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Hanoi – the highlight of our trip

We had the most fantastic time in Hanoi. We are extremely lucky to have a Vietnamese friend who lives here, and I can honestly say that Hung and his lovely family made our time in Hanoi unforgettable.

We arrived in Hanoi in the early morning after getting the sleeper train from Hue. We we lucky to get an entire cabin to ourselves so we had a great sleep before arriving. Hung kindly offered to pick us up from the station so was waiting with his car to take us to his apartment. Hung lives in the lovely West Lake area of Hanoi so we drove here and had a shower before heading out for the day. Hung’s wife, Mai, is head of marketing for Vespa so we were lucky to have the use of a very cool looking green Vespa for the day. Jack drove us along behind Hung, navigating the crazy moped traffic like a pro as we visited some great sights.

We stopped off at the Hoan Kiem lake where a famous 200 year old, 250KG, turtle lives. He only pops up to say hello in extreme weather conditions so we didn’t manage to see him, but the lake itself is beautiful with a red bamboo bridge and a little museum explaining the history. We also visited a famous pagoda.

Hoan Kiem lake:

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The pagoda:

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We went for a traditional breakfast of beef noodle soup, it isn’t something my western stomach expects at 8AM but it was one of the most delicious noodle soups we have had on our trip – this is one of the advantages of being friends with a local, or Hanoi-er as we called him!

The cafes make huge vats of the broth for the pho by boiling pork and chicken bones, they then add fresh meat, noodles and vegetables. The busiest cafes serve hundreds of people each morning. Here is a local cafe making their broth:

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Breakfast pho:

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We also visited the Ho Chi Minh museum which was really interesting. I bought a book about his life so we can find out more about the most important man in Vietnamese history.

Guards outside the museum:

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One of our favourite afternoons involved meeting Hung’s friends in a traditional Bia Hoi den for beer, vodka and lots of amazing food. Once again, there was no way we would have found this place without Hung. It was a Friday, so prime time for boozy lunches, and the place was packed. We were the only Westerners there. Hung’s friends were extremely welcoming, sharing their food, beer and vodka with us. We seemed to say ‘Cheers’ or ‘Yo’ every few minutes as is custom in Vietnam!

Hung pouring some drinks:

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Cheers:

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One of the favourite things we ate with our Bia Hoi were whole shrimps with a dip of salt, pepper, chilli and wasabi – for a salt fiend like me it was a total dream! In Vietnam they eat shrimps quite differently to us Westerners. They don’t peel off the shell and they eat it all, including the head. I have to say this freaked me out a little and for my first few shrimps I carefully peeled them much to he amusement of the table! However, after a few glasses of beer and a couple of vodka shots I decided to man up and sampled a few whole shrimp. What can I say, they were like crunchy shrimp! Pretty tasty, especially with the dip.

Whole shrimp and dip:

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We also shared a huge dish of whole river fish and vegetables:

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Ater a trip to the bathroom I noticed a piglet in a cage just outside. I wasn’t quite sure what it was doing there and I took a photo. When I went back an hour later he was gone. I think he became somebody’s lunch.

Piggy:

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Jack and I explored the old quarter of Hanoi. This is made up of 36 small streets that are all known for selling a particular thing, be it jewellery, silk, fish or pork, they all have their role. The streets are like a little maze to walk around. We found Bia Hoi junction, which is pretty self explanatory, and stayed here a while! On the way back to the West Lake area we were surprised to stumble across a place selling dog meat. I had heard about dog being eaten in Vietnam but I had never actually seen it. Despite it being very strange for me to get my head around, these dogs are a specific breed that are raised on a vegetarian diet and are bred to be eaten. Nobody in Vietnam keeps this type of dog as a pet, and they tend to eat dog around specific dates on the lunar calendar for good luck. The Vietnamese love dogs and you see pets everywhere, so fear not, if you DO eat dog in Vietnam, it isn’t somebodies escaped pet!

Dog meat:

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Hung also took us to see a whole host of amazing sights such as the opera house, parliament and the foreign ministry. He really was the best guide to Hanoi we could have asked for!

We had some amazing home cooked meals with Hung’s lovely family. His wife Mai and son Little Mouse (nickname!) couldn’t have been more welcoming. We had some home cooked beef pho which was delicious plus amazing fresh spring rolls with takeaway Bia Hoi – amazing! Hung even went out of his way to get us a Ban Mi from one of the most famous stands in Hanoi to take with us on our train journey to Sapa. Plus he organised to get my iPhone fixed, I thought it was officially dead so am over the moon to get it back!

Hung and his lovely family:

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I can’t even put into words how grateful myself and Jack are for Hung’s kindness during our visit. It really has been our favourite place and best experience. If he or his family ever come to London we would love to do the same in return.

Our next stop was a trip to Sapa in the mountains for some trekking

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