Coming from our short visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, we headed back to our favorite area in Hanoi, the Old Quarter. As a sucker for traditional old houses, I knew early on that I wanted to see the ancient house at 87 Ma May.
Hanoi Ancient House
A humble facade of dark ancient wood stood its ground amidst the commercial buildings brimming with color and signages. Had it not been for the Vietnamese flag, it would have been easily missed. Upon entry, we had to pay for the entrance fee at the reception area and then we were left to explore the area on our own.
A small sitting area welcomed us — I did not know whether the furnishings were originals or replicas, but I knew that it was indeed representative of the era. This narrow townhouse, like those in other Southeast Asian countries, had an atrium that let light and air in. The clay tiles were reminiscent of the flooring choice back in the day, while the butter yellow walls reverberated their French colonial history. As expected, the kitchen sat at the back. It was a lot less glitzy than other old Asian houses I had seen, but on display were seemingly antique bowls and even two traditional grinding stones.
Before we went up the stairs, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful ceiling, with the dark wooden beams contrasting the light floorboards. The traditional lantern exuded a glow that rendered a warm ambiance to this abode.
The top floor consisted mainly of two rooms, separated by the atrium that extended from the ground floor. Small architectural wonders could be found on this portion of the house. The cascading clay tiles of the roof were a sight to behold, especially as they framed the windows, intricately-carved wooden foldable panels that were almost as big as the doors. The furnishings were a lot less interesting to me, as I had grown up seeing old furniture around my grandparents’ house, but were still nice to see preserved.
We went around the Old Quarter a little bit more on foot, stopping by a few shops here and there. We enjoyed a short banter with a local shopkeeper, who told us that he was giving us a discount because we were lucky customers: two plump women as first customers for the day brought good luck (we took no offense, as it was the same in the Manila). We realized that Bach Ma Temple was closed for renovations during the time of our trip, but we continued on our walk, passing by Lan Ong street, where various traditional herbal medicine were sold. Here I saw the biggest cinnamon (I assumed) barks ever! We reached Hang Vai, where the tallest bamboo poles could be found. Tall ladders made of bamboo were attractions in their own right.
Liu Riu Restaurant
We ended our morning walk with a late lunch at Liu Riu, a restaurant recommended to us by the hotel staff. Tucked in one of Old Quarter’s alleys, entering the establishment was a pleasant surprise. A charming interior surrounded us — with its brightly painted walls offset with some dark wood furniture, certainly a respite from the busyness and the noise that were ever-present a mere seconds ago. The interior felt airy yet had a warmth as though you were welcomed in somebody’s home, not a restaurant. Strings of garlic, onions and peppers adorned the establishment, while various trinkets could be found everywhere.
We ordered a la carte — pork braised in a soy-based sauce, stuffed fish that were to be wrapped in rice wrappers, and chicken in tamarind sauce. Overall, it was a good, hearty meal, though I didn’t think it was the best Hanoi had to offer. It didn’t feel distinctly Vietnamese; some claim this was how home-cooked Vietnamese meals look like. The ambiance was fantastic though, along with the service, and I would gladly be back to try more dishes.
It was our final night in Hanoi yet we still weren’t able to try their famous egg coffee. Not wanting to feel that we missed out on a local experience, we headed to Loading T Cafe, which was walking distance from our hotel. Though it looked eerie on the outside, the interior was surprisingly cozy.
Three cups of egg coffee were ordered, and we were quickly served. The meringue-like topping provided another texture to this drink, and it was an interesting first time to try it. While it’s an enjoyable cup, personally, I still preferred a plain milk latte over this eggy foam version. Or maybe I just needed to have more cups? I would love to explore more cafes in Hanoi in the future.
For dinner, we picked up some banh mi from one of the alleyways on the way home, the cheapest meal we’d had in Hanoi and called it a night.
Still more on Hanoi next time. Until then, happy (virtual) travels!