Tailor Made Itinerary

Street vendors
Street vendors plying their trade in Hoi An

We did, saw and ate, so many fantastic things on our recent trip to Hanoi and Hoi An in Vietnam that I thought I’d share a few recommendations – and a bonus slideshow – with you

We hadn’t really planned much beyond booking internal flights and accommodation. But who needs plans when you can fire up Trip Advisor, ask the locals for recommendations, and follow the advice of your friendly neighbourhood bloggers (because they always have the best advice, right?)

Hanoi

In a city as vast as Hanoi, where you almost can’t move for stalls selling food, you could eat somewhere different five times a day and still get nowhere close to having a comprehensive overview, so any list is going to be subjective.

Eel noodles
Eel noodles – surprisingly delicious

Our first lunch was inspired by a blog post on 24vs100. There’s a lot of competition to be the best combined personal finance/debt reduction/Hanoi food blog, but they definitely get my vote. Their recommendation of the excellent eel noodles at Nha Hang Mien Luon (87 Hang Dieu) were well worth a trip.

Bun Bo Nam Bo
Diners tuck in at Bun Bo Nam Bo

Barely steps away is the only place we returned to from our previous trip in 2012; that’s how good Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 Hang Dieu) is. Like all the best vendors, they do one thing, brilliantly, quickly, tastily and cheaply (in this case, beef noodles, in a thicker sauce than the broth-like pho).

For adventurous seven-year-olds, awesome soft-shelled crabs can be found at New Day (72 Ma May). Everything there is a treat, and it’s in the heart of backpacker district, so the people watching while you eat is great fun, too.

You can – and we did – watch the world go by from the balcony of Com Ga café at the crossroads of Cua Dong and Hang Ga. We sat down for coffee and juice, next thing we knew it was beer and supper, and then five hours had gone by. Such is the power of Uno.

Little Hanoi
Little Hanoi: The decor may be junk shop chic, but the cocktails are awesome

Little Hanoi (9 Ta Hien) looks like the inside of a Parisian birdcage and the tables are decorated with thank you notes from grateful diners from all over the world. Food was excellent (especially the morning glory), as were the cocktails (try the passion fruit vodka shake).

Flag Tower
Flag Tower at Hanoi’s Military Museum

Hanoi’s Military Museum is also well worth a visit. Just a short walk from the Old Quarter, young boys will love the plentiful downed hardware on display; curious pre-teen girls will discover a lot about national identity, resilience, propaganda and unity.

The beautiful wartime propaganda posters, which were on sale at the museum in 2012, can be bought from several shops around Ma May / Hang Mam.

PS – For anyone tempted to visit Hanoi’s famous Water Puppet Theatre: yes, it’s a fascinating retelling of ancient myths and legends…but oh, the little seats. I’m only 5’10″ and to my taller readers my message is clear: avoid.

Hoi An

This beautiful old city on the country’s central coast is famous for its tailoring. The old town is a grid of beautiful colourful, older streets, with more modern developments the nearer you get to the shore. There’s loads of nature treks and water activities on offer locally; every hotel also has free bikes for you to borrow as needed, which is a brilliant idea.

The nearest airport, at Danang, reminded me a lot of Bristol airport in the UK: newish, smallish and empytish. From there it’s about a 30 minute taxi ride to Hoi An, aka foodie heaven…

Loi, Hoi An
Loi prepares another bowl of cao lau in no time at all

Street food: the local speciality is the justifiably-famous cao lau (local noodles, slices of barbecued pork, pork crackling, bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs, finished with a spoonful of stock). No wonder the locals eat it every day.

  • We found the best examples at Loi’s stall on the corner of Tran Phu / Hoang Dieu, and
  • Ty’s stall on the corner of a lane off Phan Chu Trinh, just west of Le Loi).

    Secret Garden, Hoi An
    Lush, tropical, hidden… Secret Garden is the ideal rest stop

Restaurants: if it’s full sized chairs you’re after, try Secret Garden (subtly signposted, it’s down a quiet lane off Le Loi) which is nicely secluded with a lush and tropical veranda.

The Tam Tam Café (110 Nguyen Thai Hoc) is genius. It’s an ice cream parlour / bar, which means they serve cake and cocktails, basically meeting all my needs under one roof. It’s such a fantastic combination, I can’t believe there isn’t one of these on every high street in the world.

Coconut affogato
Coconut affogato at Mia Coffee

You also make a beeline for the awesome Mia Coffee (20 Phan Boi Chau). The coffee is the best in town and you should also try a coconut affogato – it’s a scoop of coconut ice cream melting into an espresso, and is amazing.

