Aug 27, 2017

Hanoi Travelogue: Pho, Vietnamese Coffee, Bun Cha, Water Puppet - Checked! (28 Jan 2016)

Barely 3 months from Taiwan trip, tanner half and I were bound for Hanoi for a 7D6N vacation. We booked our flight and hotel on AirAsiaGo for RM800/pax 7 months ago in June 2015.

Our Room @ Especen Hotel
We chose Especen Hotel (28 Tho Xuong street) due to its proximity to the city centre, spaciousness and decent interior. Airport transfer service was offered at VND350k or USD16 per way.

Our Room Especen Hotel
Our room looked exactly as listed on AirAsiaGo. Room was clean and prepped, bed was comfortable, shower was piping hot, I was pleased.

View from Room's Balcony @ Especen Hotel
Located at 4th floor, our room came with an open balcony, with plenty of natural light and fresh air. The only thing I disliked about the room was the long and narrow staircases leading in and out of our room.

Half Done Beef @ Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su (VND45k)
Within 250m walking distance from Especen Hotel was Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su, where we had our piping hot Pho! Depending on the cuts, their Pho selection ranged from VND45k to VND100k.

I loved the intense beefiness and sourness of the soup. The doneness (medium rare) of the thinly sliced beef was perfect. Help yourself with more limes and chillies on the tables.

Total damage = VND115k

Nem Cua Be @ Bun Cha Dac Kim (VND15k each)
Another 300m walk from Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su brought us to Bun Cha Dac Kim, where we stopped for some Nem Cua Be (spring rolls). Nem Cua Be looked appetising with its golden crackly skin that threatened to fall apart upon touch.

Dipping Nem Cua Be and Local Vegetables @ Bun Cha Dac Kim
So it did and melded into the chunky and juicy fillings in it. Just take a piece of Nem Cua Be, dip it into the bowl of sour sweet concoction that served alongside with big plate of fresh local vegetables.

Total damage = VND60k (Nem Cua Be x 3 + Hanoi Beer)

Ca Phe Rhum @ Cafe Nhan (VND45k)
For dessert, we made another 500m walk from Bun Cha Dac Kim to Cafe Nhan for some Vietnamese coffee. Instead of ordering Ca Phe Trung (hot egg coffee), which was inexistent in the menu, we opted for Ca Phe Rhum (coffee with rum).

I personally find Vietnamese coffee strong, even on its own. Therefore, combining rum and Vietnamese coffee was something I found unusually kicky. If you are a hardcore coffee and/or alcohol drinker, you might want to give this a try.

Total damage = VND90k

Remainder of our afternoon was spent exploring areas surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, where Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is located. Water puppetry shows were available at 4.10pm,  5.20pm, 6.30pm and 8pm. To avoid disappointment, we grabbed our 8pm water puppetry tickets while we were in the vicinity. Tickets were sold at VND100k per ticket.

Banh Goi @ Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su
On our way back to Especen Hotel for an afternoon nap, we stumbled across Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su. Banh Goi is akin to fried dumpling filled with minced pork, onions, etc., which was served alongside bowls of sour sweet soup and fresh local vegetables. Crispy and juicy, it was great on its own. Dipping them into the soup accentuated the flavours more.

Total damage = VND50k (6-7 pieces of Banh Goi)

Nha Tho Lon (St Joseph Cathedral) 
After 3 hours of nap, we began our hunt for dinner. On the way out, we took an alternate exit intentionally to pass by Nha Tho Lon (St Joseph Cathedral), which is located 75m away from Especen Hotel.

St Joseph Cathedral is neo-Gothic cathedral, featuring twin bell towers, elaborate altar and fine stained glass windows. Entrance via main gate was not permitted outside Mass times, however you may try to access the cathedral via the Diocese of Hanoi compound, which is located a block away at 40 P Nha Chung.

Store Front of Bun Cha Dac Kim
Tanner half was so impressed with Nem Cua Be that we ended up here at Bun Cha Dac Kim again for dinner.

Bun Cha @ Bun Cha Dac Kim (VND60k)
Bun Cha and Nem Cua Be were priced at VND60k and VND15k respectively. We ordered the Combo 1: Bun Cha va Nem Cua Be (Bun Cha with 2 spring rolls) for VND 90k.

The Bun Cha came with 4-5 big pieces of grilled pork in soup and a plate of rice noodles. It did not look pretty but sure smelled and tasted lovely! Smoked and charred, the grilled pork had consistent chunkiness with balanced meat-to-fat ratio. Not only it was juicy, it was flavourful.

Take a bite of grilled pork with rice noodles dipped in soup, you would surely fall in love with Bun Cha.

