Home for Hanoi’s destitute: The reality of Long Bien Bridge

Long Bien Bridge, celebrated in Vietnam as a symbol of military resilience, is now a haven for the poor

By Jame Durston (CNN TRAVEL)

Drug users, orphaned children and destitute families.

The reality of life under Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge today is a world away from its image as a symbol of Vietnamese military ingenuity and resilience. The 107-year-old bridge is celebrated as one of Vietnam’s greatest ‘triumphs’ against Western imperialism, and has even inspired songwriters and poets. Guidebooks describe how the Vietnamese managed to keep the bridge open and functioning — a key supply route from the port of Haiphong into Hanoi during the Vietnam War — despite the assault by U.S. bombers. But as I discover during a film shoot for CNNGo TV, looking at this bridge through history’s glorifying lens is to take a one-dimensional view.

long bien bridge coal worker
At one point I clamber up a riverbank made entirely of trash and emerge through a pungent cloud of smoke onto a hill of coal. A soot-smeared woman is hacking up chunks of coal with a mallet; nearby a huge pile of black sludge sends out a horrific stench.   sludge at long bien bridgeDecrepit corrugated tin huts acting as homes are crammed together on one side, like a mini shanty town. This, I now know, is the modern Long Bien Bridge, a home for some of Hanoi’s most disadvantaged people.   home under long bien bridge
Heroin users are known to congregate on Bai Giua (middle island) under the bridge at dusk to indulge their habit. Orphaned children have turned to Bai Giua for shelter, and the poorest of Hanoi’s families, some of whom are forced to live on the river in floating huts, also can be seen around the bridge, pushed to the edge of the city by its burgeoning economic bubble.   paintshop long bien bridge
It is an aspect of modern life in Hanoi that jars with the bridge’s appearance — all girders and bolts and rivets — of might and solidity.   long bien bridge Like a wizened grandfather who can’t stop telling tales of his war-time endeavors, the bridge’s scarred and patched-up appearance seems to say, “Been there, done it, survived it.”   hanoi's long bien bridge
No doubt the events that surrounded this bridge during the 1960s and 1970s were tremendous, and it serves an important purpose as a living memorial to the people that were involved. But for the folk living there now it is simply a makeshift home they have been forced to occupy as the rest of Hanoi moves on.

 Getting there

The bridge is not open to car traffic, so hire a scooter taxi to drive you across the bridge, or take a taxi to Dike Road, near Gam Cau Street, where you’ll find the approach ramp.

Motorbike Rental/ Sell / Buy easy in Old Quarter for your discover in Vietnam

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Explore Northern Vietnam: Temples, National Parks and Fortresses


So you’ve already explored uber-cultural Hanoi, kayaked your heart out in Halong Bay and met with ancient hill tribes in Sapa – but there is still so much more to see and in northern Vietnam. A wealth of ancient temples, mysterious national parks and colonial fortresses await.

Dien Bien Phu

This city in the northwest of Vietnam is best known for its long-fought victory against the French colonial powers in 1954. The battle fought here culminated in the War of Independence, effectively signalling the beginning of the end of French rule. Around 500km west of the capital city Hanoi, Dien Bien Phu is a must for all history buffs, with many notable sight.  Scars of the war can still be seen within the Exhibition Museum, Him Lam Hill, Muong Thanh Bridge and the deeply moving Dien Bien Phu Cemetery. If short on time, make visits to both the A1 Hill and the fascinating Dien Bien Phu Museum top of your itinerary.

Cuc Phuong National Park

This is the oldest national park in Vietnam; established in 1962, this primary tropical forest lies about 120km to Hanoi’s west. The vast park covers parts of three provinces and the 22,000 hectares are teeming with a rich diversity of wildlife, including 300 different species of birdlife and 100 different types of mammals, alongside many fish, reptiles, insects and amphibians. The Cuc Phuong National Park is studded with deep mysterious cave systems which have long fascinated archaeologists. Searches have yielded fossils of reptiles, thought to date back some 200 million years. Come visit during the dry season which runs from November through to February; meet the Muong minority community who reside in traditional stilt homes, hike the trails and enjoy the peace and serenity.

