After a month in Chiang Mai, we are in Ha Noi – MY hometown, to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year.
As soon as we arrive at the airport, we realize that the wait at the immigration office will be long. Vietnamese living abroad are slowly starting to return to Vietnam. After 45 minutes of waiting, we finally manage to get out. JB quickly buys a SIM card while I withdraw money next door. 50 000VND fee to withdraw only 3 million VND (1.6% fee) – at VPBank, there is no fee, but their ATM isn’t present at the airport.
We then take a cab to my parents’ house, who lent us their apartment in the suburbs of Hanoi (Hà Dông). My parents live in the city center, but they bought a suburban apartment for their retirement, so we will spend a month there. It’s an apartment that I decorated myself 8 years ago, so I’m happy to find the furniture that I chose myself, which is still in excellent condition because I bought mostly solid wood furniture.
The next day, I take JB to buy a chair because the stools in the apartment are too hard, without backrest and do not suit him. The salesman hangs it on his motorcycle and delivers it to us on the spot, which impresses JB.
In fact, if we had bought an American cabinet, or fridge, the salesmen would have delivered them to us on the spot as well. Using a scooter or a bicycle… and as a last resort, by truck.
We also buy a SIM card and a Wifi pocket (because there is no Internet at my parents’ home) which gives us 20GB of high speed Internet (4G) for 200,000VND (which we use in just 7 days).
On this, we explore the surroundings in search of a drinkable restaurant. Unfortunately I’m quite disappointed because already in the suburbs of Hanoi, they are cooking any way they can. It’s as if, after spending your entire childhood in the center of Paris, you are sent to the Var, the choice of restaurants is clearly reduced.
Here, for example, they are able to put beef, pork and tofu in the same bowl of noodles at the same time! I had to explain 3 times to the saleswoman that I just wanted a classic bowl of vermicelli.
Luckily there is a good bun cha near us. And the saleswomen particularly like JB. Every time he comes, the saleswoman shouts out loud“2 bún chả cho Tây” (i.e. 2 portions of bun cha for abroad). Tây = western = westerner = European = foreigner. This makes the servers identify him very quickly and he is served faster too. JB especially likes the crispy spring rolls served with the bun cha.
Price: bun cha = 35,000VND/person
Nem = 5,000VND/piece
Here, Uber and Grab are preferred to cabs. Foreigners use Uber while Vietnamese use Grab, cheaper. But the service remains better at Uber. When I am alone, I use Grab moto. The biker will pick me up on a scooter with a helmet. The advantage is that it’s cheaper and you can go in the small streets, unlike Uber.
Note: Uber and Grab have since merged in Asia
However, JB had to learn to drive in Vietnam – because some distances are too short to call a Uber or a Grab. With such heavy traffic, horns honking all the time, and a semi-automatic motorcycle (which he had to learn how to handle), eventually it got him drunk pretty quickly, and the last days in Hanoi, you only ride an Uber.
Every morning, JB goes to get his 10,000VND omelet sandwich after his session at the gym just below our building.
At noon, we go to the bun cha restaurant near the apartment (bun cha is only sold at noon).
In the evening, one out of two times, JB is on his own while I go to street food restaurants with one of my girlfriends – because JB won’t be able to eat all these specialties.
Like these snails (too good)
The menu below is the holy grail for girlfriends’ reunions (snails, chicken legs, marinated meat, shells, cheese sticks…). But surely inedible for JB
Luckily for him, he finds happiness in…
It’s a spa based on the Japanese onsen model (I haven’t been to Japan yet, I don’t know if it’s an authentic experience). For 180,000VND, you are entitled to different baths, a jacuzzi, a sauna, a hammam and 2 rest rooms for one hour. Everything is explained here (click to zoom)
We can take extra massages (click to zoom)
In general, JB combines the “onsen” formula with a one-hour massage, while I opt for set 5 (scrub, massage, hot rice packets).
It’s great quality, despite the higher price than the massages in the old quarter (in downtown Hanoi – which have become super expensive now, OMG, in the 350,000VND/hour or 12€/hour – and not so quali).
I highly recommend Genkiland Onsen, there is even a very small restaurant on the ground floor! Update : unfortunately, this onsen has definitively closed its doors
If there is a dish not to be missed in Ha Noi, it is the bun cha. Vermicelli & pork barbecue. Accompanied by some crab egg rolls. Yummy yummy! The real price is between 25,000 and 35,000VND/dish + 5,000VND/nem, but in the old neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to pay up to 100,000VND for a bun cha. Pigeon oblige!
This dish is only sold at noon, to our great misfortune. But fortunately, there are still plenty of other restaurants too good, such as Qua’n Ngon
I go there every time I am in Ha Noi. They sell street food, but in a very nice (and clean) setting. The recipes are authentic, not like the inventive recipes you see more and more in restaurants, where pork, chicken and beef are mixed in the same bowl.
Dung Nhi Skin & Spa
During my short stay in Hanoi, I found time to go to this spa three times! It’s a spa reserved for Vietnamese people looking for a high-tech treatment to have a baby’s skin. They specialize in the care of skin with imperfections.
I am a specialist in high-tech facials, whether in Europe or Asia. This time, I have the right to a machine that thoroughly analyzes my skin. Verdict: thirsty skin. I have to change my whole routine again – which was fine for me in Europe, but not in Asia.
