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24 hours in Hanoi

We spent a whirlwind 24 hours in Hanoi, where we struggled with an alarming change of pace after the serenity of Laos and relative isolation of Ha Long Bay. In the Vietnamese capital, zooming mopeds ruled the roost and pedestrians (always foreigners) struggled at bottom of the pecking order to navigate the city by foot.

Local residents, who carried everything from bed frames to Labradors on the backs of their bikes, seemed surprised to see us bothering to use the zebra crossings and after a bemused glance just scooted right round us. When we did happen upon a rare scrap of pavement not blocked by 200 parked bikes, it had already been claimed by an enterprising barber, who’d maintained his traditional chair and mirror but done away with the shop entirely.

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That morning, Elliot had an early Skype appointment, so Lucy ventured out alone for a couple of hours, squeezing in an odd mishmash of sights, which veered from the solemnity of Ho Chi Min’s mausoleum to the colourful gardens of the ancient Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university.

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Reunited that afternoon (Elliot amazed to see his camera had survived in the hands of his girlfriend for 120 whole minutes), we booked tickets to see a traditional water puppet show, a unique (if not bizarre) art form that has existed in Vietnam for more than 1,000 years. Hidden behind a screen, the puppeteers use bamboo poles to move their puppets around the small pond that forms the stage.

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We couldn’t leave Hanoi without sampling Vietnam’s signature dish, Pho. Rice noodles swimming in broth, topped by meat (in our case rare beef or “Pho Bo”) and accompanied by a plate of garnishes including bean sprouts, lime wedges and chili. But we didn’t want any old Pho. We wanted the best. We wanted authentic. And we wanted to slurp it up while perched on tiny plastic schoolroom stools laid out on the street – like the locals did morning, noon and night.

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We settled on Pho Ten, a tiny hole-in-the-wall with a questionable hygiene rating located on a busy corner of the Old Town. We weren’t disappointed. It was the ultimate Pho. And even came with a huge plate of special dipping doughnuts (called “Banquet”, we later learned) to dunk.

The Pho was so spectacular that Elliot nearly started crying. He then spent ten minutes thanking the surly Vietnamese granny that had served three bowls of it to him – who eyed him first with suspicion and then delight at his ridiculous but genuine show of gratitude. This Pho was going to be hard to beat.

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