As our three month visa for Vietnam was coming to an end, so was our time in the beautiful capital. Here are some of the highlights from our last week or so in Hà Nội.
Day Trip to Tam Cốc
As we had plenty of time during our second stay in Hà Nội, we decided to take a day trip, via train, south to Tam Cốc. We had heard lots of great things about the area and we are pleased we made the effort, the full blog post of our day is available here.
ANZAC Day Dawn Service
Back in March we knew we would be in Hà Nội for ANZAC Day (25 April) and as this is an incredibly important day in New Zealand’s (and other country’s) history we hoped we would be able to find a commemorative service we could attend. After contacting the New Zealand Embassy we learnt of a dawn service to be held at the Australian Embassy that we could register for and attend.
In mid April we emailed our registration and received confirmation with details of a service starting at 5.05am followed by a complimentary breakfast. It was amazing to be able to attend, the setting was very peaceful as the day broke around us in this foreign city. Listening to The Last Post and our national anthem brought a tear to my eye as always and a tug at the homesick heartstrings.While Logan couldn’t finish his coffee laced with a dash of rum before the service, (a tradition for the occasion and obviously the famous Aussie brand, Bundaberg was on offer) we had a very pleasant cooked breakfast after the service before heading back to our apartment; and all before 6.30am.
Presidential Bún Chả
We are big fans of the Vietnamese dish – Bún Chả – which is grilled pork and rice noodles, thought to have originated in Hà Nội, and served with herbs and a tasty dipping sauce. Since moving further north in Vietnam we have tried this dish a few times with various differences, so we thought we should check out the famous restaurant where President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate this dish back in 2016, Bún Chả Hương Liên. It was an easy 2km walk from our apartment and we arrived just before midday to a multi-level restaurant completely rammed with patrons. With just a few tables on the ground floor we made our way to the second level and saw a table just being cleared, we sat down and quickly glanced over the menu (which only has a few items) as the waitress stood waiting for us to order. Braxton needed some more time so we asked for a couple more minutes as it’s obvious the place is incredibly popular with a quick turnover.
We ordered and food appeared almost immediately but we were then told that the pork skewers the boys were going to have were sold out. We flagged them and made do with what we had, shortly after ordering another seafood roll as Lincoln demolished the first one. Logan and I agreed it was pretty good bún chả, especially for 40,000 VND/$2.50 NZD, but my favourite would still have to be one I had a couple of times on Cát Bà Island; check it out on our ‘Food Adventures’ page.As Braxton and I were finishing up our tasty lunch, Lincoln and Logan went to find the famous table and cutlery that Obama and Bourdain used that has now been entombed for historic preservation. We took our bill downstairs and paid with the cashier at the front door, it was great timing as a huge tour bus was just pulling up and cars and scooters were being moved to make room for it to park on the reasonably narrow street.
Flag Raising Ceremony at Ba Đình Square
Ba Đình Square is where president Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on 2nd September 1945. Every morning at 6am and each evening at 9pm they do a complete ceremony to raise and lower the flag in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. So it was another pre-dawn start for us so we could watch the flag raising ceremony and then get to the mausoleum even earlier than our previous attempt.We walked the 1.1km to Ba Đình Square and at this time there is plenty of activity with many locals out getting some morning exercise. We arrived in plenty of time and around 5.40am the doors to the mausoleum were opened, so Ho Chi Minh is able to “observe”, and some guards began moving us to the appropriate viewing area amongst the green grassed squares. The ceremony started not long after and the climax of the flag being raised occurs at 6am while the national anthem is played over the loud speakers. The guards in their crisp white uniforms finish off the proceedings with more immaculate marching and people slowly start to file away.We headed off for a quick breakfast (bánh mì and phở) and then to find the line to enter the mausoleum. It was now on a different street to when we saw it a few weeks ago and even at 7am it was already extremely long. We walked and walked, hoping to see the end, but all we saw was more and more people and a huge tour bus parking lot. We knew that you only get one minute to file past him and of course you can’t take any photos, so in the end we decided it wasn’t meant to be and we would have to let “Uncle Ho” rest in peace without our family of four shuffling past. With the obviously huge demand of people wanting to visit the site I’m unsure why it isn’t open longer, (currently it’s only open from 7.30am-10.30/11am and closed completely on Mondays and Fridays) but I had read that being entombed was against his wishes as he wanted to be cremated, so perhaps it was for the best anyway.
Hāngi in Hà Nội
What happens when a Kiwi couple, who have been living on the Gold Coast for 12 years, move to Hà Nội with their two gorgeous sons?? They start a frozen yoghurt shop selling Australian frozen yoghurt with Kiwi lolly toppings….
The reason we knew of this phenomenon was because Jo is the sister of one of Logan’s friends and ex-colleagues, Josh. Jo & Josh’s father also lives in Hà Nội and has a small bar inside the shop, so one afternoon we went over to meet them and see what they had going on. The boys were pretty keen on sampling the frozen yoghurt and we couldn’t pass up a few drinks from the bar. Jason, Jo’s husband, had recently commissioned a local to make them a gas powdered hāngi cooker and our first visit coincided with his maiden cook up. What amazing timing!! The food was so delicious, with great flavour and definitely made us think of home. For those who aren’t familiar with hāngi, it is a “traditional New Zealand Māori method of cooking food involving digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a large fire, placing baskets of food on top of the stones, and covering everything with earth for several hours before uncovering and eating” (Wikipedia). So an above ground, gas powered option is much easier to manage in Vietnam.Jo and Jason have two boys, Max (6) and Leo (1), and as usually happens in Vietnam, business owners live above their shops. So with our boys happily playing upstairs with them under the watchful eye of their nanny, the afternoon quickly turned into evening. We soon found ourselves having a few beers, G&T’s and kava, with Jo & Jason, some Fijian expats, a Welshman, an English couple, an Indonesian and a South African. Needless to say the following morning we were a little slow and dusty but just another wonderful experience that you don’t plan, but will certainly never forget.
We couldn’t pass up another opportunity for another taste of Jason’s “Hà Nội hāngi”, so when we heard he was firing up the cooker again we ordered up four parcels and headed back over one Sunday afternoon. This time we meet some more New Zealand expats so we could chat away in full Kiwi speed and slang with everyone knowing exactly what was going on. After just a few drinks this time and more delicious food, we said “goodbye” and headed back to our apartment with our leftover hāngi parcel and more wonderful memories. So if you are ever in Hà Nội and after some frozen yoghurt or beer (or both), make sure to look up Max & Leo Froyo; and the hāngi is now available every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening as well!!
Temple of Literature
On our very last day in the Vietnamese capital we made it to the Temple of Literature, just a brief 650m walk from our apartment. This was the 30th April which was Reunification Day, a public holiday and so it was very busy with locals out enjoying a day off and the glorious sunshine. Reunification Day marks the 30 April 1975 when Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon and signalled the end of the Vietnam War. Residents hang the national flag on their front door as a sign of patriotism and respect to those who did not survive the war.
We purchased tickets (30,000 VND/$1.88 NZD each) just for the adults and entered into this beautiful area, designed around the birthplace of Confucius, and built in 1070. In 1076, Vietnam’s first university or “Imperial Academy”, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite and remained open until 1779.Even though there were lots of people, there was a very festive atmosphere and it was a lovely way to end our time in Hà Nội.We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vietnam, and in particular the middle and north of the country, and we really had an amazing time in the capital. We are so pleased we got to spend the amount of time we did exploring this part of the world.
Average Daily Spend – $112.57 NZD ($59.93 under budget per day)