Hanoi Like a Local

We decided at the last minute to cut out Sapa from our trip. Even though all of the photos we’ve seen of the area are breathtaking, the weather forecast showed rains and we wanted to spend more time in Hanoi with Henry’s family.

I thought Henry’s family in the US is big but with the addition of the group in Vietnam, they have enough for a small village. In Hanoi, he has two aunts who have 3 or 4 children each, and each of his cousins have 2 children on average. His family booked a hotel for us very close to the home where his mother grew up in. His oldest aunt and uncle and their eldest son and his family live in this house. This cousin’s 2 sons were so entertaining. The older one, Be, is 12 and is enrolled in an English-speaking international school. He was our little tour guide and translator during our stay. The younger one is about 6 and while he didn’t say much, he was incredibly cute in his demeanor.

With the two boys and another one of Henry’s nephews (well technically first cousin once removed but nephew sounds better), we went on an electric car ride of the Old Quarter, visited Hoan Kiem Lake, and stopped by an amazing place for ice cream.

The language barrier within the family was pretty funny as well. Henry’s two aunts speak fluent Vietnamese and Cantonese and decent Mandarin. Their husbands only speak Vietnamese. The cousins spoke Vietnamese and some English and some Mandarin but no Cantonese. The cousin’s kids spoke Vietnamese and English. Henry speaks English and broken Cantonese while I speak English and Mandarin. Confused yet? I was. We usually went out with several of his family members and we were all having conversations in different languages with each person translating for others. Despite the challenges, we had a wonderful time and Henry’s family was so thoughtful.

Since most of our time was spent eating, drinking coffee, and visiting family, we didn’t do a lot of touristy things.  We did make it out to see the highly rated Museum of Ethnology, which has an outdoor area displaying typical houses of various ethnic groups within Vietnam.  It’s worth a visit if in town but the high ratings on Tripadvisor left me with unrealistic expectations and thus, I was a bit let down. We had a laugh when we saw the tomb with the sexually explicit carvings.

Henry’s cousin who is living in the family’s original home is quite the entrepreneur with a fortune amassed through his various businesses.   He has purchased a large 3 story riverside villa in Vinacom Village, about 5mi from the center of Hanoi.  The villa will be ready next year and he will be moving there soon. His son’s international school is adjacent to this luxury residential development.

Hoan Kiem Lake

View of Hoan Kiem Lake from cafe

Henry and the Boys

Henry and his nephews (first cousins once removed). They were our tour guides in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake Couple

Couple taking wedding photos at Hoan Kiem Lake

Cafe Paris

An upscale french-style cafe in Hanoi

Museum of Ethnology

Hahaha, yes we are immature. These carvings on a tomb symbolize fertility and life.

Museum of Ethnology Hut

This is one of a handful of huts at the Museum of Ethnology showing how minorities in Vietnam live.

Riverside Villas

Henry’s cousin purchased one of these posh riverside villas and will be moving in next year.


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