After a visit to Hanoi one is curious to learn what the French would have done to Singapore or Hong Kong if they had possessed them.
-Alfred Cunningham

One of the great things about living abroad is the ease of exploring nearby places as we just did this past week in Vietnam. Setting up shop at the historic Hotel Metropole, constructed in 1901 and restored to utter perfection, we got a taste of French Colonial life in Hanoi. The hotel is a veritable who’s who of writers, politicians, heads of state and entertainment personalities, including Joan Baez, who wrote and recorded parts of her anti-war song “Where are you now, my son?” while staying there during the Christmas bombings of 1972.


Both the hotel and the city itself felt like time had forgotten them in the best way possible.


Restaurants like the Green Tangerine


…and Didier Corlou‘s La Verticale, where we ate a divine French-Vietnamese dinner, are housed in 1920-1930s villas, which were as interesting as the food. Here the original enfilade has been preserved, offering diners intimate spaces in the overall restaurant.


The encaustic tile floors had me at hello.


I know you are all thinking about that Kristen Buckingham kitchen right now – I certainly was!


The streets felt like a permanent party…


…albeit a dangerous one where you could get run over at any time in the crazy traffic, which never stopped. The key to crossing is to find a small opening and just start walking (and praying) that everyone will go around you. And I think I’ll spare you the requisite image of me being pedaled around in a cyclo, although I do have to say is was quite fun and a bit scary.


A “big” city yes, but so many atmospheric small town moments, from the flower sellers on bikes everywhere…

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…to fruits…


…and vegetables. We watched some strapping American men try to shoulder one of these shoulder panniers and they couldn’t do it!


We particularly enjoyed the thousand-year old Temple of Literature.  In my romantic mind, it was a place where people came to worship the creative written word, but it is actually dedicated to scholars and housed the first Vietnamese university, established in 1076.


The Stelae of Doctors commemorate the names and birthplaces of those who passed the royal exams.


At the temples of Hanoi you could really feel the other foreign influence on the city – that of the Chinese.


In case you were worried we didn’t manage to find time for shopping, let me put your mind at ease. I made a few wonderful finds for work, like this vintage Hmong textile…


…and a few personal ones for play too, like this dress from Tropical, one of our favorite stores along Hang Gai Street, which has the best shopping in Hanoi. Other stand outs included both the Tan My shops and Embroidery Ninh Khuong, which had lovely PJs for children.


We were only in Hanoi for a day and a half before flying down to Da Nang, a beach resort with jumping off points for Hoi An and My Son, which could not have been more different from Hanoi and each other. More on those next!