For my first trip to Hanoi I was eager to see as much of the city, and surrounding countryside, as possible. After a lovely quiet flight, we arrived at the hotel just after lunchtime, and agreed to meet in a couple of hours to tick off our first item on the itinerary – a street food tour!
There are plenty of companies that come up if you google “Hanoi street food tour”, and one of the girls on the flight had already contacted one to arrange our tour. We took an uber into the city (our crew hotel is around a 40 minute drive away) to meet with our local guide, Hannah.
We started at Hoan Kiem Lake, which is a central point of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Since it was a weekend, all of the surrounding roads were blocked off for cars and were pedestrian-only, which was great.
Our first stop on the tour was a little bit of a walk from the lake, but this was the perfect chance to get a feel for the city. It was very busy and it felt like everyone was out enjoying the evening!
Our first taste of Vietnamese food was “bun cha” which I have to say turned out to be one of my favourites! We ate at a place that Obama has also eaten at, so they serve the “Obama Combo” which is quite fun.
Bun cha is made up of rice noodles, lots of fresh herbs, a delicious broth with pieces of pork and vegetables, and chilli and garlic on the side. All of the parts come served separately and you get a small bowl which you fill up with a bit of everything. So delicious! We also tried some fried crab rolls, similar to spring rolls, which were just as delicious.
Next up was a walk back along the lake to try something I’d heard of and was eagerly awaiting – Banh Mi. This is actually the Vietnamese word for bread, but it’s commonly used to describe the sandwich which is made up of fresh baguette, one or more meats, vegetables, fresh herbs and condiments such as chilli sauce or mayonnaise.
I didn’t manage to get a picture because we all devoured them in seconds, but trust me when I say they were absolutely delicious!
Next up was “Pho”, which Hannah had great fun trying to get us to pronounce correctly. I can’t even attempt to write it out how it sounds so you’ll just have to go to Vietnam and try it for yourself 😉
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat, usually beef (which we went for) or chicken. Ours also came served with some sort of fried dough, and there was soy sauce and fish sauce on the table which you could add in to your soup. Tasty!
By this point we were starting to get pretty full, so decided just to add on one last stop. Along the way we passed by a lady selling friend bananas and fried sweet potato, so of course we had to try a banana each, and they were delicious and not overly sweet.
Our final stop of the food tour was for egg coffee – a Vietnamese speciality. Served throughout Hanoi, the egg coffee is traditionally made with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee powder. The most famous place to get it is the Giang Cafe, which is where we went. Here the coffee is served in a small bowl of hot water to retain its temperature.
The son of the café’s founder claims that his father developed the recipe for the drink when milk was scarce in Vietnam, replacing it with egg yolk.
I chose to have the hot version, while the others tried it iced. It was pretty tasty, similar to a cappuccino although quite a bit richer, so I couldn’t finish it, especially after eating so much food! A lovely way to end our street food tour of Hanoi.
The next morning, we were up bright and early to make the trip to the Trang An Grottoes, in Ninh Binh. For convenience we booked our tour through our hotel, although whilst in the city I spotted plenty of travel agencies selling tours to Trang An and Ha Long Bay, which is a bit further and would be better on an overnight trip, rather than a day trip.
It’s around a 2 hour drive to Trang An, and we were soon greeted by the stunning scenery.
The grottoes consist of quite a few caves and large rocks towering out from a huge network of canals and lakes. We were a group of 8 crew plus our tour guide, so were split up into 3 boats with a lady who expertly navigated her way through the waterways.
She took us through so many low caves, we were told to duck our heads plenty of times and I’m still not quite sure how she managed to steer the boat through all of the caves without any scratches!
It was so peaceful and serene out on the water, all 3 of us were content just to watch the world go by and enjoy the quiet.
We also passed by a beautiful temple that just appeared to be floating on the water.
After a while we pulled up at a little docking area, and got out to explore a bit of the surrounding area. This is actually where part of King Kong was filmed, and although I haven’t seen the movie, it was interesting to see the set that had been left behind.
There were some local ladies dressed up in costumes which was a little bit touristy!
We hopped back onto the boats and were soon back at the place we’d started out at. From here we all got a bike (mine was pretty rusty and I was slightly concerned it was going to fall apart any minute!) and cycled for about 40 minutes, through the surrounding countryside and villages.
I was in awe of all of the beautiful scenery and so happy that we’d made this trip, despite having an early start.
The final stop of the day was a buffet lunch, which had nothing on our street food tour the previous night!
After lunch it was time to get back in the van to take us back to the hotel before our wake up and the flight back home.
I can highly recommend a trip to the Trang An Grottoes, I felt so at peace after a few hours on the water, surrounded by nature. If you’d like to see a video shot by one of the guys on his drone, head over to my Facebook page, The Dubai Diaries. It’s beautiful!