Xoi Yen

Funny thing how we passed by this place everyday in Hanoi, saw the massive amounts of people there, and continued by without a second glance. Well, fortunately, Vicky happened to notice. And on a separate occasion, read about it online. Amazing that all these places were close to our hotel. This one was two blocks up. Once again, lucky us!

As sort of a spoiler, I ate here twice. Photogs may notice a difference in color in the photos.

The place can get crowded. We went off peak hours and the only traffic was in front where people ordered take out… from one lady. She sat there and put together all the orders. Very efficient and very quick. I wonder if that was the job or one to haze new employees. It looked like one busy job.

We proceeded upstairs and ordered a couple bowls. The food came up quick. Everything was cooked already so all that’s needed was to assemble the bowls. Can’t say this place prides itself on fresh cooked to order meals. Still, great stuff. This would probably be our best meal of the trip. Yeah, I know. Simple. Hearty. Solid on flavors. And sure, I probably need to spend more time in Hanoi to find the best eats. I’m only saying, for this trip, this trip alone. My most memorable meal was here.

Xoi Yen
35b Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem
Hanoi, Vietnam
+84 04 39341950

Verdict: I recommend trying this place and do know your xoi.


Hiking Around Sapa

The best way we were going to experience Sapa was to hike it. Well, after a thirty minute ride out of town to the starting point. It was still damp outside so we knew our shoes may not be coming home with us. We planned for this. And yeah, by the end of the day they were too muddy to put back into our luggage. Though, at the train station we found people who would gladly clean our shoes for a small fee. We had declined given our premeditated fate of our shoes.

Our hike started with a greeting from our tour guide and several Hmong ladies. There were almost one for each of us, five of us and four of them. We tried our best to have little interaction with them knowing what’s going to happen at the end. But how can you turn away simple banter.

“Hi, where are you from?”

“What’s your name?”

“How long are you staying?”

And along the way they were giving us a hand and making little things for us. So it was impossible to avoid them completely. When they weren’t trying to talk to us, we took in the air and marveled at the scenery. You need to go here if you’re ever in Northern Vietnam. Next time I would probably come straight here and spend a week wandering these fields. Even when it’s not the best time of year, it was still beautiful.

We went through two villages Lao Chai and Ta Van. Lao Chai was where the tourist trap began and ended. You’ll read all about this on other sites. It’s true. They’ll try to guilt you into buying stuff, but they can’t argue when you didn’t bring too much money. We did give some money to our Hmong ladies for their help. Having an extra set of hands as you climbed through muddy paths probably saved us from an embarrassing fall. Kudos for that. Not so much for the tenacious selling frenzy that unloaded onto one of our group members. She decided to buy something and that my friends was like blood in the water for these sharks. They swarmed her. Hope she got something good out of it. Our tour guide mentioned something interesting. There are more villagers following tour groups because the harvest was over. Since they’re not tending the fields, they’ll try and make money with the tourists. Can’t blame them for tying to earn a little extra.

After Lao Chai it was smooth sailing. The Hmong ladies stayed back and we were off walking the roads. By the time we got to Ta Van, we had lunch and decided to head back home. The paths were only getting muddier and we were already exhausted. All in all we hiked for about 4 hours. Not bad.

Verdict: I know this wasn’t food related, but I highly recommend doing this. Probably with a private guide that can fend off the villagers. Still, do this!


Cat Cat Village

One thing to be aware of is that the train takes you into Lao Cai. It’s another hour ride up to Sapa through some windy roads. Not to bad to endure if I weren’t so grumpy from a night on the train. By the time we got to the hotel, businesses were waking up. Our room wasn’t ready so we had breakfast, which was included in the tour package. Actually, a lot was included and being the foodies we were, we passed on a few of the hotel meals and ate at outside restaurants. What? So I want to give you some interesting eats to read about. Really. Okay, not really. I didn’t want to eat hotel food. Yeah, my tummy works only with high octane food.

We had a good hike down to Cat Cat Village with our private tour guide. Oh man, our tour guide was awesome. As you may not know, the Hmong villagers try to tag along with hiking groups. They eventually try to get you to buy things at the end. However, our guide yelled at them not to follow us. It was pretty funny passing up other groups with hordes and hordes of villagers swarming foreigners. Thank goodness that wasn’t us.

