Whenever I go to a new city, particularly in a new country, I always try and do a tour. If you are lucky like me then the hostel you are staying at will provide a free walking tour every morning. Our first stop was the Bach Ma Temple which legend says was built to thank a white horse. When the citadel was first built it kept collapsing because of the soft soil, no matter how carefully they tried. When the king was praying one day he saw a white horse which pointed to a spot on the ground. The king then built his citadel here which surprisingly did not collapse, so the temple was built to show thanks to the horse. Our guide also explained that the reason offerings of food and fake money are left in temples is because Vietnamese people believe that this provides food and money for their deceased loved ones in the afterlife to use.
Our second stop was one of the 5 markets in Hanoi, Dong Xuan market. We had a very informative guide who told us all about the different types of food you can eat in Hanoi. From dog, cat and frog, to horse blood, eel and mouse, Hanoi people seem to have very strong stomachs. He even told us about a snake heart which you swallow and can feel beating inside your throat. Our guide also swears that you can drink a mix of snake blood with rice wine, so no matter what you drink you will never get a hangover. Not sure about that hangover cure, think I’ll stick to a greasy fry up the next morning!
We saw the seafood section of the market where locals were chopping and preparing fish, complete with a fish chopped in half which was still flapping around, and live fish escaping out of buckets of water. We then went through the fabric section of tiny stalls with rows on rows of all colours of fabrics, with the stall owners sitting perched on top of them. Then onto the bulk buy section where there were stalls laden with sandals, hats, stuffed toys, souvenirs and hair accessories. Our guide explained that this is where the locals bulk buy these items to sell in their own stores for profit.
We carried on for a tour of the old town where we went to one of our guides favourite hidden cafés. When I say hidden I mean hidden. We went though a souvenir shop, through someone’s house, up some stairs, past a toilet behind a curtain and into a tiny little café with a view over the lake. Here is where I had my first taste of Vietnamese egg coffee. It is a small cup filled with a very sweet coffee foam which you eat with a spoon or stir into the small amount of strong black coffee underneath. Delicious!
Then it was time for my favourite part… FOOD! We sat at a typical Hanoi restaurant (plastic stools outside with fold out tables) where we had Bun Cha. This famous dish is a bowl of sweet soup with green papaya, a plate of pork meatballs and bacon, herbs and noodles to have in the soup. You eat it by first putting some herbs in, then noodles, then some meat, stir it together and eat with chopsticks. This massive plate of food was just £1.20! Little was I to know, before I had my first taste, in the following days I would eat the weight of a small child in bowls of delicious, steaming hot Bun Cha.