I want to start with a clear statement that Vietnam is one of my favorite places to eat street food. For a long time Thailand reigned as untouchable on my list, but in less than 24 hours after touchdown my opinion changed. We spent one week in northern Vietnam, and December was the perfect season for traveling albeit a few drizzles. Other months can bring extreme heat and humidity, so keep that in mind while planning your trip. Our central point was the city of Hanoi, population 6 million, bustling with traffic and culture. At the end of each day my hair felt thick with grease and my skin sticky from all the pollution. The city streets were particularly loud with incessant honking. Wearing ear plugs to walk down the street would not be over the top. The world class street food made up for this.
Our week in Vietnam was spent as a rejuvenation period after Hong Kong. After all, this was my winter break during school, and we both needed to recharge. Leaving Phoenix was total chaos with packing and tying up loose ends. We went full speed through Vancouver and Hong Kong. Thus, a place abundant with delicious food and luxury spas was the perfect place to hit reset.
Hanoi is also a great central point to see Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, and Trang An. Sa Pa is a little mountain village that sometimes sees snow in the winter months and the place for those wanting to trek. We booked a river tour in Trang An which was stunning, even in the misty weather. Ha Long Bay is a world heritage site that should be on your list, but the coastal weather kept us from going there on this trip.
One week is a long time for most travelers in this region, but there is much to see and even more to eat!
The Short Guide to Northern Vietnam
1. Phố. You can see my anatomy of a phố bowl below. Most phố has beef in it, which I don't eat. The version I ordered below was mouth-watering and loaded with flavor. Generally, phố has a light broth compared to most Asian noodle dishes, which means it is not particularly heavy. It was nice not to feel bloated and hammering a glass of water after a meal. When you walk the streets of Hanoi you will see large pots on every corner kept piping hot with phố broth.
2. Banh Xeo. This bean sprout pancake was so delicious! The rice paper on the left is for wrapping up all the goods. This is best eaten from a street stand where you can watch the pancake get made in a big banana leaf. Justin ordered his with shrimp on the right. It is also popularly made with beef.
Right: (3) Egg coffee. It's more popular than plain coffee in Vietnam. It tastes like coffee custard in my opinion, so it's more of a dessert.
Left: (4) Cha Ca. This was my favorite meal. A fatty white fish grilled with loads of herbs. Unbelievably tasty. I slept well that night. We ate at the restaurant Cha Ca Thang Long, which is said to be the best Cha Ca in the Old Quarter.
5. Banh Mi. Justin and I used to eat these on the daily at a small co-op in Seattle, and I always dreamed of having one from the motherland. Would you believe these sandwiches were $1 each from a street stand? They were wrapped up so perfectly. Loaded with grilled tofu, pickled cucumber, coriander, carrot, and spicy herbs to bring it all home.
6. Assorted unnamed goods from the street. The alleyways are packed with food stalls, and everything smells amazing. If something has a long line, you know it has to be good, and is probably safe. Dive in.
1. Get a massage. Justin and I paid $12 each for a 90 minute spa and hot stone session. Like I said, rejuvenation at its finest. Pictured below is Orient Spa, in the heart of Hanoi. The staff was super friendly and accommodating, I highly recommend this place.
2. Visit the train street in Hanoi. It's an easy walk to get here, and is a fun afternoon outing. This little neighborhood lives right up against the tracks. The train goes through twice a day, and we just happened to be there at the right time. The cross streets are Le Duan and Kham Thin street in the Old Quarter.
3. Explore mother nature! The photos below are from Trang An/Tom Coc in Ninh Binh province. Like I mentioned in the beginning, getting out of the city is such a treat in Vietnam. You don't want to miss the stunning scenery.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.