Vietnam's capital 

Hanoi is a sprawling metropolis of unusual coffee shops, post-colonial architecture, tantalising street food, Buddhist temples and traffic, very heavy traffic.

With over 5 million motorbikes in the city, and a tendency by the Vietnamese to beep the horn every few seconds, the atmosphere is chaotic, noisy and polluted.

And yet I still found myself living in and around the city for six months, and loving all that it had to offer. 

 

Time out

I managed to find my own little pieces of calm and respite within the madness of Hanoi so whether you're living in the city, on holiday, or thinking about visiting, here are my top picks for some rest and relaxation.

Shortcuts >   Massage   Inspiration   Nature   Lunch    Dinner   Cocktails

 

Massage

The Yakushi Centre

I've had many massages in Hanoi, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly, but I never found anywhere as great as this place - I have visited multiple times and had various massages, they offer a range of treatments from acupuncture to shiatsu. The masseuses are highly-skilled, knowledgeable, respectful, and caring and you are guaranteed to feel calm and rejuvenated afterwards. It's located in a quiet alley in Tay Ho, to make an appointment you need to email the clinic at least a day before to arrange, they are always busy so it's unlikely they'll be able to fit you in if you just turn up. I'd recommend having 1.5 hours rather than an hour and then if you have any specific areas (upper back, hips etc.) you'd like to focus on they'll have time. Payment can be made in dollars or VND, cash only. Prices from 240k, $10, £8.

'Yakushi Nyorai is the Japanese name of the Medicine Buddha. He symbolizes the healing aspect of Buddha. The Lapis lazuli colour stands for healing energy. For us, the choice of name reflects the deep Asian roots of our traditional medicine, the energies of compassion and loving-kindness that are the essence of helping, and the intervening nature of health and sickness, healer and patient, body and mind, ailment and cure. The word “holistic” stresses the same point. Neither any part or aspect of us nor any one of us is independent of everything else. When we work together to heal one person we are working to heal all beings.' - from their website.

 

Lunch

Jalus Vegan Kitchen

Located in Hanoi's Old Quarter this place is the real deal and would be perfectly at home in a trendy area of London. It's been open over four years and serves 100% vegan food and drinks. All the food is made from scratch and is preservative and MSG free. To get there you go down an alley and then up two flights of stairs - it's well marked on Google maps. The decor is incredibly stylish and scented with natural oils. I can thoroughly recommend the Homemade Lasagne with rosemary and pumpkin sauce (120k, $5.20 £4) - it literally melts in your mouth and you don't want it to end.

Give me more...

 

 

Inspiration

Vietnamese Women's Museum

Carve out at least two hours to spend at this wonderful exhibition situated between the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. The displays have three broad themes of Women in Family, Women in History and Women's Fashion over four well designed and spacious floors. It's an absolutely fascinating collection of documents and anthropological artefacts documenting the lives of many of the Vietnamese tribes. There's also a large section which pays homage to the boundless efforts and enormous sacrifices made by women during the American war. I came away feeling moved, educated, and proud to be a woman (even more proud!) - truly inspirational. Entrance ticket 30k, $1.20, £1.

Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Women's Museum
Photo courtesy of the Vietnamese Women's Museum

 

 

Dinner

Uu Dam Chay

It is hard to put into words just how much I love this outstanding Buddhist restaurant just next to the Old Quarter. The first time I went I was bowled over by its exquisite gentleness, that's the only way I can describe it. The attention to detail is immaculate, from the way the food is presented - served on lotus leaves, terracotta pots, or shells, the glasses shaped like bamboo, to the delicate flavours, the eye-watering cocktails and even the stunning bathrooms - which look like something from Elle Decoration. I can recommend the Green Banana braised in a clay pot - served with An Lac Rice 125k, $5.40, £4.15. Try to go with a friend and order a few dishes to share as there are so many tempting things on the menu that you'll want to try. This is definitely my favourite restaurant in Hanoi, and I've tried plenty.

Photo courtesy of Uh Dam Chay​​​​​​

 


Nature

Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology

This place is nothing to look at from the outside and is about 1/2 an hour out of town in Cầu Giấy but it's well worth the trek, simply because of the lush, green, well-tended gardens that are at the back of the museum. If you go early, before lunch and before the crowds it really is a lovely place to sit and have some quiet time amongst all of the chaos. The exhibition itself inside is very interesting and well worth a look:

"The mission of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is to implement various tasks including scientific research, collecting, object inventory, storage, exhibition, performance, and educational activities in order to contribute to the safeguarding of cultural diversity of different ethnic groups in Vietnam, in Southeast Asia and around the world."

But it's the tranquillity of the gardens which would tempt me to return. Entrance 40k, $1.70, £1.30.

The best bit is out the back

 

 

Cocktails

Aubergine Cafe

Whilst on a fairly busy road in the Old Quarter I feel like I still have to mention this lovely family run place. It's peaceful inside and they serve the most amazing Margaritas cocktails ever, and all for a mere 50k, $2.16, £1.66. If you've been in Hanoi for any length of time you'll know just how difficult it is to get a decent cocktail - well here they've cracked it, it's the perfect temperature, perfect consistency and has just the right amount of salt around the glass. If you do stop by please also try the Caramelised Sesame Tofu - it's sweet and crispy on the outside and soft and savoury on the inside, delicious. The Aubergine Cafe isn't vegetarian or vegan but has plenty of plant-based options to choose from. Leave a note under the glass tables - who knows who might read it...

These are STRONG - I've never managed more than two so be careful...


 

Have you been to Hanoi? Do you know of any calm, peaceful or inspiring places? Please comment below.

 

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Hanoi

* Download the Grab taxi app - it's the cheapest and most convenient way to travel, bike or car - you decide.

* If you use any other taxis ALWAYS agree on a price first to avoid confusion, conflict and getting ripped off.

* Carry cash, many places still don't accept cards.

Vietnam Coracle is the best independent travel website for the whole of Vietnam - check here before you do anything.

* Get a Vietnamese sim card as soon as you arrive, make sure your phone is unlocked beforehand. Ask the staff at your hotel/hostel to take you to buy one and set it up for you - the best company is Viettel.

Google maps will be your best friend, it's not as quite accurate as in the UK as there are many small backstreets and tunnels that are not listed, but it's still the best way to navigate the city.

* Consider buying a mask if you're going to be riding or travelling on the back of a motorbike as the fumes are intense. Breathe Hanoi will deliver a proper mask (one that actually works as most don't) to wherever you are staying.

* If you are looking for vegan or vegetarian restaurants type the word 'chay' into Google Maps. The word means vegetables and will hopefully flag up some Buddhist vegan buffet options, of which there are many.

 

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About me

Hannah Anstee portrait

Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Midlife & Wellbeing Coach.

You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.

Hannah uses a kind and candid approach to help women rewrite their stories.