1. Cat Ba Town, April 2018. At first glance, Cat Ba Island’s overdeveloped main drag is little more than an uninspiring stretch of toothy low-rises, beat-heavy bars, tout-inhabited tour offices and kebab carts. Easily the least impressive area of the island, I’m amazed that so many visitors choose to base themselves here. Having set myself up at a charming hostel out in the rugged countryside, it was nevertheless comforting to come into town for dinner at one of a handful of excellent cafes.
1. Hanoi Railway Station, April 2018. After six days in Hanoi and three nights on Halong Bay’s gorgeous Cat Ba Island, it was finally time for my first cross-country train trip. My destination was Dong Hoi; a small city perched on a pretty stretch of central Vietnam’s northern coastline. So off I went to Hanoi Railway Station’s Building A on Le Duan Street for my overnight journey.
1. Ho Tay Lake, April 2018. As the larger of Hanoi’s two city lakes, Ho Tay (West Lake) is a much more subdued affair than pretty Hoan Kiem, with its temple, turtle tower and pretty, landscaped gardens. But Ho Tay is well worth checking out with a handful of interesting sights and a seventeen-kilometer shore length that makes for some excellent walking routes. Start your journey here at the smaller, neighboring Truch Bach Lake.
1. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, April 2018. The ancient Vietnamese art of water puppetry stretches back over a thousand years to the days when Hanoi was known as Thang Long. Performances took place in rice paddies and were carried out by the same local craftsmen that created the wooden puppets. Today the treasured art form can be enjoyed in this theatre on the northeastern bank of Hoan Kiem Lake.
1. The Note Coffee, April 2018. Coffee is one of the great joys of life! I can barely get through a morning without a big life-affirming mug of caffeiney goodness and I like it milky with sugar, all the way! Maybe a morning latte tinged with hazelnut or vanilla. Perhaps a mocha, although at least these days I do it without the whipped cream. In Vietnam the coffee scene was a tough one for me, the status quo being a cup of thick, malty mud served with… wait for it, condensed milk! Happily then, I heard about an exciting alternative, so off I traipsed to The Note Coffee, a certified Hanoi institution.
1. Hanoi Train Street, April 2018. Hanoi’s bustling, fascinating old quarter holds many secrets for those willing to do their research and delve a little deeper. Its best cafes are typically hidden away on the top floor of a dilapidated old building that can only be accessed via a narrow winding staircase at the back of an antiques shop. Similarly, some of its most atmospheric, authentic restaurants are tucked away in labyrinthine side alleys. And then there’s arguably it’s most underrated street of all; this ramshackle community set either side of an operational train track where a high-speed service still passes through twice a day.
1. Temple Of Literature, April 2018. If you’re only going to see one temple in Vietnam’s capital, there’s a strong case to be made for this ancient complex, which stands in tribute to the country’s finest scholars. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, this was also the site of Vietnam’s first university.