For the first time, I had 3 sessions of Derma roller, which regenerated my skin in record time. Each session here lasts an eternity (2 to 3 hours each time) and it’s not quite a piece of cake because it’s a dermato type treatment, without massage. And the beautician removes every impurity, if someone has rotten skin, the cleaning can last an hour! It looks horrible like that on paper, but this type of care works particularly well for Hanoi/Vietnamese skin, constantly attacked by pollution and junk food. Detoxifying and deep cleansing the skin is the best solution.
Vietnamese women go to spas of this type, ultra equipped, to be pampered. The facial treatment that foreigners are entitled to, in massage parlors in the old quarter, has nothing to do with that. Spas for Vietnamese people generally only provide facials… or maybe just hair removal. The masseurs, only massage.
If you are looking for a specific treatment (anti-aging, anti-imperfections, permanent hair removal), I will give you some trusted names, such as Tham my vien Dong A, Thu Cuc Spa, Smile Spa (present in major Vietnamese cities) or Spa Tran (rue Giang Vo). You can contact them and make an appointment directly on their Facebook page.
Here is an example of a treatment for imperfect skin at Thu Cuc spa (this isn’t a video of me, I specify)
If you just want to relax, any massage parlor in the old town will do the job.
Facial massage is divine in Vietnam, don’t miss it!
The good price is 130 000VND for a one hour treatment.
If you go on high tech machines, it isn’t impossible to pay up to 1 000 000VND in big spas.
Each time, we tell ourselves with JB that we have to film the shampoo done at the hairdresser’s to make people want to do it. We forget it every time!
Vietnamese women don’t like to wash their hair too much at home, because at the hairdresser, for only 1€ to 2€, the hairdresser will wash it for them, so why bother.
The hairdresser will wash the hair with the help of… his nails, so it can be a bit surprising at first. After two shampoos, he will propose to wash the face as well, followed by a small facial massage, then a head massage, while the conditioner has its little effect. And there you go, the hair is all clean. A little blow dry if you wish. And we start all this again 3 days later.
This is also a typical experience that I recommend! To do this, go to any hairdresser and say“Cho Gội Đầu” (i.e. “I want a shampoo). And point to Rejoice shampoo (if you take a more expensive shampoo, the price will be higher). If you want AND a shampoo AND have your face washed too, say Cho Gội Đầu và rửa mặt . The price will be the same.
I show you a training video that summarizes the shampoo experience of Vietnamese hairdressers. The video isn’t mine, I specify
Usually, I place my orders on Facebook (I go to the seller’s pages and send him a private message). But since I came here last year, the sellers are better organized and are now present on online sales platforms, like shoppee.vn
It’s very simple, all you need is a Vietnamese phone number to register (or an email, but the phone is preferable). Then, you fill your basket, enter your address. You don’t pay anything.
The shoppee site goes to the seller to pick up the goods and then the dispatch between shippers. The shipper calls me on the phone to ask me what time he can come by. When he arrives, he calls me, I go down to pay him for the order (and the delivery which costs nothing at all, 0.5€ – it’s even free most of the time). Everyone is happy.
And all this is done between 1 and 2 days. Maybe 3 if the seller isn’t in the same city as me.
If I’m not happy with an item, I can return it, free of charge. The shipper will pick it up at my place.
Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to test meals-on-wheels services( e.g.deliverynow ) but I guess it’s just as simple.
Vietnamese people make friends by inviting each other to eat. The cafés offer coffee, but also lots of things to snack on. They are better and better decorated and instagramable.
For example, this one, decorated for the Lunar New Year.
or Cô.ng café, a well-known chain where all the coffees are reminiscent of the time of the revolution and where the waiters are dressed as revolutionaries. JB likes this café very much.
I love Lutulata, where I find my childhood desserts, and a so communist decoration of the 1990s.
But there are about a hundred other very well decorated cafés, do a little search on Google Maps, you will find plenty of them.
We particularly like to walk near the great cathedral of Ha Noi. It’s a place I know little, but lately it has become very pretty, and quieter than the other corners of the old quarter, without being deprived of nice stores and beautiful cafes.
Also not to be forgotten is the Lake of the Restored Sword (Ho Guom), the center of the festivities – made pedestrian from Friday evening to Sunday evening, every week.
and Hang Ma Street, where the whole city comes to shop for the Lunar New Year
I have remained loyal to VPBank ATMs, where each withdrawal is free for my Mastercard, and where you can withdraw up to VND 5 million at a time (compared to VND 3 million for other banks, and a fee between VND 20,000 and 55,000).
Apart from that, we worked, as usual. JB hates Wifi pockets and finds the connection too slow. Unfortunately this will be the only option we will have for Japan and Korea. We just have to hope that the connection will be more stable and faster than 4G in Vietnam (which is 16Mbps).
The rest of the time, we enjoy the Lunar New Year with my family. I’m not sure that JB wants to go back to Hanoi again for so long, because of the pollution and the non-stop horns.
But I think that next time, we will choose a better location (near the big cathedral for example) to have more choice of restaurants, more services nearby, and be more quiet.
For those who live in Ha Noi as a digital nomad, I have written a detailed guide here