Hanoi rotates between 4 seasons. Autumn comes in September. The season comes and goes quickly. The Fall is felt through light wind, young rice of Hanoi and the passing fragrance of milk flowers in the far corners of the streets. Knowing that I will visit Hanoi for only 24 hours, my friend in Hanoi happily offers to take me around to discover the city of a thousand of years of civilization.
We have a breakfast of noodles at Bat Dan Street. This restaurant is very famous and packed with diners early in the morning. We are quick enough to get some seats and wait for the noodles. There are more than 20 dishes consumed for breakfast in Hanoi. There are over 5 kinds of “xôi” and “bún”, not to mention “bánh cuốn” and bread, but “phở” is still the first choices of Hanoians and is thus the dish that is sold in most food stall and restaurants. People enjoy bowls of “phở” with flavorful broth, red beef and chopped spring onion. “Phở” is synonymous with Vietnam and is famous the world over.
Having finished our breakfast of phở, we do not need to hurry so we drop by a café to enjoy a cup of brown coffee.
Nhi café on Hang Ca Street is so packed with guests that there is almost no space left for parking motorbikes.
Nang Café, Gian Café, and Thoi Café overlook the street with simple sets of wood tables and chairs. Black coffee with ice and brown coffee are favorite drinks of people in the morning.
People in Hanoi do not like sitting in luxurious coffee shops to drink coffee. Those places are just for serving beverages such as fruit juice.
If you want to enjoy a good coffee, just drop by a simple café with comfortable chairs and tables, you can get a really delicious cup.
Now it is time for a trip around Hanoi. We take a trip around Hoan Kiem lake in the cool and comfortable weather of the Fall. The sky is blue and pleasantly sunny. Many couples come here to take their wedding photos. The corners of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hang Bai Street, Dinh Le Street, the Opera House, Hilton Hotel and Sofitel Metropole have become destination for couples who want to make a beautiful album.
We enter Trang Tien ice cream shop to enjoy delicious ice cream cones. If you do not want ice cream, you can spend some time visiting The Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son Temple. When you buy tickets to visit these two places, you can also go to Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (Temple of Literature). It should take you about 2 hours to visit these two places. On the way to these two places, you can visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long on Hoang Dieu Street. On this street, there is a special address, the home of General Vo Nguyen Giap.
What to eat for lunch is all that matters to me. Every dish is so appealing to me and I really want to try it all. “Bún đậu mắm tôm”, at Phat Loc Street or “Bún Chả” at Hang Manh, “Chả Cá Lã Vọng” or “Bún Lưỡi” at Ngo Si Lien Market, steak sandwich, etc. I would like to try it all, after a whole of considering the choices, I decide to have a “Bún đậu mắm tôm”, the dish that is most delicious only when being served in Hanoi. A portion of “Bún đậu với chả cốm”, pork and spring rolls leaves me feeling full enough until the late afternoon.
It is noon time now with the sun shining. It is now time to explore the 36 streets of Hanoi and the best way is to walk. If you are not careful when walking through these streets, you may easily get lost. Street after street, alley after alley, with houses built adjoining each other. Only by walking along these streets, can you know about the lives of people in Hanoi. Each of the streets sells a particular kind of good and small stores are typical of these streets. Here, you can find very old professions such as hairdressing on the sidewalks, selling wigs, long dress sewing, seal making, watch repairing and painting. Many of these are on the brink of being lost to time. Walking on the streets, you can drop by Luong Van Can Street to enjoy a cup of black bean tea or a cup of ice tea in the alleys. I go to Bach Ma temple, one of the four towns in Hanoi right at the beginning of Hang Buom Street. Then I wander around O Quan Chuong and get lost in an alley in the busy and bustling Dong Xuan market. After a while, I find a way to Hang Duong Street to buy some processed fruits as a gift. Seeds of young rice are also carefully wrapped in lotus leaves as a gift. Walking for a while on the street, I buy a lot of specialties to bring home.
The show at Thang Long Puppet Theatres is about to start. Each performance lasts more than 1 hour and every performance is very interesting. The audiences are mostly people on your packages, and there are many children. Many fairy tales such as “sự tích trầu cau”, “ăn khế trả vàng” and many others are performed with water puppets. Not only does it not take you much time to watch a puppet show but is it also very interesting.
It is now time to enjoy a beer on the corner of Ta Hien Street where it is crowded with young people coming to drink and chat after work. Cool beer, some “nem phùng”, chips and “nem chua nướng” … all make the street busy and exciting. It is also time for the night market to start. The market goes from 6pm to 11pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at Hang Dao and Hang Duong streets, from the area of Hoan Kiem Lake to Dong Xuan Market.
Wandering through streets with the fragrance of ylang ylang and milk flower, we stop at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This is a destination for many people to stroll with heir family in the evenings. One interesting thing that I have recently discovered is the flag lowering ceremony at 9pm every evening. People walking through the area stand will stand when the ceremony starts.
It is time for iced tea and supper. The night life here is simple. We look for a shop with a view over Hoan Kiem Lake to enjoy cups of tea and some sunflower seeds and fruit. Many young people gather together here. Food for supper is also varied, from papaya salad to a bowl of rib soup, from sticky rice to noodles with goose meat and bamboo shoots.
The streets in Hanoi at night have a deep and peaceful beauty which is so special. Unlike Saigon, which is noisy 24 hours a day, Hanoi at night is totally different from the day time. After the rush and hurried pace of day time, the streets at 11pm are sparse with people. The cool weather in the Fall makes people wear a thin sweater and a scarf. Fog has covered all the streets. Under the yellow light of the street lamps, the space at night is so quiet and we smell the fragrance of fresh flowers. The window of someone’s house is open and I can hear the melody of a love song.
Traveling in Hanoi at night makes me feel all its beauty and interests. Many photographers are now taking photos of Hanoi at night. These photos centre on topics such as 36 streets, houses in French architectural style, and streets with beautiful lights such as Hoang Dieu, Phan Dinh Phung and Tran Phu, etc.
It is now time for a special trip to an amazing place: Quang Ba flower night market. At 2AM, motorbikes loaded with flowers from the flower village such as Tay Tuu, Me Linh, Nghi Tam gather in this market. This world of flowers is open all day but the market is busiest at 2AM. The growers sell flowers at this early hour so that flowers can be sold fresh on every street in Hanoi at 4AM or 5AM.
In the light of flashlights, the flower market is busy and bustling with buyers and sellers. Each season is typical with certain types of flowers. At this time, the market is full of yellow daisies which are typical of Autumn. Flowers here are sold in bunches of 100 flowers at an amazingly cheap price. In addition to daisies, there are also roses, lilies and many others.
Walking through the flower night market, we do not want to come back home. In the fragrance of flowers is the hard daily life of florists. From 2AM to 5AM, flowers are loaded on motorbikes to be transported to flower shops on Hanoi streets or to other markets in the morning. If you are hungry you can have a bowl of hot noodle, bánh tẻ, ỏ bánh dày, and drink a cup of hot green tea. Leaving the flower market, I bring with me bunches of daisies which are carefully arranged. These flowers will be with me on the flight to Saigon in the next morning.
My 24 hour journey is coming to an end. The sunlight starts in the horizon when we are on Long Bien Bridge which is more than 100 years old. Dawn on the Red River is crimson with the soil deposits. Under the bridge, the Long Bien fruit and vegetable market is in full swing. On the bridge now, hard-working people are travelling back and forth with heavy baskets of fruit. The bridge has witness the change of people’s lives and this land over a century and it will continue to be a connection of the two river banks in the future.
The 24 hour journey around Hanoi is so special and emotional.