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August 2019

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Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
 
 
Neighbourhood
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Travel to Hanoi

 
 

Neighbourhood Trúc Bach, Hanoi

1 August 2019

Ethnographic antiques, a lively wet market and the city’s oldest pagoda – just a few reasons to lose the tourist throng in this locally-beloved ‘hood

When downtown’s din and dust gets too much for Hanoians, they retreat to a lakeside suburb – part of the wider Ba Đình district and a few kilometres north of Hanoi’s exotic Old Quarter. The origins of Trúc Bch’s name; “small creamy white bamboo” hark back to the 1600s, when ivory-stemmed bamboos encircled its lake, which was also made famous by a certain US senator. In 1967, the late John McCain (then a naval aviator), was shot down into Trúc Bch’s serene waters, and held prisoner of war at the city’s notorious Ha Lò Prison. Today, families descend on the lake’s leafy promenade to graze on lâu ch (frog hotpot) or float past Trn Quc pagoda on kitschy swan pedalos.

Life in Trúc Bch unfolds on these riverbanks and its sidewalks – often under the shade of weather-beaten banyan trees, where locals play cards hunched over steaming bowls of ph, an aromatic beef-and-noodle broth and Vietnam’s national dish. Pull up a rickety plastic stool and join in – some of the city’s tastiest street eats hail from this neighbourhood. And leave room for ph cun (rice spring rolls stuffed with beef and coriander) at the intersection of Mc Đĩnh Chi and Nguyn Khc Hiu streets.

With one foot in the past and one racing towards the future, gallery-cafés, fashion-forward boutiques and craft breweries like Standing Bar, are sprouting from Trúc Bch’s impossibly narrow tube-houses, crumbling French colonial facades and even Soviet-era relics.

For an island escape without leaving the city (or neighbourhood for that matter), follow legume-laden pedal bikes over tiny Trn Vũ Bridge to Ngũ Xã, which retains its former village character. Dive into its rich bronze-casting heritage at Chùa Than Quang temple and Đình Ngũ Xã communal house, then cool down with chè (a shaved ice and coconut milk concoction) at its popular hole-in-the-wall dessert bars.

Start at Chau Long Market

A whole lot of life happens under Chau Long’s corroded rooftop – one of the city’s last remaining traditional wet markets, which 200 garrulous vendors call home. A visit here is not for the faint hearted, but it’s worth it for the people watching alone. Conical-hat wearing ladies skin frogs and swing cleavers within an inch of their toes, between wriggling bowls of silk worms (nhng), as honking motorbikes weave in and out of the aisles. More palatable are the baskets overflowing with fragrant herbs and banana blossoms, stalls grinding grains and sweet glutinous rice balls (bánh rán ngot), the perfect mid-morning pick-me-up.
On the corner of Chau Long and Nguyen Streets

A five-minute ‘Grab’ motorbike taxi to Trấn Quốc Pagoda

Set on a tranquil peninsula on West Lake’s eastern shore, 6th Century Trn Quc is the city’s oldest Buddhist temple, serving as a place of reverence for Vietnam’s royalty for hundreds of years. Ironically, its crowd-pleaser is a 1998 brick-built, 11 floor stupa, shaded by a heart-shaped-leaved Bodhi tree which is said to be grafted from the holy tree under which Buddha meditated for seven weeks. Follow the smoky trails to atmospheric Nhà thiu hng, the site’s incense burning house, before marvelling at centuries-old stone and copper statues in its underrated museum.
Thanh Niên, Yên Phụ, chuatranquoc.info

Less than a minute walk to Trúc Bạch Lake

Heading left onto Thanh Niên causeway from Trn Quc Pagoda, embark on a leisurely loop of the neighbourhood’s star attraction. Or, glide past fishermen casting bamboo rods on one of the lake’s swan pedalos. You can rent them from Highlands Coffee – Vietnam’s answer to Starbucks.
Separated from West Lake (Ho Tay) by Ð Thanh Nien causeway, Trúc Bạch

A seven-minute taxi to Trade Shop #37

Modelled on the state-run canteens commonplace in Vietnam’s bao cp era, this ration-themed restaurant is an unexpected find on Ngũ Xã. Recalling the country’s lean post-war years, Soviet era fans whirl above as sentimental songs stream from a vintage radio and war memorabilia hangs from whitewashed brick walls. Diners chew the fat at wooden tables, imaginatively repurposed from antique Singer sewing machines. You can’t go wrong with the cá kho t (a clay-baked fish hot pot), rau lang om m (sweet potato leaves marinated with tangy fermented rice) and a generous side of pickled greens, fried in lard.
37 Nam Tràng, Trúc Bạch, +84 24 3715 4336, facebook.com/CuaHangMauDich

A six-minute walk to Felix Bespoke Tailor

Getting measured up by a tailor is a rite of passage for every first-time visitor in Vietnam. Drop in for a 15-minute fitting at this cute-as-a-button atelier, where self-taught, Hanoi-born Vicky Taho fashions US$30-50 suits in pinstripe, dogtooth and herringbone. Fashion is thirsty business, so drop in at her husband’s annexed cat café for a cà phê nâu đá – an iced coffee with condensed milk.
02 Chau Long, 01 Ngu Xa, +84 4 666 272 89, felix.bespoke@gmail.com

A nine-minute walk to 54 Traditions Gallery

Museum-worthy antiques from Vietnam’s 54 traditional ethnic minorities cover every nook and cranny of this Hàng Bún street gallery, which celebrates the country’s fascinating ethno-diversity over four floors. Its owner is long-time expat and doctor turned art dealer Mark Rapoport, who has donated over 1,000 artefacts to the city’s museums, as well as his native New York City’s Met. Rummage around its themed rooms for water puppets, tribal textiles, frightful wooden masks and opium scales, or better still, have Rapoport explain their colourful history (and point out the $50 bargains whilst he’s at it).
30 Hàng Bún, Trúc Bạc, +84 24 3715 0194, 54traditions.com

A three-minute ‘Grab’ motorbike taxi to Tổ Chim Xanh – Bluebirds’ Nest

Nestled at the end of a sleepy alley close to the old citadel gate, this multi-level café’s snug reading platform is a great place to try your first cà phê trng (egg coffee). Meanwhile, up on their rooftop terrace, the hipster crowd knock back passion fruit mojitos surrounded by Soviet-era apartment blocks. The community venue also hosts film nights, poetry slams and kirigami paper-cutting workshops – the new origami sans folds, we’re told.
19 Đặng Dung, Quán Thánh, +84 349 565 226, facebook.com/tochimxanh.bluebirdsnest

Words & images: Sarah Freeman

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