Sitting here in the Pink Tulip Hotel in sweaty Ho Chi Minh City, it’s not hard to be a bit nostalgic for the cold nights back in Hanoi. At this point I’m doing my best to remember day two in Hanoi, which was one of our busiest, back when we still had energy to spare.
The day started at Bun Cha Cua Be Dac Kim, which is thoroughly reviewed at @ZWC. I don’t have much to add. This is a place that does one thing and one thing extremely well: bun cha. Their version is perfectly grilled pork floating in a mild fish sauce laden broth, a pile of fresh herbs, a pile of fresh noodles and a bunch of chopped chili and garlic. With ultra-fresh crab spring rolls, it comes to about $3 a head and maybe $1 per beer. As an early lunch, this was dangerously close to causing sluggishness but instead fortified us for a crazy day of sightseeing.
We walked from the bun cha to the main tourist drag where we saw Lenin’s Statue, The Temple of Literature, and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Of the three, I found the Temple of Literature to be the most interesting. It was the center of learning in old Hanoi, a place for scholars to gather and share their wisdom. There were several groups of students present on this day celebrating their graduation amongst the beautiful architecture and statues of great thinkers. Apparently the turtle is a symbol of knowledge here, as many scholar’s chairs were fashioned in the image of turtles.
The Mausoleum was a bit of a bust because it was closed to the public. A bit dejected from that turn, we walked the long walk back towards the hotel, got our laptops and then sought out a Lonely Planet-sourced coffee shop from which to try the local coffee and get some live-blogging done.
The coffee shop (Ca Phe Pho Co) turned out to be one of the great successes of the trip. You have to go through an old silk shop to find the entrance where a woman takes your order and then you climb a spiral staircase to be greeted by an incredible view of the lake and much of Hanoi. Coffees are only about $2 US a pop and are of a very high quality. I got the hot coffee with egg, which is apparently egg white whipped into the coffee so it achieves a dense foam. The coffee itself, like much of its Vietnamese ilk, was rich, dark and sweet. This was truly a great way to unwind and reflect on a day well spent.
After regaining our senses (and checking out a cool island in the middle of the lake), Mikey and I sought out another highly recommended restaurant: Net Hue. Our logic was simple: our literary didn’t allow for us to visit Hue itself, so why not try this highly lauded restaurant that serves Hue food?
The most significant hurdle was the fact that Trip Advisor reviews noted that the restaurant was hard to find, on an alley off Hang Bong. This worried us and we ended up circling the area a bit before actually finding the place. In reality, this shouldn’t have been an issue. It’s on a highly popular little walkway off of Hang Bong, the first left if traveling westward on Hang Bong from Ngo Cam Chi. The sign is prominent and the restaurant is just upstairs. No problem.
Having never had Hue-style food before, this is a difficult place to evaluate. The restaurant staff was extremely friendly and helpful. Moreover, it’s a trendy place with lots of Vietnamese hipsters present. Their English is good and they proved helpful guides for the menu. We ended up trying the signature Bun, highly recommended banana leaf wrapped rice paste, and a fried stuffed pancake.
Again, I have no reference point, but I found the bun a bit bland. The rice paste was very interesting, a gummy but pleasant texture (reminiscent of tamale), and the frying on the pancakes was superb. I realize this is a terribly terse description, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances.
After Net Hue, Mikey and I checked out the night market, which was largely a bust, and grabbed some “bia hoi” or home brewed beer sold at little outposts around Hanoi for 25 cents a pint. Cheaper and fresher beer one cannot find.