I’ve been looking forward to Vietnam for a long time. Our first stop was Hanoi, and we had a great time. Here’s a few ideas, of what to expect, and what to look forward to!
We stepped out of the airport in Hanoi, and were immediately shocked at the difference between here and Thailand. There was no one hassling us, everyone was just calmly getting on with their day.
The drive from the airport seemed such a contrast too to the hectic Bangkok we had left from. The highways are ordered, the bridges beautiful. We were dropped at our hostel in the old town, and set off to explore by foot.
The first thing that hit me; can you have any more scooters?! The scooters are
parked abandoned across every footpath. You walk along the side of the road, hoping you won’t be run over by the remaining scooters zipping along the roads. They even manage to sneak down impossibly skinny alleyways, surely scraping their elbows as they find shortcuts or hidden addresses.
Crossing a road is an experience. I’m so glad I’d read that you just have to embrace it and go. Trial and error has led us to believe that a slow but consistent pace is the best way to cross without being roadkill. We nearly got flattened a few times, but are well practiced now!
Each street in Hanoi’s old town specialises in something, and it was so exciting seeing what was in store next. Ladders galore. A whole street with shops brimming with hardware: doorknobs, little wheels to add to furniture, taps. One overflowing with wedding essentials: stationery, flowers and the works. My favourite is definitely the sewing and crafts street, with buttons, ribbons and lace galore.
We dived in and tried a few bowls of pho. I really enjoyed one from a restaurant. We had another from a street food vendor too, which I didn’t rate so much. It was still the same price (probably ‘tourist’ price), but had a strange stock. I would definitely try them again, I think we just had bad luck with that particular place. It’s quite a novelty trying to fold yourself up small enough to fit on their tiny plastic furniture.
If you thought Thai massages were cheap, wait for Vietnam! There are plenty of places offering a full body hour massage for as low as 150,000 VND, which is about £5. I really enjoyed mine, just be aware they may ask for a tip (and at that price, it would be rude not to give something).
If you’re a coffee addict, look no further than Cong Caphe. I don’t even like coffee that much, and I made sure we went back for a second round. They only do iced coffee, but they are to die for. Their coconut coffee was magic in a glass. It’s a cool place to unwind, while watching the world go by, with the beautiful cathedral as a backdrop (where I nailed a hair flick…pause naaaaht!)
If you’re after amazing and cheap banh mi, you should definitely try Bami Bread. There are stores all over Hanoi. I got the roast pork one, which was incredible, and only 250,000 VND (less than 80p). They do delicious iced teas too, their peach tea was so good in the heat. Keep an eye out for their bird cages to mark the spot.
Have a keen sense of adventure, and exploring something a bit different? The train tracks that run through an impossibly tiny gap in the houses to Hanoi station is well worth checking out. We couldn’t get over the scooters all lined up to keep out the way. And the excitement as we heard the trains whistle in the distance turned to nerves when we weren’t sure how much room there would be between it and us! We are here to tell the tale, so it is possible.
A walk around the lake is amazing as it starts to cool off for the day. Plenty of other people have the same idea. If you can avoid the bicycle tuk tuks, who seem to think we couldn’t walk, you’ll have a good stroll.
Hanoi is stunning from above the city. To escape the chaos, head to Skybar. We felt underdressed, but the staff all assured us we were most very welcome. It’s on the roof of a hotel, and you can check out their pool as you climb the last floor to the sky. The staff were really friendly, and it is such a beautiful setting, with fairy lights and so much greenery. And of course, the sunset. A Long Island iced tea set me back a measly 115,000 VND, which is less than £4.
If you have time, it’s well worth checking out the old prison in Hanoi. It’s really well laid out, illustrating the struggles political prisoners faced during the French occupation. There’s two guillotines in the prison, it really hits home the struggles that the Vietnamese faced. The prison has mannekins in some rooms too, which has a huge impact, making you more aware that it was real people, with real experiences, not just some numbers on a plaque. The prison also has displays showing the American pilots that were captured and kept prisoner, later to be released.
I really loved Hanoi. The old town is crazy but has so much character, and I didn’t feel like an outsider. Majority of the time, people left us to get on with our day, and didn’t treat us any differently. I would love to go back, and explore the wider city. I hope you get to explore it too, and please share this if there’s people you think would love it!