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My style of travel usually involves minimal planning with a few points of interests we’d visit, and pretty much winging it rest of the way. After all, it’s always more exciting to have a bit of surprises and a sense of adventure while at a foreign land, isn’t it?

Mien Luon Dong Thinh, fancy some eel?
Mien Luon Dong Thinh, fancy some eel?

This method of traveling was precisely how we ended up at Mien Luon Dong Thinh, we were basically walking around Hanoi looking for a lunch spot and thought whatever that they have right at the stall in this restaurant looked peculiar enough to warrant further investigation.

As it turned out, we landed on a rather notable eel restaurant! Yessss!

There are several options to choose from at this place, and luckily the menu on the wall did have English subtitle for all the half a dozen choices – vermicelli blend, fried eel, clear vermicelli soup, fried vermicelli, eel soup, and eel porridge. Each will cost between 25,000 to 60,000 vnd.

crunchy deep fried eel with porridge turned out to be rather good
crunchy deep fried eel with porridge turned out to be rather good

We ended up trying the fried eel with vermicelli and the eel porridge. The eels were crispy and quite tasty, a very different taste from the boiled eel soup I had in Ho Chi Minh City, much easier to eat and not entirely too different from Japanese shishamo, but with sweetness of eel.

Of course, the vermicelli salad comes with fresh greens, nuts, and a healthy dose of fish sauce, as you would expect. The porridge also would make a very good comfort food on a cold day.

I’d recommend anyone with at least a mild sense of adventure to try this while at Hanoi.

map to eel porridge at hanoi, Vietnam

Address:
Nhà Hàng Miến Lươn ĐÔNG THỊNH
87 Hàng Điếu, Cửa Đông,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
GPS: 21.031978, 105.846789
Tel: +84 24 3826 7943

On our tour to Hanoi earlier this year, we booked a day trip to visit the more touristy area at Trang An and Bai Dinh Pagoda.

These day trips can be booked while you’re at Hanoi via various agencies, or you can do it online and have everything arranged ahead of time. We did the latter, and sure enough on the day of travel, our tour guide appeared at the lobby of our hotel at 7 in the morning to pick us up.

Bai Dinh Pagoda, with the biggest bell in Vietnam
Bai Dinh Pagoda, with the biggest bell in Vietnam

The small tour bus then rounded up the rest of the visitors before heading to  our first destination – Bai Dinh Pagoda. It was a journey of about 100 km that takes some two hours. The transportation infrastructure at Hanoi isn’t exactly superb, but at least it was paved roads all the way.

After stopping at the front gate, you have to purchase an “electric car” ticket to get to the actual pagoda/temple area, so we did just that, hopped on the extended cab golf cart, and went on our merry way.

buddha statue wrapped in gold
Buddha statue wrapped in gold

The temple complex was huge. The main area houses some pretty impressive Buddha statues wrapped in gold, and there’s even a 22 meter giant bell tower that’s said to be the biggest in Vietnam. Unfortunately you don’t get to bang the bell though.

this is the longest corridor in Vietnam too, apparently
this is the longest corridor in Vietnam too, apparently

Additionally, there’s also this super long corridor (longest in Vietnam) that has various stone statues of Buddha’s students along the way.

All in all, this portion of the tour made for a good morning walk, and luckily the late winter temperature of 20 Celsius was quite conducive for such exercise.

this scene in Trang An looks a bit like from Kung Fu movie
this scene in Trang An looks a bit like from Kung Fu movie

After Bai Dinh, we stopped by for a somewhat forgettable buffet lunch before heading to the second half of the tour package – the river boat tour at Trang An.

While Halong Bay gets a lot of publicity and tourists for its beautiful scenery and rock formation, Trang An is often touted as the Halong Bay of land, so instead of out in the sea, you get a very similar view inland, and instead of big cruise ships, you get to be on a small boat.

goat on Kong Island
goat on Kong Island

The advantage of being on a small boat is that you do get a lot closer to the nature than being on a cruise ship with way too many other tourists.  The boats can take up to 4 person each, and usually paddled by a local lady, resulting in a very quiet and serene tour that I thought was very soothing. You’re also welcomed to help paddle the boat along.

my brother & mom, at Kong island
my brother & mom, at Kong island

Other than the beautiful landscape, there’s also Kong’s island to check out, which is actually whatever that was left over of the movie set for Kong – Skull Island movie that was released in 2017. I thought it was quite cool actually, they even have some locals who play dressed up  that you can take photos with, and nope, I did not participate in those kinda stuff.

hello fellow Malaysians on the same tour :D
hello fellow Malaysians on the same tour 😀

Overall it was a pretty decent day of tour, we got back to the city by evening, and I would recommend anyone who is planning a trip to Hanoi to check it out.

One of the more improbable thing I heard about Hanoi (or Vietnam in general) while doing research about the place prior to visiting was this “free food tour” thingy, cos you know, in my mind, how can anything truly be free?

HanoiKids free food tour at Hanoi
HanoiKids free food tour at Hanoi

Well, as it turns out, there is such thing. The many different “clubs” that offers free food tour operates under a similar motto – in exchange for their service, the tour guides, usually university students, get to practice their conversational English, and all we needed to do is to pay for the meals.

Our experience at Hanoi was provided by HanoiKids, we booked the service online through their website, and sure enough on the evening of our appointment date, our guides – Mint & Mok,  showed up at the hotel lobby as promised.

