VnExpress International hopped on the green bus for half a day and treated ourselves to some serious eats away from the chaotic Old Quarter.

Riding a motorbike in Hanoi means you have to embrace face masks, dirt and every once in a while, a hooded rain poncho.

Then there’s the symphony of honking, the sudden U-turns made by taxis or worse, the heat from giant red buses during traffic jams. The only perks are that they give us the freedom to go anywhere we wish, at least before Hanoi completes its metro system, or less ideal, its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network.

In 2017, when the first line of rapid buses crawled from the city center to its very southwest suburbs, like most Hanoians, I was stuck with my two-wheeled buddy. My friends and I both agreed it would be great to be a retiree or high school student whose school or home lies along the bus route, away from the daily bus riders who are brave enough to hop on the "fast and furious" regular red buses.

Yet, I am convinced that the $53.6 million BRT that stretches nearly 15km has to be of some use to the rest of us, who live too far away to enjoy the exclusive bus lane – at least for a day or so.

So on a very slow Saturday morning, I hopped on the green bus to find out the best that this BRT line could offer.

Nui Truc Station: Banh Mi Hoi An

It’s 9 a.m. My first stop, the second station on the line in Nui Truc, was nearly empty.

Riding the BRT on a day when the air quality index was low was just as tranquil as hopping on the countryside trams of France, except after you jump off and have to negotiate the zebra crossings that are always busy.

I assume you already know the trick: go slow and hint to the calm drivers that you’re going to cross in front of them. The furious ones - stand still and let them pass.

It’s an easy task and a rewarding one. Less than a minute's walk from the station lies a banh mi stall covered in bamboo. Banh mi Hoi An – the sign reads. Treat yourself to a hot combination of char siew, pork, sausage, beef stew or grilled chicken inside the crunchy bread. Feel the burn and the joy for just a dollar.

Where to hit: Bami Bread, 128 Giang Vo Street.

The ride: VND7,000 ($0.3)

Grilled chicken banh mi: VND25,000 ($1.1)

Vu Ngoc Phan Station: The 30-year-old pho stall

The fifth station, Vu Ngoc Phan, offers a serious pho stall that is among the must-eats in Hanoi: Pho Ly Quoc Su. Call me a carnivore, but it’s worth a second breakfast.

If we rate the capital’s pho under three criteria: the broth, the beef and the noodles, Pho Ly Quoc Su excels in the first two. Madame Ngo, who passed away three years ago, started the stall during the subsidy period in a street near the Old Quarter. She quickly conquered the pho business and turned her 2 Ly Quoc Su brand into one of the capital's staples.

More than a decade later, the family moved to where I was eating and changed the name. They never expected the Ly Quoc Su brand would become a successful restaurant chain two decades later with outlets all over the capital.

Even though few people realize it's the original stall, the frequent customers are enough to keep more than ten of Ngo’s successors busy from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“We sell pho full-time, all of us,” said Nguyen Hung Cuong, Ngo’s second son.

Where to hit: Pho Ly Quoc Su, 111 Lang Ha

The ride: VND7,000 ($0.3)

Pho tai gau (Pho with beef and brisket done rare): VND 30,000 ($1.3)

Van Phuc Station: Silk Village and Van Phuc Temple

From the sixth station to the thirteenth, new developments flew by the window. You can’t tell how far you have gone until you step outside into an apocalypse of construction.

It’s not the ideal tourist spot, and all you can hear as you walk along the wide pavements are construction workers, roaring trucks and cellphone stores blasting out Justin Bieber songs.

But just 800 meters down the street, women in conical hats are weaving in and out the red-brick entrance to a 1,000 year-old heritage site: Van Phuc Silk Village.

Since the 14th century, Van Phuc silk (or Ha Dong silk) has been exported to Europe, and writers and filmmakers have waxed poetic about the royal quality of the cloth. Today, young women visit the village to buy tailored ao dai and loungewear, while stores rely on funky silk pouches and conical hats to make ends meet.

I met a quiet middle-aged lady who was attentively threading silk onto a wooden loom near the village’s Temple of Craft.

“We don’t have land to raise silkworms and we don't dry the silk outside anymore,” she said. “Now we buy the threads from farms in Da Lat that are machine-dried.”

Colorful silk fields used to provide an unearthly backdrop for photographers, but now they are gone, and so is most of high-quality silk in the village.

“You can see that I’m weaving the silk myself, but there is Chinese silk out there,” whispered the woman.

I toured the whole village and felt the different kinds of silk in my own hands. To avoid the inferior Chinese silk, go on the hunt for a house where they are weaving their own silk in the daylight. Good luck finding your perfectly tailored summer PJs!

Before leaving the village with your silk ensemble, be sure to visit the Goddess of Mercy in Van Phuc Temple, just beside the entrance.

Where to hit: Van Phuc Silk Village, Van Phuc Street, Ha Dong District.

The ride: VND7,000 ($0.3)

Thanh Cong Station: Cha Ca Lao Ngu

At the end of the line lies Yen Nghia Bus Station from where you can take intercity buses as far as the sunny beach of Vung Tau on a $40, 40-hour ride, but time wasn't on my side.

So I headed back to fill my stomach at another of my favorite restaurants: Cha ca Lao Ngu that sells Cha Ca La Vong, a fried fish dish that The New York Times listed as a must-not-miss in 2012.

The 146-year-old dish is now a specialty at over 15 restaurant chains all around Hanoi. At Cha Ca Lao Ngu, the casually-dressed family serve up deep-fried fish, crunchy intestines, scallions, groundnuts and rice noodles in shrimp paste, before proceeding to sweet tofu soup and daisy tea.

It’s savory and cozy for a fresh 18-degree day, and it’s the perfect final destination for a morning trip.

The total cost of the whole trip? Ten dollars.

Where to hit: Cha Ca Lao Ngu, 171 Thai Ha Street

The ride: VND7,000 ($0.3)

Lunch for two: around VND150,000/each.($6.6)

Quynh Trang