Hanoi is a 3.5 hr plane ride from Singapore, so it is not that convenient a weekend destination. However, there’s really not much to do in the city, so a 4 day trip is really stretching it. Compared to Saigon, the city is slower paced, and it does seem that there is a stronger focus towards the arts scene.
For Vietnamese art galleries, Trang Tien is a street walking distance from the Sofitel Metropole and it has 3-4 small galleries, Apricot at 40B Hang Bong is a bigger one you can visit. Remember to bargain.
There is not much to do in Hanoi, so one of the highlights is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. Honestly it does come across pretty 2D but you have to give the puppeteers credit for the seamless handling of multiple puppets while smoking!
I took a cooking class at Old Hanoi to learn H’s favourite Vietnamese dishes so I could prepare them at home. The teacher spoke enough english and it was easy to communicate. I had a 1-1 class which started with making goi cuon, cha gio, bun cha and a dessert. The class ended with a walk to the nearby market where I had a chance to buy the dried rice paper skins, dried mushrooms, and dried pho.
1) Cha Ca La Vong
Pronunced cha ga. Pieces of fish with dill served on a hot plate. The smell is very pungent and it’s definitely an acquired taste but I like it. They only serve this dish.
14 Cha Ca / Hoan Kiem
2) Bun Cha
Pork patties served in nuoc man(fish sauce) noodles and friend spring rolls. Must must must.
1 Hang Manh / old quarter
3) Quan An Ngon
This place has many little stalls that have everything. Nice outdoor area
18 Phan Boi Chau / Hoan Kiem
If u only have time for 2, try the last 2.
One difference I noticed is that the pho in the north is clearer and lighter than in Saigon. Also, I think the Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) is better than the Pho Bo in Hanoi. 2 places to try are Pho Vong and Pho 24.
Pho Vong 44 Ngo Thi Nham / Hoan Kiem
Pho 24 various outlets around the city
Where we stayed:
Hilton Hanoi Opera
Business style hotel next to the Opera. Rooms were dated but the location is great. The best hotel to stay in Hanoi seems to be the Sofitel Metropole with its colonial architecture (across the street from the Hilton) but H has seen the basic rooms and said they were small for the price.