Hanoi travel guide (part 3)
Where to Eat in Hanoi
Hanoi is over-stuffed with restaurants. You can get almost any type of food, from local and regional specialties or pizza to Indian, vegetarian or afternoon tea and cakes. You can eat on street corners, in the many markets, or in top-of-the-line restaurants in the Hilton. Restaurants do have two shortcomings – they are often small, so they fill up quickly, and they don’t stay open very late.
As with hotels, new restaurants are sprouting up like mushrooms after the monsoon. Be adventurous. The menus are almost always in English, even in the smallest places. Sometimes the translations leave much to be desired, though, so flexibility is key
Only bottled water is safe to drink. Don’t eat food that isn’t cooked or peeled, at least until you’ve been in-country several weeks. Yes, this applies even at the Hilton. Be careful eating food that is creamy and/or has been out in the hot sun.
There are a number of supermarkets and local markets where you can buy quality, low-cost food and build a picnic.
Cho Dong Xuan, Dong Xuan Street. This is the largest covered market in Hanoi, at the far north end of the Hoan Kiem Lake area. The shopping is wondrous, and the food stalls, at the rear of the main floor, are well-stocked with vegetables, fruits, and other delectables.
Cho 19-12, between Hai ba Trung and Ly Thuong Kiet, is a street where they sell fresh foods – open during the daylight hours.
Water Puppets, Kim Dong Theater, 57 Dinh Tien Hoang (right at the northeast edge of Hoan Kiem Lake). This is a traditional form of entertainment, and goes on every evening, with multiple shows. It is OK for an hour or so, but that’s about enough. The shows cost between $1.50 and $3, depending on where you sit.
Folk Music, Temple of Literature, Nguyen Thai Hoc Avenue, across from the National Fine Arts Museum. Times and places vary. Ask at the museum or the entrance to the Temple.
The Opera House, 1 Trang Tien, tel. 4/825 4312. Classical (Western) concerts and ballets.
Hanoi is a shopper’s paradise. The array of crafts and consumer goods is overwhelming. The streets closest to Hoan Kiem Lake on the west and north sides, as well as the entire street around the Lake, are filled with specialty shops selling embroidered pillows and wall hangings, scarves, clothes, carved furniture, raw silk, lacquerware, painted fans, artwork, CDs, and much more, at prices that are (almost) too good to be true. And to make a good thing better, you are expected to bargain.
Tip: Don’t start to bargain if you have no intention of buying. It’s OK to start bargaining for one item (to get a feel for prices and flexibility) and change to another item. To simply waste the shop-owner’s time is rude and gives Westerners a bad name.
I find the Thai and Laotian silks to be better quality than the Vietnamese versions, but the Vietnamese material is decent and lower in cost. There are tailors all over the city and the country who can make quality clothes in no time. If you see some silk in Hanoi, you could buy it and take it to a tailor in Hoi An or elsewhere.
The detail work in the embroidered wall hangings and screens has to be seen to be believed. If you want to contribute to a worthy cause, consider buying your embroidered goods at the Disabled Center on the bus trip to Halong Bay.
There are stores offering ethnic crafts from minority and hill tribes, but you are usually better off buying direct if you are going to go trekking. T-shirts are cheap, but not of the quality found in the Night Market in Chiang Mai (Thailand).
Artwork, such as pencil or charcoal sketches, is a good bargain.
Tip: If you like something enough to buy more than one (or maybe you’re with someone who wants the same item), ask the price of one item. Start to bargain. When you have the price down by about 30-35%, ask the price for two of the same item. Bargain some more. If you want a third, repeat the process. Each additional items should reduce the average price per item by another 5-10%. Don’t start out asking “How much for two.” That overplays your hand at the outset. Happy shopping!
The Restored House at 87 Ma May. In the museum shop you can examine a wide variety of handicrafts – chopstick rests, porcelain, hangings, jewelry, pottery, and more. Prices are on the high side, but at least you’ll know where to start the bargaining at other stores.
Any shops along the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake or the streets just west of the Lake are worth a look. Or browse the myriad shops in the Old Quarter.
History, How to get to Hanoi, How to get around
What to see and do in Hanoi - Ho An Kiem Lake, French quarter, old quarter,…
Picture of the Opera
Trips from Hanoi - Halong Bay and Sapa
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