How many months? This was the question we were asked by every smiling, friendly and somewhat bemused local we encountered on our recent trip to Hanoi. It’s very uncommon in Vietnamese culture for babies as young as ours to be out and about, let alone travelling internationally, however it was with our four month old in tow that my husband and I set about sampling all that Hanoi had to offer.
Dining out on holidays with a little one can sometimes prove tricky. In Hanoi however, babies are welcome at every type of restaurant, leaving parents to achieve the perfect balance of family time and foodie time! I suggest you pack your hunger and your gym gear mama, and get ready to sample your way around this amazing city, one dish at a time!
A Foodies Guide to Hanoi with Kids
Several international airlines fly from Dubai to Hanoi, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific. Unfortunately none of them fly direct. With a 9.5 hour flight (including stop-over) make sure you plan to stay at least a week to enjoy this wonderful city.
Depending on your nationality and your passport, you may require a visa to visit Hanoi. This can be arranged through the Vietnam Embassy in Abu Dhabi or you can obtain a visa on arrival, provided you have pre-arranged an invitation letter and have the correct paperwork with you.
Directions on the process to obtain an invitation letter and other requirements can be found at Vietnam Visa Pro or by contacting the Vietnam Embassy in Abu Dhabi on +(971) (0)2 441 7899.
We stayed at Hotel De L’opera, in the Hoan Kiem district near Lake Hoan Kiem. Stunningly appointed, we chose this hotel because of its convenient location, spacious rooms and reasonable price – it even included daily breakfast.
We opted for their largest room, the L’Opera Grand Suite, with its separate lounge and kitchenette area. The hotel provided a very sturdy cot for our baby, which came with an innerspring mattress and all bedding (and all at no extra charge!). The service was fantastic and we would definitely stay there again should we ever find ourselves in Hanoi in the future.
Eat and drink:
Take a street food tour
Hanoi is rated as one of the top cities in the world for street food experiences. On our first morning in the city, with our baby firmly strapped into the Bjorn, we embarked on a 3-hour walking tour with Vong Cang Tu, author of the blog “Vietnamese God”.
The tour was a fantastic way to start our holiday. While the incredibly lively street food scene in Hanoi can be a bit daunting, our tour gave us the confidence we needed to seek out our own street food adventures (the fact that Tu was charming and passionate about Hanoi street food was a lovely extra!).
Tour or no tour, the following local delicacies must not be missed!
Slices of roasted pork, blanched bean shoots, herbs, crushed nuts and dried shallots on top of pho noodles swimming in a fabulous broth that contains fish sauce, vinegar and pork bone broth.
Bún Chả Riêu
Barbecued pork belly served over a soul warming soup of crab, pork, tomato, herbs and pho noodles.
Pork belly grilled so that it has crunchy black edges, pork patties enveloped in lốt leaves, immersed in a delicious ‘soup’ served with cold rice noodles and a plate of herbs.
Nem cua bể
A crab spring roll, square in shape, with a paper-thin crisp pastry that has been deep-fried until golden and served with cold rice noodles and a plate of herbs.
Fillets of large fish that are cut into small pieces, seasoned, placed in bamboo holders and grilled over charcoal. When the fish is brought to the table it’s fried again on a stove in the middle of the table. It’s served with cold rice noodles and fish sauce that has been seasoned with lemon juice and shrimp paste.
Cà phê trứng
Or ‘egg coffee’ is made by whipping a raw egg with sweetened condensed milk and extra sugar (for good measure), then coffee is dripped over the frothy mixture. The strong flavoured coffee sinks to the bottom underneath the foam. The top layer tastes almost like melted vanilla ice cream! You can order a hot or cold version and both are delicious. The caffeine kick is something else!
La Terrasse at the Metropole
La Terrasse at the legendary Sofitel Metropole duplicates the look and feel of a Parisian sidewalk café. Take a seat outside and observe the passersbys whilst you sip champagne, indulge in some fabulous French fare and get swept up in the romance of yester-year in these historic, French colonial surroundings.
