Yen Duc village on the road between Ha Long and Hanoi is a scenic village with pretty vistas of wide rice fields and green hills in the distance. It was an unplanned destination that was foisted on us, but we enjoyed it regardless.
The Vung Vieng floating village is one of the four small communities of fisherfolk who make their living in Ha Long Bay, not near the bay or on any island but on their boats and rafts. Protected from the elements by the surrounding limestone karsts of Ha Long bay, they lead a unique lifestyle in their raft homes, some small and tight and others quite large, some with modern comforts like generators and TVs and many with dogs.
Hanoi, this bustling city of millions is the modern day capital of Vietnam and has been an important center for a long time, having recently celebrated 1000 years of existence. It is a charming, if a bit chaotic, blend of remnants from its ancient days, more recent past under the French and modern times. A perfect city to begin to experience Vietnam and a great springboard to the rest of the country. And as I discovered, one can experience a quite a lot of Hanoi in a day.
Ha Long bay is Vietnam's most popular destination and the most popular way to experience its scenic limestone karsts and isles is on a cruise aboard one of the many "junks" that ply its waters.
If imitation is flattery than Hanoi is a very flattering place indeed and no more apparent than in the food places. Imitators abound and if you are going to pay 170,000 dong for Hanoi's famous Cha Ca dish you might as well experience it at the century old original restaurant.
Hanoi's old quarter has some of the best food you can find in Vietnam, including an absolutely great bowl of humble Pho.
If you would rather not be surprised with what you consume, be a little wary in Hanoi's old quarter. We were meandering around the old quarter aimlessly when we passed by a little coffee store called Tour Cafe on Hang Buom street.
Avalon cafe is a popular spot with Hanoi's younger urban crowd with a mix of both western eats and local fare, the rooftop views of this restaurant probably has the best views of the Hoan Kiem lake.
Bun Bo is another popular dish to try when in Hanoi. Like so much of the other local fare, the old quarter is a great place to find good Bun Bo. Bun means rice vermicelli and Bo is beef. Bun Bo is just that, a dish of rice noodles with beef, but elevated with a rich mix of seasonings and other ingredients.
I had no idea what a Mexican Coffee Bun was at that time but two adjacent shops in Hanoi's old quarter advertising "Papparoti" and "Roti Mexico" with deliciously inviting aromas certainly aroused my curiosity. Turns out they are neither Mexican nor Vietnamese.
Madame Hien serves up traditional Vietnamese cuisine in a beautiful French colonial mansion in the heart of Hanoi's old quarter. The setting for the meal is one of the best around and it would have been great if the meal itself had matched it.
Banh Cuon was the first dish I had from my long list of must try foods in Hanoi and it ended up being my favorite.