For your caffeine fix, head to Trung Nguyen near the Tourism Information Centre on Hang Gai. Try the No. 5 (all Arabica) Caphe Sua Da (with condensed milk and served over ice cubes). Wait for the coffee to slowly drip into your cup using a local coffee filter apparatus called a “phin”. The receiving cup already has a dollop of condensed milk in it, and when the coffee drips into it, mix then pour over ice in your tall glass.
You can also try a fancier version of Vietnamese drip coffee at the Sofitel Metropole. Served in a handmade ceramic set, the coffee is served with a piece of almond cookie and a small dark chocolate bar. A creamer with condensed milk is served on the side, as well as an extra pot of hot water in case you need to weaken the strong brew.
There are cafes all over the city like the multi-chain Trung Nguyen and Highlands Coffee. You can also try communing with locals seated on small low plastic stools while having coffee or a dessert of fresh fruits with condensed milk at independent cafes.
There are coffee and tea stores all over the city where you can try your prospective purchase. I tried a Blue Mountain coffee version at Caphe An Phu on Hang Manh in Hoan Kiem District. They also sell lotus tea as well as different kinds of exotic coffee, like weasel and Kopi Luwak, both of which come from the coffee eaten by animals, and this “poo” coffee is washed before being milled and processed. The only difference is that the weasel coffee means it is from a farm (where probably the civets are caged and fed only red coffee cherries) while the Luwak is from the wild civets who eat only ripe coffee fruits.
The shopping is also good for silks, crafts like lacquer ware, and Vietnamese indigenous crafts. There are 36 streets in the Old Quarter where each street represents a commodity or specialty. There are streets for furniture, for silver, for wooden items, and streets for accessories for sewing, etc.
Tired of shopping? There are spas and massage salons everywhere. Ask your hotel for their recommended one. Taxi fares are reasonably priced, too.
But all in all, December is a good time to bring yourself to Hanoi. And I guess all throughout the winter months as well. Hanoi is a slightly less discovered area to cool down and enjoy a different kind of scene in Asia. Discover another side of Vietnam. Hanoi is it.