What we learned was the majority of Hmong there part of the Black Hmong tribe. The other ones we would see are the Red Hmong and the Flower Hmong. I’ll let you pick them out in the pictures (in the next post as well). It’s pretty obvious who’s who.

On our way back from Cat Cat Village we decided to climb back up. You’ll get plenty of people offering to give you a ride on their motorbikes. We wanted to build up an appetite. That’s what I told myself. Not sure about Vicky’s reason. I looked ungentlemanly saying no to all the motorcyclists. They must of thought we were fighting since we looked pretty drained.

By the time we got to the top, we were ready to eat.

The guide brought us to a place and we gladly ordered away. The store owner was nice enough to bring us a space heater. It cold outside and the place didn’t have the best insulation. Our orders took a little time to get to us, but that was a good thing. The meals were prepared fresh and it was apparent when we ate. Oh it was so nice to have a wholesome meal. Very cozy as the cold drizzled streets awaited outside.

Viet Cuisine Restaurant
004b Muong Hoa Street
Sapa, Vietnam
+84 203.873345

Verdict: For some good home cooking the Sapa way, get yourself in here. Fresh ingredients. And yeah, I recommend a small hike to Cat Cat Village too.


Train to Sapa

Here’s the typical itinerary for a Sapa getaway, a three-night two-day stay. This means you take an overnight train to Sapa, do a hike during the day, stay in a hotel at night, do a hike the next day, and come back on an overnight train. Basically, you have two full days with really one night of rest in a hotel. Sounds grueling doesn’t it? Well, it was and it was well worth it. The cost was the only thing I’d question, $145/person.

Anyways, we had time to kill before boarding the train so we went to Lotte Center. This towering mall / hotel / mart catered to Koreans. If you don’t know, Korea has invested a lot into Vietnam. It’s very common for Korean business people and tourists to come to Vietnam. So much that there are stores like this popping up throughout the country. This one in particular opened up recently in September. Of course, we were there for shopping. Shopping that turned to eating on the ninth floor.

I saw crab hot pot at Thai Express. Even though it looked good, I didn’t want a Thai version so we ended up at Ngon Ngon Restaurant.

It was a nice restaurant and had two private rooms for large parties. There weren’t too many people in there. So it was pretty surprising why service was so bad. There were three servers for two tables. I had asked for a drink several times before I got one. I spoke to more than one person about it. Odd. Maybe it was because we sat at the window and they manned the front which was pretty far down the restaurant. Still no excuse.

Ngon Ngon Restaurant
Lotte Center
54 Lieu Giai Street
Hanoi, Vietnam

Verdict: Ignoring the service, the food here was a safe bet from having street food. Yet, I’d say find a better place. The taste here were only okay.


Double Breakfast

We were making our way through the Old Quarter and decided to eat locally. That was, try out the recommendations from the locals and online reviews that weren’t TripAdvisor or Yelp (yeah, they had a small presence). Two things came to mind, bun cha and more bun rieu oc. I had to compare it to last night. Do street vendors do bun rieu oc better then fancy restaurants? My hypothesis was yes.

I’d say we were pretty adventurous trying out the street vendor we picked for bun rieu oc, crab noodle soup with snails. It wasn’t the snails in question, it was the environment. The place was inside an alley tucked behind a couple other stands. A lady sat at a low table motioning us to sit. The ingredients sat on the metal table and she soon began preparing our meal. I was glad it was far enough from the main road where the scooters skimmed by.

I asked for one bowl. She insisted on two. Normal vendor protocol.

We both got our fill and I have to say, it was good. Better than the restaurant. So hypothesis confirmed in relation to last night. Though, the sacrifice in cleanliness really makes me wonder if it was worth it.

It was then off to what I really wanted to try, bun cha, a Hanoian dish. Something they eat for breakfast. I looked up a spot and low and behold, there was a highly rated one in the Old Quarter. Problem was, there’s also mention that there were fake shops around. I have a feeling we went to one. Even with the same name and address, looking online the pictures of the store was different. Oh well, still a good meal.

Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim
67 Duong Thanh Street, Old Quarter
Hanoi, Vietnam
+84  04.8285022

Verdict: Definitely try. I was even impressed with the knock offs. As for street food, you know the risk.

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