Tam Coc

Images of pristine Tam Coc will make you look twice; it has more than a passing resemblance to UNESCO listed Halong Bay, with its colourful landscape of karst rocks and river scenery. Tam Coc is much less explored, leaving the intricate caves and rock systems delightfully quiet.

Hung Kings Temple

High up in the enigmatic Nghia Linh Mountains lies the temples of the Hung Kings; the founders of Vietnam. Around 80 northwest of Hanoi, this area in Hy Lang is home to the complex of temples dating back to the 15th century. Located at various heights on the mountain slope, Lower Temple, Middle Temple and Upper Temple are highly revered. This is also the site of the annual Hung Kings’ Festival, Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương, which is held each year on the tenth day of the third lunar month.

Mu Cang Chai

Whilst many travellers head to the remote northern hill regions such as Sapa, there are other hilly gems, such as Mu Cang Chai which lies 1,000 meters above sea level. The landscape is typified by rice plantations balanced precariously on narrow terraced fields. This area is home to communities of H’Mong and Thai, who lead traditional lives. The lush rugged hills and valley are breathtaking and early morning mist bathes the landscape in an ethereal glow. This region attracts trekkers, eco travellers and keen photographers.

(Source http://www.puretravel.com/blog/2014/05/28/explore-northern-vietnam-temples-national-parks-and-fortresses/)


Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

Email: kellyyouthhostel@gmail.com

A Guide to Vietnamese Food

by Bach Pham

Once a rare find, Vietnamese food seems to slowly, but surely be finding a place among the vast landscape of American restaurants. With Pho Viet becoming a solid foundation in Columbia, SC, and well… a bunch of random places serving pho in Greenville, NC, it seems like a good time to pull out a bit of a beginner’s guide for a new generation of pho eaters out there. Read on to get a taste of the traditional dishes you can expect to find in a typical Vietnamese restaurant.

“Pho”, more than just a cup of noodles.

Essentially Vietnam’s national dish, this noodle dish is served in a delicious, savory slow cooked broth of soup bones, ginger, and various spices. Usually a choice between thinly cut slices of beef or chicken, this is definitely the dish to judge any Vietnamese restaurant on. You should look for a hot (as in fresh off the stove) sweet, savory broth. Cold broth’s are an instant no-no! Garnish with fresh bean sprouts and fragrant basil for a comforting dish at any time of day. Pho, though simple in principle, easily is one of the hardest dishes to make and compare. No one person does it the same way, using different spices, seasonings, and even methods. Some even have paid thousands for an award-winning recipe for their restaurants.Fun fact: Pho is traditionally a breakfast item in Vietnam.

“Bun Thit Nuong”, pasta the Vietnamese way.

Thin slices of pork marinated in a bit of something sweet and grilled, served on top of noodles with pickled carrot/daikon (white radish), fried onion, and a sweetened fish sauce, bun thit nuong sounds like a heavy dish on paper, but is actually a wonderfully refreshing dish that fits the bill any time of the year. It comes in a ton of variations, sometimes adding shrimp or egg rolls to the mix. This is one dish that’s all about the meat though. Some places are a bit heavy on the sugar, either making it burn or just too sweet. The right balance, however, makes this dish a winner. My personal favorite.

“Goi Cuon”, fresh, fast, and fun.

The freshest of ingredients wrapped in rice paper, this Vietnamese appetizer is a classic starter at any restaurant. In the household, a few of these can easily become a meal any night of the week. There’s a beautiful art with goi cuon, one that separates the winners from the losers. A pour wrap can spoil the whole show, leaving you in an ugly mess. A nice, tight wrap makes all the difference here. The second biggest key to this whole app is the sauce. Usually a hoisin sauce cooked down and sometimes combined with a little peanut butter and topped with chopped nuts, the sauce definitely makes this a killer app when done right (and should always be considering how easy it is to make!).

“Banh Mi”, the king of sandwiches.

It’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s salty, savory, fresh, crispy, and crunchy, a Vietnamese sandwich is just everything you look for in a great sandwich. It starts with a smear of pate on one side of a beautiful baguette, and then a slatter of butter on the other end. In goes various Asian cold cuts, including pork belly and Vietnamese ham, followed by a volley of veggies including the carrot/daikon mixture, cilantro, and a few jalapeno slices. Sometimes grilled pork is used instead in all its glory. Either way you serve this dish up, it’s a real eye-catcher.It can be a little tricky to find though. In the United States, they often are best out of sandwich shops rather than restaurants.

