Lunch at the Old Quarter: The Buncha Experience
We arrived in our Guesthouse at around lunchtime and after settling our stuff, we went out to have lunch. When traveling to new cities, I would always opt to avoid those touristy restaurants and experience dinning where the locals eat. Just a few blocks from our hotel is a Bun Cha restaurant located at 27 Dao Duy Tu. Frankly, I was already looking forward to our photo walk around Old Quarter so we were just there to eat, period. But to my surprise, I just had the best meal in Hanoi!
“Bun Cha” is offered at lunchtime in numerous small restaurants along the streets of Old Quarter. This dish is so good I thought I almost forgot my name… hahaha!!! Plus, it’s cheap too!!! Definitely a must try! One order of Bun Cha meal which, for me, is good enough for 2 people, costs VDN35,000 (PhP74), plus you can order a spring roll (called Nem) at VDN10,000 (PhP21) per piece.
Going around Old Quarter
After lunch, we started our photo walk. The Old Quarter is the backpackers’ retreat in Hanoi and is best explored at daytime though aimless wandering as you constantly try to dodge the scooters that swarm the streets. The place abound in local shops selling everything from clothes, bags, handicrafts, paintings, coffee, etc. We did carry a street map with us that was provided by the Hotel, which helped us a lot in going around.
In any case, along Lo Su street, near the water puppet theatre, you will find a Tourist Information Center with English speaking staff, if in case you get lost or needed to ask anything about the area.
As one of the renowned attractions in Hanoi, we planned to watch the water puppet show, so we went there first to buy tickets since I heard that tickets get sold out quickly. The Thang Long Water Puppet Show runs for about 45 mins at various intervals during the day (we took the 5:20PM show). Entrance costs VDN 100,000 (for closer/more premium seats, I think from rows A-G) or VDN60,000. They also sell tickets worth VDN15,00 if you like to use your camera inside, but in our experience, you probably need not to buy this one as they are not that strict once inside.
It was around 2:30PM then so we headed towards the Hoan Kiem Lake while waiting for the water puppet show. The Hoan Kiem Lake (Hồ Hoàn Kiếm means “Lake of the Returned Sword”) is one of the scenic attractions in Old Quarter, which is linked to a legend how a Vietnamese emperor was once lent a magical sword by the Golden Turle God that helped him defeat the Chinese Ming Dynasty and reclaim the nation’s independence (source: http://www.vietnam-beauty.com/cities/ha-noi/4-ha-noi/6-ho-hoan-kiem-ho-guom-lake-of-the-restored-sword.html). It was autumn in Hanoi so we really enjoyed exploring the area with the cool weather that reminded me so much of Baguio City. Near the edge of the lake is a remarkable red bride (Huc Bridge) going to the Ngoc Son Temple.
In the middle of the lake you will find the iconic Tháp Rùa (or Turtle Tower), which was built in honor of the Turtle God that was part of the legend mentioned earlier.
We headed back to the water puppet theater. It’s best to come a little early for the show since the place can be really crowded because of the many flock of tourists who are also there to watch. The show was just ok for me, I guess because I didn’t quite understand the plot or flow of the story, but the puppets were cute and all.
After the show, we passed by the red bridge again , which was beautifully lit at night.
We also dropped by the night market and ate dinner at another local restaurant near our hotel called Bun Bo Nam Bo. This shared meal cost us VDN100,000.
Nightlife at Old Quarter
If you happen to be in Old Quarter, especially on a weekend, it’s probably impossible to miss out the night market and street happenings in the area. As early as 6:30PM, the streets begin to get crowded as vendors start to set up their stalls, selling all sorts of items from clothes, bags, accessories, etc. Meanwhile, you see the streets and intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen, which is near our hotel, get lined up with tourists, backpackers and Vietnamese teenagers having fun over beer and all sorts of Vietnamese street food. You really don’t need a lot to enjoy the night in here, in fact, you can just hunker down on a tiny wooden or plastic chair and enjoy your food/drinks while merely observing the people passing by.