We woke up around 7am the next day, had breakfast, paid our hotel bills and got ready to be brought to the Tan Son Nhat Airport’s domestic terminal for our morning flight to Hanoi. This is actually the first time for me to fly on a domestic flight in a foreign country, so I was also excited about the process. Their domestic terminal even has free wifi! Now they really beat Manila and even Bangkok for that. I was able to take a quick nap from that 2-hour flight to Hanoi. Yeah, it took us 2 hours to fly. Hanoi felt like another country. It’s actually farther than Cambodia from Saigon since Cambodia is situated right in the middle of Vietnam.
Once we stepped out of the plane after arriving in Hanoi, I knew that this place is gonna be different. It’s really cold here. The exact opposite of the Saigon weather. I think mainly because it’s near the boarder of China already. Our hotel pickup was there and it was a really loooong drive back to the main city center of Hanoi. I think it took us about 30 minutes to finally arrive at the Prince Hanoi Hotel. I had already booked our tours for the next two days with the hotel before we arrived so that our itinerary was all planned out already. We decided to do the Hoa Lu and Tam Coc tour the next day, which was a Sunday and placed our Ha Long Bay trip on Monday. Sunday is definitely going to be a busy day so putting the Ha Long trip on a Monday was a really good idea to avoid the many crowds when we get there.
After settling in our rooms, we just washed our faces and decided to explore the city ourselves. One thing’s for sure though, from the moment I stepped out of the hotel, I knew I was gonna be loving Hanoi more than Saigon. Aside from the weather, the place just looks so different and it feels so cozy to stroll around the streets. It took a while for us to familiarize ourselves with the area, then we arrived at Hoa Kiem Lake, my favorite place in Hanoi. The lake, surrounded by a park, is definitely one of the most scenic and relaxing spots in the city. There were people playing, exercising, running around, biking, just about everything. This is definitely the perfect place to unwind and de-stress from the bustling streets around it, with motorcycles everywhere. Oh yeah. Vietnam is never going to be Vietnam without those motorcycles. Even little kids have their own bikes as well.
We decided to go grab a bite and eat, so we walked around the city to go look for a mall, but can’t seem to find one. We then came to the conclusion that, yeah, there were no malls in Hanoi. We saw the popular Fanny Ice Cream diner across the lake and decided to eat there. I’ve read from some blogs how much they highly recommended Fanny Ice Cream in Vietnam. And I was not disappointed at all. Their ice cream was definitely delicious, and was presented in a number of artistic ways, from sushi designs to other cute little presentations. After we’re done eating, we decided to go to dinner, and that, folks, is another story coming.
So after our little Fanny ice cream moment, the guys decided it’s time for us to have dinner. Naina recommended this snake restaurant she read from a magazine from their Jetstar flight from Singapore. Um yes, SNAKES. They were pretty serious about trying this restaurant out. Naina had listed down the address and we decided to go look for it. We told the taxi driver to bring us to that address and that’s when we realized that it was located in the outskirts of Hanoi. The drive was around 30 minutes and the driver dropped us in a dark compound, where there were no establishments, no stores or anything. Just a bunch of vendors selling some street foods and a number of Vietnamese guys drinking at the side of the streets. Some of those guys were actually drunk. We asked some locals for the location of the restaurant listed on the piece of paper that Naina had, but could not point us at the right direction. The language barrier did not help at all since a lot of these guys do not know how to speak or understand English. We went back and forth around the area, until we were finally directed to the place we were looking for: the Quoc Trieu Snake Restaurant.
Once inside, we were greeted by a young Vietnamese girl that ushered us to go upstairs. There were displays of snakes everywhere. From snakes inside jars, to actual cobras inside small aquariums, to snakes inside their cages. The place actually looked like an old Chinese mansion and has this eerie feel to it. There were a number of customers there when we arrived and I felt like I was in a Chinese gangster movie. We decided to sit ourselves near the balcony, all the while, trying to observe if there were any snakes around us that might just pop out of nowhere. The waitress, who was having a difficult time speaking in English asked us if we would like to have ratsnake or cobra for dinner. I was like, let’s just try the ratsnake. Obviously, we have no other choice. I wouldn’t dare go ahead and eat a cobra right away!
So while we were waiting for dinner to be served, the unthinkable happened. A guy all dressed in black came to our table, stood beside me, with the waitress right behind him, carrying a tray filled with shotglasses, partly filled with rice wine. Mr. Man In Black was carrying something wrapped in a blue clothing. At the back my head, my heart pumping so fast, I was already thinking of so many things. That’s when I suddenly whispered out loud: Is that actually what I think it is???? A few seconds later, Mr. Man In Black removed the blue covering and booyah! It was a real live snake! We immediately stood up from our table away from him and just watched in horror as he slit the snake open with a knife while the waitress was holding the snake from the other end to control it. He then took the snake’s heart (it was still pumping), then took the bile, squeezed the blood from the snake and mixed it to the shotglasses of rice wine. He also did the same thing to the bile (this one’s colored green). The waitress then asked us to drink it. We of course hesitated, but after too much coaxing from each other, we all took turns drinking the blood bottoms-up! I did try the bile as well, but the waitress told us not to drink it straight but drink it little by little since it’s too strong.
After that, they then served us a seven-course snake meal which ranged from snake soup, snake skin (that seemed like Philippine chicharon to me) to one that reminded me of a lechon kawali. It wasn’t that bad. I was not that all excited either. Audrey then proceeded with swallowing and eating the snake heart, after we requested to fry it. No one would dare eat a pumping snake heart right then and there on our table. After an hour or so, we requested for a taxi to come pick us up at the restaurant since we do not know how to find a taxi on that semi-secluded place to drive us back to the hotel to take some much needed rest.