“Com Tam”, the national rice dish.

Though it can come in a million different way, shapes, and forms, com tam is a traditional item featuring a special short grain rice served with a grilled pork chop, pickled carrots and daikons, a special baked meat/egg dish similar to a quiche, and fish sauce to tie things together. More traditional plates often include “bi”, or pork skin. This is a bit of a bolder dish for those looking to try out Vietnamese food, but you’ll should see it on most menus. There’s so many factors that go into a great “Com Tam”. The egg in particular can go wrong a million ways (I’ve even seen it blue on occasions. Blue!), and the pork chop can be dry in seconds if not served quickly. The fish sauce also is key in a great “Com Tam”. If you want to play it safe and get a more surefire bet, try the dishes above first to make sure they get your seal of approval before venturing out for this dish.

Hopefully the next – or first – time you try out a Vietnamese restaurant, you can sink your teeth into some of these fantastic dishes. Thanks for reading!



Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hotline: (+84) 972004080

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By a pair & a spare


I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I visited Hanoi recently but what I found was a quaint, chaotic and full of life city (more like a big village) with such an enthralling street grain and inspiring energy, I fell in love instantly.  Although Hanoi doesn’t have the nightlife of Bangkok, or the trend culture of Tokyo, it has a distinct flavour and energy of it’s own, layer upon layer of history that makes it feel part Paris, part broke down Palace. The cluttered streets of the Old Quarter are filled with swarms of motorbikes and on every corner there’s boiling pots of street food and vendors selling vietnamese drip coffee. Lot’s to see, lot’s to do, and lot’s to eat. Could a weekend getaway get any better? See for yourself, and feel free to share any other tips you have!

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

The best thing in the whole world (seriously) – drip coffee with coconut frozen yogurt


After pretty much everyone recommended it, we splurged and stayed at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, it was only for a couple of nights and we loved it! After being in the city I can see that there are quite a few options of places to stay, but nowhere beats the atmospheric charm of this French colonial hotel. It really is a touch of Paris in Hanoi!


Old Quarter – If you only do one thing while in Hanoi, take your time to wander the busy, hectic and utterly charming old quarter. I have to say I fell in love the first day and didn’t feel the need to do anything else other than that the whole time! The maze of streets are filled with tiny shops, each street dedicated to a single type of merchant, it’s utterly riveting walking around all day and felt relatively safe to do on your own (although, as usual, keep your wits about you).

Hoan Kiem Lake – At the centre of the city, this lake and it’s surrounding strip of park is a breath of fresh air amongst the old quarter, a place to stop for a rest and enjoy a brief moment of tranquility. In the top North West Corner of the lake there’s a very cute little rotunda and cafe where you can have a cool drink and relax.

Hoa Lo Prison – First built by French Colonialists to house political dissidents and then used during the Vietnam war to hold captured American POW’s, this prison has a chequered past. A museum has been built in what was the gatehouse and it’s an interesting insight into the history of the place and the city itself. The seemingly happy coverage of the POW’s while in prison (note all the smiling American servicemen) seems to be at odds with accounts I have read elsewhere, but see what you think when you go.

Ethnology Museum – We loved this museum, filled with tribal art and explanations of the many differing ethnic groups of the Vietnam region. It’s a little while away so perhaps combine it with a trip to West Lake.

West Lake – ‘Tay Ho’ is a large freshwater lake to the NorthWest of the Old Quarter, a suburb where it appears lots of expats live, and I can understand why. Such a beautiful area with a mix of old and new Vietnam. Visit the flower markets or grab a drink at the Intercontinental. A welcome (short) reprieve from the busy old quarter.


Shopping streets – The Old Quarter is full of great shopping, with the best stores centred around Hang Bac (lots of silver jewelry here), Hang Gai (tailors, fabrics, linen), Nha Tho and Ly Quoc Su (clothing and handicrafts) and Hang Trong (slightly nicer textiles and homewares)

Tan My Design – When you’re in Hanoi, make sure you don’t go home without a new set of linen, the city is known for it’s cotton, silks and embroidery. The best place to do this is around Hang Gai, I bought the most gorgeous set from Tan My Designs, not completely dirt cheap but worth soooo much more than I paid for them. I look forward to crawling into my cloud of a bed these days like never before!

