Hanoi is packed with restaurants and street food stands, so much so it can be challenging to know where’s good and where might have you running for the bathroom all night. Luckily, I have an easy solution.
Way back in January, as our time in Laos came to an end, we found ourselves in the beautiful Vientiane for a little over a week as we waited for our visas to be approved to enter Vietnam. It was by no means the worst place to stay: this charming and quiet capital city was – much like the rest of Laos – a perfect place to relax.
During one of Vietnam’s bank holidays a few months ago, we decided to hire a scooter and head to Hoa Binh for a night. We chose the place purely because of it’s easy accessibility from Hanoi, at just a couple of hours of easy riding. It was our first time hiring a bike since moving to Hanoi just over 3 months ago, and despite Graham having a motorbike licence in the UK, the trip didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped.
It’s official, the Year of the Golden Goat is upon us. Hanoi is slowly returning to its usual levels of crazy and people are returning to work – I know because, as I write, I’m listening to the rumble from one of the many building sites that encompass my flat and have been blissfully silent for the last week. Restaurants are opening again, and we made it all the way through the week without running out of drinking water, though the bread situation became desperate. For those that are unfamiliar with Tet, it is the lunar new year celebration in Vietnam, which generally falls on the same day as the Chinese new year. It’s a huge celebration here, and also marks the start of spring.
For many ex-pats, the need to go on a visa run is a simple fact of life. Yes, it can be frustrating and the bus journeys can be a nightmare, but they can be a fun chance to explore a new town for a little while. In Luang Prabang there are loads of ex-pats choosing the best way to renew their visa – often booking a flight into Vietnam or Thailand, or taking the bus down to the the capital, Vientiane, and then hopping over the Friendship Bridge into Thailand, stocking up at the closest 7-11, and then doing the journey in reverse, back over the mountains to Luang Prabang. A less popular route is to take the bus west from Luang Prabang to Chiang Rai, via Huay Xai, which is what we decided to do.
Luang Prabang is a beautiful city, filled with charm and history. It’s no surprise it’s becoming an increasingly popular stop for backpackers and holiday makers. Whilst the small city is flourishing as a result of the increased revenue the tourist industry provides, there is one less desirable side effect: the rising food prices in the area. As the number of people visiting is increasing, so is the cost of food, making it harder and harder to find a backpacker-friendly meal. After spending three months in the former Royal Capital, here are my top 8 cheap eats in Luang Prabang.
Eating local food is amazing, and one of the reasons I love to travel. The flavours, textures and combinations are new and exciting. Every bite is a party in your mouth, and your tongue us the guest of honour. That is until you fast forward a few months, you’ve been eating rice and noodles every day, and those exciting new flavours become boring and repetitive. Let’s be honest, after you’ve been on the road for a while you just want a little taste of home. Perhaps a burger would settle your tongues needs? Well, you’re in luck. After spending three months in the city, here is my list of the best burgers Lugang Prabang has to offer.
As the new year begins, my time in beautiful Luang Prabang is drawing to an end. I am going to miss this special place very much. From the monks that can be seen everywhere and the sound of their drums at four in the afternoon, to cycling around the French colonial buildings that do shabby chic so well, I can hardly think of a thing in this royal city that I won’t miss. Most people that visit here for a few days will remember the monks, their trip to Kuangsi Waterfall, climbing to the top of Mount Phoisi, Utopia and the night market. For me, though, I will remember some of the things most tourists are unaware of, or lack the time to visit. Here are my favourite parts of Luang Prabang, and the city’s best kept secrets.
Our journey to Sapa started with an overnight train from Hanoi, and would end back at the same station a week later. Hanoi station is, to say the least, confusing. Corridors seem to end for no reason and some of the platforms seem to lack any access at all. It was one of these platforms that we needed to find a way to. Leaving our bags in a pile with Helen, Graham and I went in opposite directions to try and suss out the way. I could see the train, with crowds of people loading their bags and finding their carriage: the normal bustle that surrounds a train as it readies for departure, with the addition of chaos that seems to come free with anything in Vietnam. Looking at my watch in desperation, I followed a Vietnamese man rushing to the end the platform I was on, though there was nothing at the end. Which I knew as I’d looked twice already. I watched him as he checked for trains, hopped onto the tracks and across to the other side, arriving at the platform we needed. Hello, Vietnamese shining health and safety considerations, I thought as I rounded the others and we followed the man’s unconventional route.