During those first few hours where I felt okay enough to explore Nick and I walked around a small section of the city. We checked out the Old Quarter and Hoàn Kiem Lake where Nick bought me a balloon to cheer me up! I love balloons!
We ate at Zenith Yoga Cafe about 24 hours before I got sick and I'm pretty sure it was their salad rolls that got me because they were literally the only thing that I'd eaten and Nick hadn't for days. The service there was awful too (and I'm British so trust me, I'm used to a certain level of crappy service!) and Nick said that his burger tasted like it had been grilled the day before and then microwaved. I assumed he was exaggerating and took a bite and had to agree, it was the kind of thing that I'd have thrown away if I'd made it at home! It was such a shame because Zenith is a cute, chilled out space in the midst of a loud and busy city and it could have been a nice place to spend more time. It was also the only all veg place super close to where we were staying so it was definitely frustrating that I didn't trust their food enough to venture back there. We also managed to check out Bo De Chay where we shared one order of Salted Chicken with a side of white rice and another of Seafood Spring Rolls. Neither dish was what we were expecting but they were enjoyable none-the-less.
Despite not being able to eat anything other than plain baguette for three whole days I did manage to pop out for some walks around the neighbourhood. We were staying in the Old Quarter so the streets were bustling at all times of day with motorbikes and street vendors.
Did I mention that I love balloons? Seeing whole bunches of them being transported is my fave'.
These train tracks run right inbetween the houses, so close.
Once I was feeling 95% again (it took another week or so for my appetite and energy levels to hit 100% again!) Nick and I knew we only had two days left so we needed to prioritise! We went on one whirlwind sightseeing day fuelled by the blandest food we could find for my poor stomach, the veggie fried rice with tofu from Cari Truong in the Old Quarter which, whilst not being the best food ever, was a great option. Oh and if you can sit on the balcony upstairs it's a really fun place to watch the world go by whilst you enjoy your meal.
The next day we met up with Cici from Vietnamese + Vegan. I love meeting other vegans when I travel and I discovered Cici's blog thanks to a guest post she wrote for Vegan Miam. Coincidentally I just wrote a guest post for her too proving that it really is a small vegan world! We met up at Loving Hut because it's one of the few places that you can be guaranteed some fun Vietnamese eats minus the animal products. Cici ordered some Bánh Xèo for us to share as well as some delicious fresh spring rolls that I forgot to photograph. Nick and I also couldn't resist the Beef Pho.
The Pho was delicious, I like mine with plenty of lime squeezed in, but the Bánh Xèo was the star of the show. The Vietnamese pancake is stuffed with lightly cooked veggies and mock chicken and you pop a piece of that and some salad leaves and herbs into a rice flour pancake before dipping it into the mock fish sauce to get the full on taste sensation. So delicious.
After lunch we took a walk to West Lake where Cici introduced us to Bò Bía Ngot (my computer just won't do the proper i in bia but you can see it below) which are simple rice flour pancakes filled with pulled sugar, toasted coconut and black sesame seeds. We stopped and watched to make sure this was what was going into the rolls (My googling tells me that there are also non-vegan savoury Bo Bia) and then went for it.
This is one treat that is more delicious than the sum of it's parts. I am genuinely quite sad that I discovered these on my last day in Hanoi and have been looking out for them ever since.
Cici also told us about bánh rán mat which are Vietnamese doughnuts filled with mung bean paste sold by street vendors all over the Old Quarter.
The salespeople can be a little pushy and we found it impossible to stop the woman we were dealing with from putting a non vegan fried pineapple thing into our bag. These were incredibly sweet and whilst I'm not at all averse to a sugar hit these were a little much. If I'd had the chance I would have liked to try their sesame covered counterparts bánh rán vùng which I would assume would be a little less sugartastic.
I also found some decent things to snack on in Hanoi, this haul was from QT Mart (such an adorable name!) on Pho Quán Thánh just down the road from the Loving Hut. Peanut Butter is quickly becoming one of my travel essentials especially in a country where the baguettes are almost always vegan. Nick also found some of his fave' accidentally vegan Lindt chocolate.
The biscuits pictured are on the not-too-sweet side and are flavoured with butter aroma which I hate the smell of but they made a great kinda bland snack. Nuts are always a vegan mainstay (cashews forever!) and Nick and I were both excited to find these Oreo Wafers (the pink filled one's aren't vegan but these are) and some knock off Pringles-style crisps which turned out to be kinda gross because sugar shouldn't be in crisps. We also grabbed cereal and soy milk from the Intimex supermarket by Hoàn Kiem Lake.
On our last night we popped out to vegan friendly restaurant Aubergine for dinner where I obviously had to order the fried aubergine with garlic.
This place was on the expensive side for Hanoi but it was still really cheap from a western perspective, the portions were large and delivered exactly what the menu description said they would which is something I always appreciate. Everyone there spoke ridiculously good English so we had quite a lot of options as they were able to understand veganism and could have modified dishes from all over the menu not just from the vegetarian section. The slightly caramelised and super tender aubergine was delicious and I really wished I hadn't only discovered it on my final night in the city.
I was a little sad to be saying goodbye to Hanoi just as I felt that I was getting to know it but cleaner air and adventure were calling us and we decided to make our way to Cat Ba Island. To get there we took the train from Long Biên station in Hanoi to Hai Phong, walked across town to the port and then took the fast boat to Cat Ba.
The whole journey was surprisingly simple and problem free despite a screaming child in the seat behind me on the train kicking me in the back for three whole hours followed by my realisation that I hate hydrofoils (it got super bumpy as soon as we hit open waters) about 10 minutes into the crossing. Once we arrived on Cat Ba we checked out the beaches and then booked a day trip on a boat out to Halong Bay which was something I'd wanted to do for so long, more on that next time!