Asia,  TDM,  Travel Journal,  Vietnam

Hanoi (Vietnam) – How to live like locals?

What a pleasure to return home (at last to one’s parents) in the middle of the world tour. What a luxury to be able to rest, recharge your batteries and eat the food you love

When arriving at the Hanoi airport, we take a metered cab like everyone else, but I think that the prepaid cabs offered in the airport stores will be cheaper. Indeed, we paid 350 000VND or 14€

My parents prepared a great dinner and a huge birthday cake for JB who just spent his birthday in 3 countries (Burma, Thailand, Vietnam)

Part 1: Travel Diaries

Day 2: The excellent Vietnamese services

In Hanoi, we visited it at length. I always take advantage of my time in Hanoi to eat, see family and friends… or start administrative procedures. In this case, we apply for a 5 year visa exemption for JB directly in Hanoi (because we didn’t have time to do so at the Vietnamese embassy in Paris). Since JB entered with a 15 day exemption, we will have to leave the country so that he can re-enter with his 5 year visa. But that’s a good thing because we intend to do it anyway

JB then finds a place to change the battery of his computer. This one is at the end of its life. During 2 months, each time we go in a city, we contact the i-Care of the place to find its battery. Usually, it isn’t available and the battery change takes 3 weeks. But in Vietnam, the service is exceptional: we find a repairman who confirms on the phone that not only the battery is available, but he can do it on the spot and that it will cost 3 times less than in France

Throughout our stay, we will realize that the service is excellent in all areas here. You just need to have money :D. For example, I bought a Clarisonic Mia Fit, imported from the US, for the same price as in the US. I send a message on Facebook to the seller in the morning, he sends me a courier in the afternoon at a time that suits me, I pay the courier everything. This is the local version of Amazon Prime. Shipping/courier/home delivery services are flourishing all over Vietnam. Many e-merchants accept shipping even to the most remote corners, for a delivery fee between 10 000VND (0.4€) and 30 000VND (1.4€). Payment is made either on delivery or by bank transfer

Even Uber offers the motorcycle cab (!!!!). A driver comes to pick you up on a scooter, helmet in hand. It’s fast, cheap, secure. Well, it sounds good like that, but in reality, Uber motorcycles tend to call customers as soon as they accept the ride to reconfirm the address. And they only speak Vietnamese. So if you want to use Uber in Vietnam, change your phone number on your account and put your Vietnamese number. The driver will call you to confirm. Ask someone to confirm in Vietnamese to the driver that yes you are waiting for him. Drivers do this because customers tend to hang out, cancel the ride, or put in the wrong address


We go to our favorite restaurant in Hanoi: Quan Sen, a Vietnamese restaurant that offers all-you-can-eat buffets (100 dishes for 320 000VND/person). I don’t tell you how many plates we filled! It’s super good, clean, varied, served in astronomical quantities. The only disadvantage for foreigners is that the names of the dishes are marked only in Vietnamese



We then go to“A dao” (22A Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem District), a cultural space in the center of Hanoi which is also a hotel/inn, owned by a friend of my parents. It is a charming old colonial house with a balcony worthy of a movie set

Several evenings a week, they show the best Vietnamese films or films about Vietnam. I admit that watching “The smell of green papaya” in a setting like this must be a magical moment. Twice a week, a traditional show featuring “a dao” songs (I had never had the opportunity to listen to this live before). In the past, “a dao” songs were associated with brothels or opium houses


We also stop by my favorite hairdresser for a relaxing shampoo and shampoo-brushing at a low price. In Vietnam, in general, women do not wash their hair every day. Every 2 or 3 days, they go to a hairdresser for a super 30 minute shampoo for only 40 000VND (1,6€). The shampoo consists of 5 steps: 2 shampoos with small head massage, 1 face massage, 1 conditioner, 1 big head massage. The (quick) brushing is of course included. I have recommended this type of shampoo to several people going to Vietnam but they were all too shy to test it. If you don’t test it, you’ll regret it when they show you the video

More info on Vietnamese shampoos in my 2nd article on Hanoi here

For dinner, we are happy to have paid only 2€ for 2 Vietnamese kebab & 2 coconuts. But all this has a price (see day 4)

Day 3 :

Like all the Vietnamese, we get up early to have breakfast in a bui bui near my parents’ house. Many Vietnamese dishes are sold only for breakfast (soups in particular) and too bad for those who get up late. JB finds his favorite breakfast in Vietnam: bu’n riêu. The saleswoman recognizes him at once and serves him a huge bowl (picture of illustration because we were very busy eating)