Dong Xuan Wholesale Markets – These markets are just to the North of the Old Quarter, and super hectic, but a great place pick up some trinkets, cheap jewellery or a pair of sunnies after you lose yours (naturally).

Cho Hom Markets – This market, although a little bit to the South of the Old Quarter (grab a taxi to get there if you’re staying centrally), is filled with fabrics and the area around it has a few tailors who may be able to stitch you up something if you have the time.

Chie Handmade: I found lots of stores around the old quarter selling Asian handicrafts, and after a while they tend to all look the same – same fabrics, bags, toys etc. I chanced upon this store and loved the uniqueness of their designs, a little bit different and a lot more elegant than the usual tat you find everywhere. I bought a few fabrics, some cushion covers and some other handmade goodies here. Definitely recommend! Currently located at 49 Hang Trong, with another store on that street too. They have a facebook page but no website, as is the case with lots of places in Hanoi.

Eat & Drink

Cong Caphe – If you only have one vietnamese coffee while you’re in hanoi make sure it’s here. Seriously. I don’t drink that much coffee anymore but took up the addiction for a few days just so I could revel in drip coffee with coconut frozen yogurt. I visited the Hang Dieu store everyday and sat on the tiny military stools for hours, taking in the activity on the street and loving the tongue in cheek military vibe of the cafe. Love!

Metropole Chocolate Buffet – What better way to while away an afternoon than a chocolate buffet afternoon tea in the light filled conservatory that is Le Club at Hotel Metropole. One of those please-roll-me-out situations, leave all diet restrictions at the door!

Bar Betta – An amazing terrace house in the Embassy district that’s been turned into a super fun kitschy bar, decked out with old records and mismatched vintage furniture – perfect for a lazy after dinner drink.

Green Tangerine – Pretty courtyard restaurant that serves up interesting french/vietnamese fusion food, to be honest I loved the spot more than the food but sometimes that’s what it’s about when you travel

67 Hang Dieu Street – Best simple beef noodle joint on the streets of Hanoi. Just go.

The Hanoi Social Club – Tiny little veggo cafe in the Old Quarter, great place for a lunchtime pitstop.

Indochine Restaurant – We loved this pretty house with simple food and a lovely late night vibe. Note to all, most kitchens close around 9pm so make sure you head out early.

Bun Cha Dac Kim – Street side stall selling BBQ minced pork balls served with vermicelli noodles and salad. On Hang Manh and best for lunch.

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Street fruit vendors in the old quarter | Propaganda poster shop on Hang Bac

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

High tea / chocolate buffet at the Metropole (promise this wasn’t all for me!)

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

You’ll see painted signs all over the city which apparently advertise handymen, plumbers etc | Old wing in the Hotel Metropole

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Stopping for a bite at Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hang Manh Street in the Old Quarter

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

I went to this cafe virtually every day for the people watching as much as the drinks. As someone who rarely drinks coffee you can imagine it was like: zing!

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Was so inspired by the amazing tiles!

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Just a simple day in the old quarter | Bicycle florists

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

One of the quieter streets in the old town.

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

The Metropole was truly magical | Brokedown palace doorways are everywhere in the old quarter

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Streetside hairdressers

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Tailors around the Cho Hom markets | Peeking into people’s houses in the Old Quarter

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Tomato noodles on the streets of the Old Quarter

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Dodging scooters!

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

It’s always tea time! | Meeting Miss Scarlet in the conservatory (ie Le Club in the Hotel Metropole).

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

The Old Quarter has such a gorgeous broke down palace feel, I didn’t want to leave!

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Wearing: Witchery chambre suit, Whistles bag, Witchery watch

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

The upper courtyard at the Metrpole, talk about dreamy! | More tile love.

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

The Old Quarter is full of amazing shop fronts.

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Simple travel outfit: Zara flats, J Brand shorts, 7FAM top, Whistles bag

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Shopping on Hang Gai | Shopping on Hang Dieu

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

The perfect place to read a book.

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

Shopping on Hang Bac | Shopping on

Geneva of A Pair & A Spare goes to Hanoi

(Source : http://apairandasparediy.com/2014/01/travel-a-quick-guide-to-hanoi.html)


Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

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