5 days in Hanoi

dragging the kids along
by Goldie | 17/9/17

Over the six weeks we were in Vietnam, Hanoi was our base a place to gather ourselves between all our other adventures. The first five days of our adventure, in the Hanoi Old Quarter, were an amazing experience for us all. Hanoi is an incredible place, non stop, but no-one is in a hurry. The whole city is a ramshackle, colourful, and crazy place. Everywhere you look there are street vendors selling food, shoes, toys, sunglasses, clothing, and all sorts of weird and wonderful fruits. There are motorbikes everywhere, parked all over the footpath (apparently it’s illegal to park on the footpath, ha), squeezing through any gap in the traffic they can, beeping wildly to make sure cars and pedestrians know they are there.

Crossing the road is a nerve racking experience at first, you just have to find a gap and step into the traffic, trusting that they will swerve to miss you. After a while it starts to make sense. It was great watching Arch getting the hang of it, getting a little strut happening as his confidence and competence grew. At first Stevie was quite nervous, but gained confidence quickly.

We stayed at a great homestay/hotel/travel agent right in the thick it all. The owners were lovely, and left us to our own devices, but always happy to offer assistance, advice, or conversation, whenever requested. They provided a delicious home cooked breakfast of Pho, fruit, toast for the kids, and Vietnamese coffee to keep the grown-ups happy.

We wandered the streets for hours each day, heading home for afternoon naps. We spent a fair bit of time was researching and finding things to keep the kids happy. Highlights were:

01 Bat Triang Pottery village
A free guided tour of Bat Triang pottery village, where we made our own cups, bowls and plates (unfortunately we couldn’t take them home, as they needed two days to bake, and it was a 45 minute drive from the city). Bat Triang is an ancient village, built on a site where there is silky smooth clay available. Traditional pottery has been made there for over a thousand years. There are literally hundreds of ceramics shops and workshops, brick makers, tile makers, side by side. We also explored the little winding back alleys that lead to the river, and the village communal house.

Everybody loved it, the kids particularly enjoying painting their clothing with the beautiful coloured paints. We paid 250,000vnd for the pottery classes. Our guide wouldn’t even let us buy him lunch. If you happen to be in Hanoi, look them up, they are great: http://hanoifreeamazingtours.com/

02 Museum of Ethnology
The Museum of Ethnology was a great place to learn about the cultures of Vietnam. There are great displays of traditional arts, an amazing photo gallery which illustrates the variety of life in Vietnam, and full sized traditional houses around the outside, which the kids loved. Entry was 80,000vnd, the kids were free (I’m pretty sure Archie is still only 5).
03 Times City Play Area
For something different, we decided to explore Hanoi’s more commercial side, and grabbed a cab out to Times City. This is an ultra modern, pretty much revolting display of commercialism, but there was a great kids play area, which helped us stay sane for a while. It was a school day, so there was only a couple of options her kids there. Both of our kids had a go at driving the dodgems, which they loved. Entry to the play area was 220,000vnd.
04 Food tour

For Kate and I the highlight was the food tour on day 3. We started at about 6pm, and walked all over the Old Quarter for the next few hours, stopping at a series of the most amazing restaurants to savour the local delicacies. Rice paper pancakes stuffed with pork were delicious (we went back for another round a few days later, at Archies request), and the Banh Mi (Vietnamese bread rolls with Pate, vegetables and beef) were excellent.

For me the highlight was the Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), the flavours were incredible. We finished it all off with a big bowl of fruit and icecream Hanoi style, which I won’t even try to describe. The kids coped well, although at one stage they were so tired, and wanting mummy, that Kate ended up carrying them both. I did the Lion’s share of the eating though.

05 The Coffee

On our second day in Hanoi our hosts pointed us towards the cafe where egg coffee was invented, Cafe Giang. What a revelation. Almost like a sweet meringue on top of a coffee. Unbelievably good!!! We went back several times, and will be back again on our next round in Hanoi, next week.

Travelling around Hanoi was easiest and cheapest with Uber. We also used Grab, the local version, which was good too. Both services were about half the price of taxis. It took a while to get used to the kids not having car seats, but after a while it almost felt normal. Both of the kids made new friends in Hanoi, Archie with Tit, the son of our host, and Stevie with Thuy, Tit’s grandfather, who was also the cook. It took them a while to warm up to them, but once they did it was lovely to watch the connections form, even without any common spoken language.

The kids have struggled at times, with all the constant attention, cheek squeezing, and photo requests, as well as the heat, culture shock, and overall busyness of Hanoi, but they have been absolute troopers, and have played along amazingly. We had so many great adventures in the first  5 days we spent in Hanoi, but that was just the start of it. Stay tuned for more of our adventures, dragging the kids around Vietnam…