Total damage = VND105k (Combo 1 + Hanoi Beer)

Fancy Lighting @ Hoan Kiem Lake
By night time, weather became windy and chilly. Silly me packed most summer clothes to Hanoi, having only one warmer jacket to hold the cold for the 750m walk to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.

Plenty of street vendors buzzed around Hoan Kiem Lake at nights, selling all sorts of hot food and local souvenirs. Tanner half and I spent our free time before 8pm puppet show enjoying the lightworks and people watching.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Traditional water puppet show featured 14 pieces selected from the repertoire of 400 items of the ancient Vietnamese puppetry. Our 8 pm show was preceded with a folk music composition using traditional musical instruments before showcasing the following:
  1. Prelude of clown Tễu
  2. Thang Long festival drumming
  3. Dragon's dance
  4. Buffalo-boy playing the flute
  5. Agricultural work (rice planting, soil ploughing, water scopping)
  6. Catching frogs
  7. Cashing the fox that tries to catch ducks
  8. Fishing
  9. Xa Thương (a melody in the collection of hymns dedicated to the cult of Holy Mothers, a folk belief of the Vietnamese people)
  10. Phoenix's dance
  11. Lê Lợi returning the sword (Lê Lợi was a national hero, leader of the resistance against foreign invasion in the 15th century. Legend has it that he was granted a sword by deities. After his victory over the invaders, Kim Quy (Golden) Tortoise God appeared to claim back the sword as he was boating on a lake in Hanoi. Hence the name of the lake, Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword))
  12. Unicorn's dance
  13. Eight fairies' dance
  14. Four sacred animals' dance (dragon, unicorn, tortoise, phoenix)
My personal favourites were #6 and #7.

For those who are weary about spending VND100k for a ticket, I would say, "Give it a try, it would be the best time you spent in Hanoi", if at all.

Nem Em Thuy nearby Nha Tho Lon (St Joseph Cathedral) 
After our water puppet show, we made our way back to Especen Hotel. Luck must be on my side for we came across a random shop selling rejected branded goods, where I grabbed myself a heavily discounted Levi's jacket for VND174k.

We also chanced upon this busy alley nearby Nha Tho Lon (St Joseph Cathedral). Swarmed with local diners on tiny chairs devouring platters of skewers, dining in Hanoi could not be more authentic than this.

Skewers and Fried Sweet Potatoes @ Nem Em Thuy
Despite the language barrier, tanner half managed to order some food for us. We had our fried sweet potatoes along with some fish skewers (I think). Imagine piping hot food in cold windy night, these skewers, though not great, was comforting.

Total damage = VND100k


My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su - 4/5
    • Bun Cha Dac Kim - 3/5
    • Cafe Nhan - 4/5
    • Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su - 2/5
    • Nem Em Thuy - 1/5
  • Price
    • Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su - 3/5
    • Bun Cha Dac Kim - 3/5
    • Cafe Nhan - 2/5
    • Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su - 4/5
    • Nem Em Thuy - 2/5
  • Food
    • Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su - 5/5
    • Bun Cha Dac Kim - 5/5
    • Cafe Nhan - 3/5
    • Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su - 4/5
    • Nem Em Thuy - 3/5
  • Verdict
    • Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su - No Pho in Malaysia can beat that!
    • Bun Cha Dac Kim - Simply awesome Bun Cha. Where can I find it in KL?
    • Cafe Nhan - Not a big fan of liquor coffee myself. Give it a try if you are one
    • Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su - Totally worth the calories snacking on this
    • Nem Em Thuy - Comfort food in the middle of the chilly night
My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • Especen Hotel: Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Lake and local food. Spacious and comfortable room. It could use a fan for ventilation during winters. Do ask for lower floor rooms if you are not a fan of climbing narrow staircases
  • Hoan Kiem Lake: Big and tranquil lake where locals exercise in the mornings. Pretty lightworks in the nights. Good for dating or chilling.
  • Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre: Water puppet show was fantastic. Do not miss watching one of these water puppet shows!
  • St Joseph Cathedral: Pay a visit in the cathedral if you can. It looked gothically pretty in the sunsets.


Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su
10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 6am - 2pm, 5.30pm - 10pm
Tel: +84 4 3825 7338
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Bun Cha Dac Kim
67 Duong Thanh Street, Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 11am - 7pm
Tel: +84 4 3828 5022
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Cafe Nhan
39D Hàng Hành, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 6am - 11pm
Tel: +84 4 3826 9861
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Thuc Donn 52 Ly Quoc Su
52 Lý Quốc Sư, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 11am - 10pm (based on Foursquare)
Tel: +84 4 3828 5922
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Nem Em Thuy
10 Ấu Triệu, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 4pm - 11pm
Tel: N/A
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

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