Both these girls are students from Foreign Trade University located just a few kilometers away from here. In fact, they didn’t even know each other prior to this engagement, which I thought was a pretty interesting arrangement.

first meal - herbal chicken noodle
first meal – herbal chicken noodle

Our first destination was herbal chicken noodle, or My Ga Tan. This is not entirely too different from our version of herbal chicken mee suah, but with darker broth that’s almost half way to bak kut teh taste, and “instant” noodle instead of mee suah. The chicken was rather tasty and really soft, there’s also a side of salt & chili padi should you want to kick it up a notch.

Address:
Mỳ Gà Tần
24 Hàng Bồ, Hàng Gai,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

dry pho with steamed chicken
dry pho with steamed chicken

Next up was none other than the most famous dish in Vietnam – pho. In Hanoi this is usually served with chicken instead of beef, and the place we were brought to – Pho Ga Khanh Beo, has the more unique dry version.

The chicken was again very soft, with the overall flavor here more subtle than the beef version in Ho Chi Minh City, but does make for a good comfort meal as well. This isn’t entirely unlike dry version of kuih teow soup in Penang, but with more vege and nuts.

Address:
Phở Gà Khánh Béo
22 Hàng Hòm, Hàng Gai,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Hours: 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm

Grilled quail eggs at Nguyen Quang Bich Street
Grilled quail eggs at Nguyen Quang Bich Street

Moving on from those noodle dishes, we had this traditional street food that’s made of 3-4 quail eggs cooked with cheese, meat floss, fried shallots, green onion, sausage etc and served with tamarind sauce. It does take quite a bit for the lady to “grill” those tiny plates up but what you get at the end was quite a unique taste and experience unlike any other, now if they can just serve this at hotel breakfast egg station, my life would be complete.

Address:
24B Nguyễn Quang Bích,
Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm,
Hà Nội, Vietnam
Hours: 4-10 pm

you deserve desserts
you deserve desserts

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert, and for this purpose we were brought to this place by the name of Hoa Beo for a spot of dessert. We ended up having yogurt, fruit jelly, and even mixed fruits with condensed milk. While they aren’t exactly very sophisticated, it was a good sweet note to this rather awesome free food tour.

Thank you Mint & Moc for the wonderful hospitality. Do check out HanoiKids if your’e heading to Hanoi.

yeap, these desserts aren't too unfamiliar

Address:
Hoa Béo
17 Tố Tịch Hàng Gai,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

When in Hanoi, one has to of course, go to the many many cafes dotted around the city that embraces the coffee culture unlike any other South East Asian countries. While the traditional drip coffee is still king around here, there are increasingly more and more fancy modern cafes as the economic status of the country progresses.

Gardenista, French Quarter Hanoi
Gardenista, French Quarter Hanoi

While walking around the Hoan Kiem Lake Park, a place anyone would surely visit while at Hanoi, we took a rest as this beautiful cafe that is Gardenista for a spot of coffee and a bit of rest after a long walk around the lake.

black coffee, extra milk coffee, coconut ice cream coffee
black coffee, extra milk coffee, coconut ice cream coffee

The cafe itself is almost half green house & half cafe, with plenty of plants both on the floor, the counter, and even hanging from the ceiling. The interior is separated into three distinct areas, with another outdoor section to boot. I think this place can easily house over a hundred caffeinated souls.

ambiance is as important as taste when it comes to cafe
ambiance is as important as taste when it comes to cafe

We tried their standard long black, extra milk coffee that’s got a bit more milk than your usual latte, and my favorite – the coconut ice cream coffee. These were pretty good coffee, but I do think that the ambiance is what anyone is really here for. Would love to revisit and spend an afternoon with a good book (nay.. phone and data plan).

gardenista cafe, hanoi, map

Address:
Gardenista
2 Lê Thạch, Tràng Tiền,
Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
GPS: 21.027078, 105.854083

When it comes to Vietnamese food, pho usually gets all the glory, and to be fair, before I stepped foot on Hanoi, I too did not know the existence of this arguably superior Vietnamese dish – Bun Cha.

Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hanoi
Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hanoi

For those who aren’t familiar, bún chả ( is a dish consists of grilled pork with rice vermicelli,  bún stands rice vermicelli, and chả is pork.

My first taste of this wonderful dish came at Bun Cha Dac Kim in Hanoi, a rather famous joint for this dish and coincidentally situated near where we stay at Ancient Lane Hotel (pretty decent room and situated right at the morning market)

bun cha comes with plenty of vegetables
bun cha comes with plenty of vegetables

At this place, bun cha comes with freshly grilled pork and ground pork soaked in the dipping sauce (or broth) which is made of fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar. The vermicelli is served separately on a plate, and of course there’s plenty of herbs & raw vegetable, as well as those yummy spring roll with crab filling.

You can eat this dish by dipping the vermicelli in those broth and then mix with the pork & vegetable, or alternatively, wrap it the Korean bbq style, either way is not wrong.

mom loves the accompanying spring roll, so did I
mom loves the accompanying spring roll, so did I

The version at Bun Cha Dac Kim was really good, especially with those super spicy chili padi that they have too. We ordered 2 portions for the three of us and that turned out to be plenty enough. If you find yourself at Hanoi, do make sure to treat yourself with Bun Cha!

map to Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hanoi, Vietnam

Address:

21.032290, 105.848179