay this is a very different occasion. On a mission to ‘design’ my life as I want it, I take an apartment in Tay Ho (for those that know Shenzhen, it’s the Shekou of Hanoi, in other words an expat hotspot). It is the first time in years that I’ve had a rental agreement and is perfect for the winter. Before that though is a week in a homestay in the Ba Dinh district which I actually prefer location wise as Tay Ho is a good trek north.
The problem with the homestay is the whopping great padlock I have to negotiate on leaving and entering the huge suburban house. This involves reaching through little hatches in the gate to wrangle with a bolt and lock I can’t see. As my room is booked I look at another homeshare near the B-52 lake but again the padlock is there and the floral bedsheets are hideous so I stick with my existing room until it’s time to vacate.
What it does do however is introduce me to a new part of town and I like it. Hanoi does just what I want it to do, relieve me of the incessant heat of those southern cities mentioned in my HCMC blog. Hanoi is white skied, has the odd drop of drizzle, the laughter of school kids resonating in the lane below and is every bit as charming and French as the guidebooks say. It also has ridiculous amounts of cafes including the amazing La Cotta Cafe (see blog), Dialogue and the Asian quirkiness of the Unicorn Kafe.
Hanoi is much bigger than you may think, just a walk around the West Lake (Tay Ho) will take a good 4-5 hours depending on how fast you walk and how many coffee stops you make. Work-wise, it’s another blank so I use my apartment to the hilt and do groundwork on my own culture course (mentioned in my last education blog) as well as research into Indonesia, Central Asia and South America.
Toantien – the rental agent I used based in Truc Bach, very professional.
For high end serviced apartments both Fraser Suites and Somerset are based not far from each other, the former is attached to the Syrena shopping centre (it’s small but includes a Fivimart supermarket and some eateries such as Highland Coffee) the latter has a gym and a Starbucks attached! The Somerset (West Point) is run by Ascott and is the most expensive of the three properties it has in Hanoi. Apparently the breakfast is included in the price whether you like it or not. Anyways, for those interested their websites are…
Others around West Lake
Ke – decor and homestay (not stayed here but it’s nice – no lift, also has a gift shop, Facebook only in Vietnamese
New Moon Hotel – not stayed here but it looked ok and should you be heading to the old quarter well then of course check out the ever gorgeous Maison D’Orient.
**most of the following are either on Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho street or in the old quarter. To confuse matters Tay Ho is both a district/suburb and a street.
No Walmart or Carrefour so a trip to Fivimart is as good as it gets. Otherwise try VinMart and Circle K. On Xuan Dieu in Tay Ho the Hung Long convenience store is an expat haven, very small but has a lot of the essentials (they even ordered Baileys in at my request). Additionally the rather pleasant Marumart is situated more or less opposite. For burgers try Tracy’s on Xuan Dieu, very American but very good!
Al Fresco’s (Xuen Dieu st, Tay Ho)
Pizza 4P’s – I finally got to sample this gem in the old quarter not far from Maison D’Orient, bare concrete, open plan oven, you can see your pizza being freshly prepared and baked to perfection, highly recommended.
L’Escargot – Really cool shop with affordable meals and friendly staff
Hanoi Sandwich House – The sandwiches themselves are on the pricy side, breakfasts more reasonably priced (which I never got to try in the end)
Maison de Blanc – Another beautiful cafe adjacent to the Sandwich House
Joma – This one is a little more tricky to find but very good turkey sandwich as I was there over xmas – also does its own merchandise should you want a tee-shirt or mug
Saint Honore – Very posh Parisian cafe on Xuan Dieu street, despite this it also has a community vibe with a noticeboard good for spotting rooms, apartments and events.
For the quirky try the Unicorn Kafe, you have to see it to believe it (see pictures above)!
Hanoi Home – it must be said that Hanoi is particularly pants when it comes to cinema, I saw none the whole time I was there so wherever they are, they must be well disguised. Hanoi Home then serves as a rather peculiar blend of convenience store, a cafe area and on the floor above that, a defacto cinema which looks like someone’s lounge but above all I was very grateful for. I saw two films here on beanbags that are almost inescapable!
Toong – Spread over two floors (that’s floors 3 and 4) in the old quarter above Cowboy Jacks (another American burger place), Toong is a sumptuous space recalling a stately manor library while the upper floor is one big open plan office with a self service cafe attached. I never worked here as it was a long way from my base in Tay Ho but it’s a beautiful space and if the future grounds me in this part of town I’d certainly consider it.
Vietnam Discovery (affiliate link)
**disclaimer, I haven’t used this service myself as it’s a company who approached me, hence I have no opinion of them being good or bad.