Hanging in Hanoi

Located in the North (cue: “King of the North!!!”) this charming capital city is backpacker’s paradise. Big enough to have an international airport and all of the merits of a metropolitan city, Hanoi is often used as a way point for trips further north (Ha Long Bay, Sapa, Mai Chau) as well as a starting point for trips down the coast. Trips aside, Hanoi is worth staying for a couple days to explore.

 

Here were some of my highlights

1. Wander through the Old Quarter

The 36 streets that comprise the old quarter are full of shops and great for people watching and soaking in the street food and market culture. As the name implies, this area hosts the oldest temple as well as the biggest market in the city. Here is the place to try street food like bun cha (BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles on Dao Duy Tu St), Bun Dau (spicy shrimp, noodle, and tofu soup on Ma May St),  and Pho Bo(Beef Noodle Soup on Trung Yen St).  If you’re not in the mood to sit on tiny stools in the blazing heat (not for the faint of heart), check out Mum’s Cafe for some  great fried spring rolls and delish coconut ice cream and sticky rice.

2. Sip Egg Coffee over Hoan Keam Lake

The coffee in Hanoi is so good that I was in a constant state of jitters from the amount that I consumed. Probably not healthy, but I have no regrets. Hanoi is famous for it’s egg coffee (think whipped tiramisu style) and vietnam for it’s coffee in general. I preferred the ice coffee(cà phê sữa đá) for most of the trip -- essentially drinking espresso over condensed milk. Two cafe’s I tried that overlook Hoan Kiem lake are Cafe Dinh or Cafe Pho Co -- if you can see through the smog.

The lake itself is nice as well. The lake, famous in Vietnamese folklore as the “Lake of the Restored Sword”.   If you arrive early, you can see many locals working and/or hanging out, as well as take a walk over the the Rising Sun Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple  

3. Pay your respects (at at least people watch) at the  Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

As the leader of the Vietnamese Independence Movement in the 1940’s Ho Chi Minh’s body has been mummified for the country’s posterity and the world to see.  A bit far from the old quarter (where most people are saying), consider taking a grab motorbike  (fairly cheap SE asian version of uber).

In the same vicinity is the Ho Chi Minh House and One Pillar Pagoda. Also in the area  (~ 15 min walk) is the Temple of Literature -- one of vietnam’s oldest schools/temples.

4. Sit in wonder at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre   

Hanoi boasts one of the largest water puppet shows (not sure how much competition there is). The show lasts about an hour and showcases several selections from a much larger collection of pieces . including the story of the king and the turtle-- the legend behind the Lake of the Restored Sword (~ 100,000 dong, 4 USD)

5. Spend a night on backpacker’s street

The backpacker’s district, interwoven with the old quarter has become as much part of the modern Hanoi culture as some of it’s historical landmarks.  Walk through the streets at night to find makeshift bars right on the street.  Grab a short stool and treat yourself to a 50 cent beer!

Lisbon, I'm in Love

The whimsical, European "San Francisco" is often overshadowed by southern european giants like Barcelona and Florence.  Lisbon, however,  has all the makings of a great city -- great food, beautiful architecture and a complex history spanning several religions and governments that  have shaped the way the city is today.*

View of Lisbon, from the top Arco De Augusta 

What Should I Do Here?

1. Walking tour:  Lisbon is one of those cities where you can feel the pulse, just by walking around. From the tilework to the ambling hills of this city, take some time to take in the city at your own pace.

  • Bairro Alto and Alfama were some of my favorite neighborhoods if you'd like to do a self-guided tour 
  • If you find yourself in Bairro Alto, head over to the Time Out Market - a food hall with several of Lisbon's most famous style dishes 
  • There are also several street markets, most notably the Feira da Ladra to check out.
  • If you're walking around at night, check out Pink Street for a notable pregame/nightlife area.
  • If you're staying in a hostel, there are usually free walking tours (tips only), so be on the look out for those. 

2. Hang out in Rue De Augusta: One of the more traditionally tourist areas, there are a bunch to do in this area including climbing the Arco De Agusta for great (3 euro) views of the city. 

  • Check out Placà De Figueiro Dom Pedro Square
  • Santa Justa Lift - ProTip: There is an entry halfway up that all the locals take (don’t wait in line at the bottom of the tower - waste of time)
  • Eat a local joint by the Rossio Train Station - so local, I can't figure out the name, but here's a link on the map.  Order the bifana or one of the dishes on the wall (not paper menu) for the cheaper local prices.
  • Take the Famous Yellow Trolley  - use a tap card for a discount  / “local fare”
  • Watch out - this area is the most touristy area, so I wouldn’t recommend eating by the water unless you want to pay $$. The same stuff goes for Portugal as Italy etc. Ask the price of everything because they could charge like 6x the price for the house wine etc. Also, the bread/ cheese whatever they bring the table won't be free.

3. Boogie on over to Belem: About 20 minutes away from downtown Lisbon, Belem was one of my favorite parts of the trip. You can get there by Tram, Bus or Train so just choose whichever is most convenient for you.

Start at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Praca do Imperio. The monastery is an example of Portuguese Gothic 'Manueline' architectural style', Belem's monastery took over 40 years to complete.  The monastery is connected to a cathedral with free admission. To enter the monastery, however is around €8.

Wander over to the Pasteis de Belem (3 min walk), With a secret recipe, there are only a few people in the wold who know how to make these small, flavor packed, magical pastries.

If you’re hungry, stop at pao pao queijo queijo for some kebabs and other dishes. Clearly a local shop, you can get a full meal for less than €8. If you’re feeling something a bit fancier, you can eat at the artisanal burger place next door.  Both places have outdoor seating where you can just chill and bask in the sun.  

From there, make your way to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos. This cool giant sundial statue thing by the water.

Keep walking and you’ll find yourself at Belem tower. Beautiful at sunset and at night. Get there half an hour before close for admission. Check their website for summer/winter hours. 

4. Snack with a view 

Lisbon is home to many parks with beautiful views overlooking the city.  

Miradoura de sao pedro de alcantara - Though a bit of a hike, this park offers one of the best panoramic views overlooking the city. 

Edward VII Park (Parque Eduardo VII) - This park was my absolute favorite. With a sprawling maze like architecture, this place is a great place to bring a snack(or smuggle a drink) and people watch.

5. Head on out

People going to Libson also go to beaches just outside the city (half day trip ), Sintra (day trip), Porto (overnight), and sometimes Lagos (overnight). A lot of people I met also went to Spain (madrid/barcelona/granada).

*See: islamic rule, catholic rule, dictatorship under Salazar (inspiration for Salazar Slytherin in Harry Potter and more).  But seriously, take a look at Lisbon’s wiki page.

First Post

The one thing I've learned about travelling is that it only makes you want to travel more. It's like an addiction you can't quite shake.  So I've settled for the next best thing - talking about travel. 

After spending hours and hours pouring research and learnings into Google Docs for my friends, a lightbulb went off - why not share this information and my experiences with the world? 

Here you will find posts on not a be all end all guide to a city, but a simple starting point for creating your own adventures. 

xo

Jackie