The trick to finding good “pho” and good breakfasts is to find nursery schools. Around these schools, the food is healthy and clean. On the other hand, it is necessary to go there between 7 and 8 o’clock because the children start school very early (so that their parents can go to work at 8 o’clock). Vietnamese people like to eat salty food in the morning, we will also find sandwiches, sticky rice of all tastes, soups (pho, vermicelli…), pudding… my favorite meal of the day in Vietnam is breakfast. This is the only reason why I get up early

At lunch, I take the opportunity to eat chicken (the Vietnamese farm chicken is the best in the world!) while JB is downing a Vietnamese kebab (which looks a lot like the banh half level ingredients)

We will spend the whole afternoon visiting my family. It’s very common, when someone comes back from a long period spent abroad like that, to go to their aunts and uncles to say hello, give a little gift, the sooner the better

We spend the evening in a Japanese restaurant full of Japanese people (it’s rare to meet so many of them, the restaurant must be really good), before going to the cinema to watch an American movie with Vietnamese subtitles at the Vincom shopping mall

Day 4, 5, 6: Food Intoxication

JB is sick: his belly didn’t like the kebab. Everybody confirms us that we must absolutely avoid bui-bui, avoid eating pork, and prefer restaurants. Food poisoning is a big problem in Vietnam

For the 2nd time around the world, JB consults a doctor. As the service is excellent, only 30 minutes after my call, two doctors come knocking at our door and consult JB for 20€. Well, this rate is for those who have translators, like JB. If you call an international hospital, the home consultation costs $125. This service is starting to be available since 2015. Before that, Vietnamese people just call their relatives (there is always a cousin or a neighbor doctor) or go directly to the pharmacy (for minor ailments) or the hospital (usually in an emergency). The general practitioner model has recently become popular

As I like street food and it’s a bit risky to eat in the bui bui, we often go to“Quan An Ngon“, an atypical restaurant where there are several stands/kitchens around the restaurant. Each stand is responsible for 2 to 4 dishes. They sell street food, but it’s clean (but more expensive too)




Every time we go there, I take the opportunity to eat 2-3 dishes that I like very much

After having eaten so much, we walk like hundreds of other Vietnamese who come in front of the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh (pedestrian zone with very nice lawn squares), to do sports or to teach their children how to walk


Day 7: Vietnamese massages

I was given a great Vietnamese massage address, a serious address where masseuses are properly trained(Huong Sen, 68 An Duong Street). The director is an expert in acupuncture, recognized and respected in the field. Thus, the process is very different from lambda massage centers. Before the massage, one has to wash oneself in flavored water, then one goes to the jacuzzi, scrub and then hammam and only after all these steps comes the massage. A person stays next to me during all this time when I wash. Another person, a masseuse, comes to give me a great massage from head to toe for more than an hour. I think it’s the best massage I’ve had so far. At the end, she wraps me in two warm towels soaked in flavored water. It’s divine! And it costs only 20€ for this 2h treatment

The Vietnamese facial is also an interesting experience. Vietnamese women go there almost every week. Beauty salons are very well equipped and offer loyalty cards, reducing the cost of each treatment to only 5€ (instead of 10€ if you pay session by session). The treatment begins with make-up removal and cleansing, followed by an exfoliation (grain or enzymatic). Afterwards, you are entitled to a steam bath and cleaning of the pores with a machine. A super massage by hand and then by machine (with luminotherapy) precedes a moisturizing mask. The beautician will not leave you alone in the room as in France, during the application of the mask, she will massage your arms and head. I can recommend the Spa Tran at 301 rue Giang Vo

Day 7 bis: Back to school

The school year in Vietnam is always on September 5th (maybe one or two days later if it falls on a weekend). Former students are always welcome to come after the back-to-school party (which usually lasts 2 hours in the school yard, the teachers wish the students a good start to the school year)

I went back to my school where I studied for 9 years, which my grandmother also attended. At that time, I was the “official singer” of the school, that is to say that every Monday, after the flag ceremony in the courtyard, and after the school director has lectured us on a specific point (delay, bad grades…), there is a mini singing show and every Monday I sang a French or Vietnamese song that I liked, right here


The school has changed a lot but still keeps its colonial architecture that I like so much. img_3450.jpg

Day 8: Bu’n cha?