If you are whiling away an afternoon, I would recommend ordering the cold cuts plate. It comes with a homemade pate and a sensational, salty duck terrine. Pair this with a crisp, ice-cold bottle of champagne (perhaps whilst bubs is sleeping!) and you’ve got yourself a perfect afternoon!
If you’re looking for something more substantial, try their Nicoise salad with a seared tuna fillet – delicious! There is also an ice cream and sherbets menu, perfect for the little (and big!) ones.
The Summit Lounge at the Sofitel Plaza is well worth a visit if only for the breathtaking view! Located between Truc Bach Lake, West Lake and the Red River it boasts an incredible panorama. Open from 4pm daily and extremely welcoming to little ones, this is a perfect spot for an afternoon tipple. Service can be a little slow but who’s in a rush when they’re on holidays?
Looking for that fine dining experience that also welcomes your baby? Le Beaulieu is the place to go. Located in the Sofitel Metropole, this place is renowned for its exquisite French cuisine, and has excellent service, fabulous food and the best wine list in Hanoi. If you want to take bubs in the pram, it’s a good idea to request a seat on the terrace.
KOTO (“Know one Teach One”)
KOTO is more than a restaurant. It’s a social enterprise that has trained over 400 students at its two training centers (Saigon and Hanoi) and provides opportunities for disadvantaged youths. The multi-level restaurant on Van Mieu Street is the professional platform for KOTO’S students to practice their hospitality and culinary skills.
See & Do:
Feeling the need to walk off some of your indulgences? There is more to sample in Hanoi than the fabulous food. My three best suggestions are:
Hoan Kiem Lake
Located a short walk from the Metropole and Hotel De L’opera, this picturesque lake is a lovely walk at any time of the day. Cross the “red Bridge of the Rising Sun’ to reach the temple and visit the Ncog Son pagoda at the north end of the lake. The lake does tend to attract touts but they are not very forceful and will stand aside when you politely decline their offerings.
Temple of Literature
Located to the south of Thang Long Citadel, this temple is one of several temples in Hanoi dedicated to Confucious and is even featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese đồng banknotes. These beautiful gardens are on the small side but are still visually impressive. Steeped in history, it’s worth taking a wander through with an English-speaking guide as there is next to no information on hand at the temple. Afterwards enjoy wandering the streets around the temple before stopping for lunch at Koto.
The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter still has the original street layout and architecture of Hanoi and consists of the original 36 streets that made up the whole city at the beginning of the 20th Century. The street names still reflect the specializations of yester-year and the area is famous for its small artisans and merchants. Spend an afternoon wandering the streets, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and stop to taste as often as you can!
Handy Tips for Bub:
On Hai Bà Trưng, around the corner from Hotel De L’opera there is a small supermarket that specialises in packaged Western goods, such as baby formula (like Nestle and S26) and diapers.
The aptly named ‘Titi Shop‘, sell all manner of breast and bottle feeding products, and predominantly stock the Medela Brand. My breast pump conveniently packed it in while we were in Vietnam, so we contacted the store via email and purchased a replacement, which they delivered to the hotel for us within the hour. You can also rent pumps and sterilizing equipment.
Mekong Quilts (formerly Vietnam Quilts) is a project arm of an NGO whose key objective is to generate employment for women and support community development programs in remote villages in Vietnam and Cambodia. They sell stunning handmade quilts in a variety of sizes, that are perfect for children’s beds, as a floor mat or to hang on the wall. They also sell a variety of other smaller items such as pillowcases, toys and ornaments. Definitely worth a visit to pick up something lovely for the little ones!
Melissa Bujtor, originally from Australia, now based in Singapore, is an ex-banker turned mum and budding food and lifestyle photographer. She is extremely passionate about all things food, especially when she can combine it with her other love – travel! You can view Melissa’s work and contact her via her blog here.