Morning Glory (106 Nguyen Thai Hoc) is justifiably held up as the best restaurant in town. We booked a day in advance, which felt very unnatural in this most grazing-friendly of countries, but it was well worth it. Eating restaurant-style street food may sound counterintuitive, but fabulous (and cheap) cocktails, combined with first class dishes like smoked eggplant and sautéed pumpkin, make this an unmissable destination.

Mid-fitting at A Dong Silk
I’m probably staring at Pho Lien on the other side of the street and feeling hungry again, for a change…

Tailors: Hoi An’s tailoring fame is one of the reasons we decided to fly there as well as Hanoi. We were instantly charmed by the service at A Dong Silk (40 Le Loi). The tailors describe themselves as ‘body doctors’, and I’m not going to argue with them: what they do is little short of a magic trick.

It took a few visits – one initial measuring session, and then a succession of quick stops to be adjusted, pinned, sewed, stitched and generally manhandled – into looking about as smart as I ever have.

The best thing about having a bespoke suit made at a point in your life where you’re in reasonably good shape is that it encourages you to stay that way. Nothing says ‘don’t go changing’ like spending £200 on a suit (plus a jacket, and four shirts…) that fit you like a glove.

If you’ve got an early morning fitting, the best pho in town is directly opposite, at Pho Lien (25 Le Loi). We knew were doing something right when we ambled to find we were the only tourists there. It’s been going for 40 years and looks like it hasn’t changed at all in that time, but that’s exactly what makes it so great. Park yourself at a communal table (we ate with one of the seamstresses, who was also there for breakfast) and dive in.

Photo shoot
One of our party gets up close and personal with a farmer

In between our daily visits to the tailors, we took in a photography course care of French expat Etienne Bossot, who can improve your photography skills in an afternoon, whether you’re a duffer armed only with an iPhone, or were given a fantastic bridge camera for their birthday and want to know what all those buttons do (ahem).

Hoi An at dusk
Hoi An at dusk – and a considerably better shot than I would have taken before an afternoon’s photography course

There’s no better way to explore the surrounding countryside, and get an insight into the local rural life, than with someone who walks it every day. And as a bonus, I know now what I’m doing with my new camera…

There are dozens of other highly-rated places we didn’t get a chance to try, so if you’ve got any other recommendations, let me know below – and we’ll look forward to checking them out when we pay a return visit!

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9 thoughts on “Tailor Made Itinerary

  1. lovetotrav May 4, 2015 / 5:59 pm

    Such a well-done and thorough post. I love Vietnam and particularly Hanoi and Hoi An, although it was quite a few years ago before TripAdvisor recommendations etc. Look forward to following you on your adventures. I hope to be in Cairo in the summer and begin to get back on the travel path again. Take care and happy travels, Cheryl

    • littlecity May 5, 2015 / 6:42 am

      Cairo…the only city that makes Doha’s roads look sane and safe. Good luck with that!

      Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the post. Happy travels!

      • lovetotrav May 5, 2015 / 1:19 pm

        Yes, I have heard how nuts the roads are in Cairo. A risk your life kind of game to cross them!!!

  2. dohabitation May 4, 2015 / 7:33 pm

    You take some amazing pictures, looks incredible! How did you find the coffee?

    • littlecity May 5, 2015 / 6:47 am

      Thanks very much; of course, the photos were a lot better after going on the course, but even if you’ve just got a smartphone, there’s some really simple steps you can take in terms of composition, depth of fleld, etc to make any picture better.

      As for the coffee, the local version wasn’t really to my taste…which made Mia’s brews all the better 🙂

  3. 24vs100 May 5, 2015 / 9:47 am

    Great photos! We love Bun Bo Nam Bo too, used to go there at least every two weeks or so 🙂 I have to admit that we haven’t even visited the Military Museum yet, being in Hanoi for so long. We will hopefully make it there soon, now that you recommend it! It looks like an interesting glimpse into the history here.

  4. Huynh Ngoc July 20, 2015 / 3:11 am

    Hi!
    Thank you for your recommendations for A Dong Silk Tailors.
    That’s great to read your traveling adventures in Vietnam with some amazing pictures, looks incredible!
    We hope that you are happy with your tailored garments and look forward to serving you more via our A Dong Silk online stores
    Please keep in touch with us if any inquiry

    Thank you!

    A Dong Silk

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