The Greatest City … In The World?

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Southeast Asia 2023
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For the past few years, I’ve maintained that Hanoi is my favorite city in the world. With that in mind, I’ll admit I had a bit of trepidation returning for the third time. What if things had changed? After all, Vietnam is a rising star – it managed the pandemic well, and the economy is on a tear as supply chains diversify away from China. A lot of what I love about Hanoi is the chaos – the hustle, the noise, the grittiness. What if the last few years had left it sterile?

Dear reader, I need not have worried. Hanoi is still amazing.

We’re only here for a little over 24 hours – just a long layover on our way to Penang. A lot of time spent on Google Flights got us an affordable itinerary from MSP to Seoul, then on to Hanoi, with a separate booking from Hanoi to Penang (via Kuala Lumpur). Our travel day went very smooth – we were reminded of how delightful Incheon is. South Korea really cares about its national brand, and it shows up in places like ICN – nap pods, lots of indoor greenery, great food. We’ll spend more time in Seoul on the way home.

We landed in Hanoi around 11pm and were met by the driver from our hotel – as I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, sometimes spending a few extra bucks to have someone meet you at the airport after a 24 hour travel day is money well spent. We’re staying at a nice hotel near Hoàn Kiếm Lake – a splurge at almost $50 per night, but we’re only here for two nights.

After a good sleep, we got up ready to embrace a day in Hanoi. The hotel offers a full breakfast, but we just grabbed some fruit and coffee (Kat can’t pass up fresh passionfruit) then set out to find a breakfast bahn mi. A bahn mi with scrambled eggs, chilis, and herbs is a real delight. We got another coffee nearby, then set out for a wander through the city.

We stopped into a ceramics store, did a loop of the lake, then wandered north through the old town and up towards the big lake (Trúc Bạch). We made a stop for breakfast number two – bánh cuốn – then settled in at another cafe overlooking the lake. There was a nice breeze off the lake and we enjoyed reading and relaxing for a bit.

My only real goal for our day in Hanoi was to visit VietClimb, the local bouldering gym and climber hangout. They built a new gym during the pandemic and I wanted to check it out. It’s a great bouldering gym – someday we’ll need to do a proper climbing trip here.

By now it was mid-afternoon, so we wandered back south, with a lunch stop along the way (our choice was influenced by the ladies at the food stand giggling at Kat’s hair).

As it got closer to evening, we did some people and dog watching at a small park, then made a loop of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum before stopping for our last meal of the day – bun bo hue. We wrapped things up with an ice cream and another lap of the lake. It’s Friday night, so if we had the energy to stay up a bit later, the social scene would really pick up around the lake. Sadly, we’re going to be heading back to the airport at 5:15 in the morning, so we’re calling it quits early.

So that was our big day out – 16 miles of walking, an hour of bouldering, four meals, and a lot of wonderful sights, sounds, and smells. Here’s hoping it’s not another 5 years before we’re back in Hanoi, but at least I have some confidence that whenever we get back, it’ll still be great.

4 thoughts on “The Greatest City … In The World?

  • Deb February 10, 2023 at 2:45 pm Reply

    Wonderful! That ice cream cone!!!

  • Susan February 10, 2023 at 3:19 pm Reply

    All wonderful and I agree with Deb about the cone. Can you put a link from the emailed essay to your website so it’s easier to see the photos? I could only get here when I clicked to comment. Hope the travel today is going well—happy you got a little time in Hanoi.

  • Mike Stratton February 10, 2023 at 4:21 pm Reply

    Loved this summary! Great descriptions! Thanks Colin! 🙂

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