After a 2 hour flight (which we picked over a 17 hour train or a 37 hour bus!!), we touched down in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital and second-most populous city. We hopped in an Uber and arrived at our hotel, where the staff were the most eagerly helpful and polite people we'd ever met! We were given a free upgrade to a family room, and headed out in search of some Western food for lunch, having eaten quite a bit of Vietnamese fare over the last few days.
... And boy, did we find it! We were lucky enough to stumble across "Mediterraneo," a European-run oasis of incredible Italian food in the centre of Hanoi. A pizza, plate of homemade pasta which even impressed Dev(!) and bottle of delicious wine along with coffee and dessert later, we were thoroughly satisfied and headed back to the hotel to relax after the morning of travel.
Fortunately we had arrived in Hanoi on a Sunday, which meant one thing - the Old Quarter Weekend Night Market! Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, the roads around Hoàn Kiếm Lake are closed to traffic and market stalls set up selling everything from clothes to souvenirs and from sugar cane to children's toys.
After a quick perusal of the goods on sale, we proceeded to the lake where there were thousands of people milling about amongst street performers, fur spray-painted dogs(!?!?) and children playing. The whole area had a great buzz, and we stopped to buy a drink whilst strolling around.
A young guy approached us and asked where I'd bought the juice I was drinking. We later learned that this was an example of a classic ice-breaker used by young Vietnamese people who want to practise their English with foreigners. We were more than happy to spare him the five minutes he asked- after all, the ubiquity of English-speakers around the world has made our travels so much easier, the least we could do is try to contribute to the learning of these skills!
We stopped at a cafe/restaurant by the Lake for a surprisingly filling and tasty meal of fresh spring rolls and claypot rice, and wandered home past the now-teeming night market for a much-needed snooze.
After breakfast the next morning (during which we were asked three times by the same lovely member of staff if we'd slept well!), we walked through the building heat of Hanoi to DIYbox, to try our hand at leather craft. Dev had come across the workshop-cum-cafe on Tripadvisor whilst looking for fun things to do in Hanoi, and since neither of us had ever tried anything like it before, we decided to give it a go.
It has to be said, this was one of the best activities we've done for a while; the kind and knowledgeable staff helped us each to choose a design, select the leather for our projects and walked us through the construction of our items, culminating in a new wallet (for me) and a cardholder by Dev!
We went for a gigantic and cheap vegetarian set menu lunch, then predictably had to promptly head back to the hotel for a nap.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent watching films whilst enjoying the air conditioning (Vietnam is very hot and humid at this time of year), and planning out the remainder of our trip, before another guilty dinner of homemade mozzarella at a certain Italian eatery...
We were surprised at how much we liked Hanoi, having been told by lots of our friends, and people we've met along the way on our trip, that almost everyone prefers Ho Chi Minh. For us the smaller streets, friendlier atmosphere and relative accessibility of major sights definitely gave Hanoi the edge, and we hope to return here one day.