To all my fellow Phở lovers out there, get your able bodies over to Vietnam - stat. Hanoi, the country’s capital and the city renowned for the greatest global production of such noodle deliciousness (fabricated this fact but great chance it's true), is really only a short plane ride away (from most places).
I think we would all agree that Phở is a hit any time of day, any day of the week, but if you thought you were in love with it prior to a visit to young 'nam, get ready to wonder whether your life thus far has been a total lie. Of course Hanoi has much more to offer than a bowl of soup, so much so that I would vouch for its worthiness as a leading destination on any SE Asia itinerary - till the day I die.
If you find a guest house, hostel, hotel in the Old Quarter and/or near Hoan Kiem lake that fits your budget, jump on it straight away! Every morning I went walking around both these areas and happened upon something different and unique each time. If you're an early riser, you might find yourself amongst all the locals exercising before they head to work. One fine morning I was by the lake and a group of 20 or so elderly men and women were participating in some kind of cult-like laughing yoga ritual, whereby everyone laughed hysterically and made faces at each other while simultaneously partaking in some light stretches. I soon found out that Laughing Yoga is in fact a thing, and has been said to act as a great stress reliever for the laughers and perhaps an even greater spectacle for onlookers. Only in Vietnam.
Keeping to the strange finds theme we've got going on, here are a few other gems I discovered in Hanoi.
Egg Coffee - During the War, Vietnam ran out of milk (or so I've been told). Some kind of daytime beverage prophet thought to use egg yolk as a substitute, until milk was back in supply. Now before you go clicking out of this article to rid this egg business from your screen understand that as unnerving as this sounds, the result is genuinely on par with liquid tiramisu - and damnnn is it good. Cafe Giang is the cities leading egg coffee supplier, and apparently the original source of it too.
Bia Hoi - At a whopping 30c per glass, Bia Hoi is a locally brewed beer tapped from barrels at street stalls all around town. For a beer that's as stupidly cheap, it really doesn't taste too bad at all (mind you, it's no Stone & Wood). Bia Hoi Corner, at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets, is a popular spot for locals & backpackers come nightfall each day of the week.
Western rooftop dining - walking around town, particularly through the Old Quarter, it is very hard to miss the French influence on several aspects of the city. Much like the colonial architecture scattered all over the place, the food culture of Vietnam seemed to be increasingly westernized the closer we got to the capital. After 2 months in SE Asia I was overdue for a brekky that was a little more on par with Sunday brunch standards back home. Thankfully the coconut & mango Bircher at Hanoi Social Club absolutely rocked my world and the groovy interior that lead to the rooftop made for a fresh and memorable dining experience.
All this and more proved to skyrocket Hanoi to the top of my 'must-do of Vietnam' list. It truly is a country I very much adore, history and all, and Hanoi really is the perfect place to start (or hopefully by this stage of your life continue) your Phở escapades.
Note: if you're unfamiliar with this so called Phở, you're doing life wrong.
Words and images by Elli Webb