When President Obama came to Vietnam, he went in a bui bui to eat a bu’n cha?. I was very pleased because it is my favorite dish and it is little known. It is sold only in the north of Vietnam and only at noon. Composed of meatballs, vermicelli and green papaya and sprinkled with a warm sauce, the bun cha is the best barbecue recipe in Vietnam

We went to the restaurant where he ate his bun cha (Bun cha Huong Lien) but we did not find it exceptional

Finally, the bun cha near my house, at 216 Doi Can Street, is still the best. Beware, it is only open at noon



With crispy crab egg rolls as it should be

To eat, we take some vermicelli and aromatic herbs, which we dip in the sauce


Day 9: fitness and swimming pool

We buy a day pass to enjoy the superb swimming pool of the Daewoo hotel in Hanoi, where we organized our wedding 5 years ago


I absolutely want to come back to it because it’s where I learned to swim and it remains my favorite pool (in the world). It is curved and is almost 100m long. 15 years ago, the access to this pool was cheap, every morning, during 2 summers, I went there at 6 am and swam until 7:30 am, when the sun started to beat. I would then go to my “bun rieu” saleswoman for a hearty breakfast. And then one day, the pool rates suddenly increased, I didn’t go back there until today

Now, for 24€/person, you have access for one day to the fitness area and the swimming pool (not covered). It may seem very expensive but the pool is worth it. The water is always so transparent, the pool remains splendid and clean. JB is very happy to have discovered it

The fitness area (gym, sauna, hammam) is less good. Because it is frequented by people who think they are above the others. In addition, nudism seems to be imposed while the infrastructures do not lend themselves to it. In short, just go for the swimming pool, the best in Hanoi

Note: I was wrong, it was not nudism, it was a onsen – to the somewhat outdated infrastructure. But go for the pool, which is totally worth it!

Part 2: Practical Tips


  • Avoid eating in the street because food poisoning is a big problem in Vietnam. Prefer local restaurants that sell “street food” such as Quan An Ngon, Quan Sen (all-you-can-eat buffet) that offer hundreds of dishes
  • Eating on the street is acceptable in the morning, if possible next to the nursery schools. Go to places where there are lots of Vietnamese people. Not having customers isn’t a good sign because Vietnamese people eat all the time, it is almost impossible for a restaurant to have no customers.
  • Dishes to be tasted in Hanoi

    • Bu’n cha? (216 Doi Can street) with 2 crab egg rolls
    • Ba’nh cuô’n (Vietnamese ravioli) – it’s better in the morning
    • Bu’n riêu (crab noodles) – available in the morning and at noon
    • Nem / Nem cua be (crab nem) – to be eaten with the bun cha
    • Pho? (chicken is better, and ask for 2 eggs) – better in the morning, at noon and late at night
    • Xôi (sticky rice, try different recipes xôi vung, xôi xéo, xôi lap xuon) – best in the morning
    • Go?i / Nôm (marinated salads, try any kind of GOI, it’s super good)
    • Banh mi (only in places that seem clean to you, avoid eating pâté) – all day long, but better in the morning

  • Plan a little more budget for food in Vietnam, between 10€ and 20€ per meal for two in restaurants. But if you eat in the street, it costs between 1€ and 1,5€ per dish (with risk of food poisoning)
  • Many services/activities are unknown to tourists (courier services, nice bui bui, massages, typical Vietnamese activities such as evening walks in the squares or around the lakes) so contact someone on Couchsurfing or Meet-up to get a preview of a typical day in Hanoi. They will be very happy to take you on a free tour of the city. Vietnamese people like foreigners very much (as long as they are nice and like to eat well).
  • Useful addresses

    • Quan Sen (all-you-can-eat buffet) : 16 rue Ly Thai To, 15€ per person (320 000VN)
    • Quan An Ngon (nice street food restaurant) : 18 Phan Boi Chau Street
    • Traditional massage Huong Sen : 68 rue An Duong, VIP room with all kind of bathtubs in the room, 2h for 500 000VND (20€ per person)
    • Spa Tran facial treatment: 301 rue Giang Vo, a standard treatment at 270 000VND (11€)
    • A dao (22A Hai Ba Trung street): cultural center / hotel in the heart of the city.

  • Prefer the Thanh Nga or Grab cab for any trip
  • If the cab meter indicates the amount to be paid is less than 20 000VND, it is customary to give 20 000VND to the cab (0,8€). It doesn’t make sense to pay less than that, gas is very expensive in Vietnam. Same for the Uber.
  • For Uber, buy a Vietnamese SIM card (80 000VND càd 3€ for 7GB of data and 60 minutes of calls at mobifone) and enter this number in your Uber account, drivers often call after accepting the race. They won’t speak english, so if you see a vietnamese guy next to you, give him the phone so he can talk with your driver. Otherwise, hail a cab.

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