We arrived in Hanoi a full twelve hours after our initial arrival time and at night, which is never my favourite arrival time in any destination as due tiredness you tend to make silly decisions on transport options to hotels (I once paid 80 euros for a taxi from Istanbul Ataturk Airport to the old city due to this mistake). Fortunately I made a very wise decision asking the hostel which was the best way to get from there from the airport, as Candy, the hostel manager sent me a very good list of options (with prices) of how to get there.
We took one of the cheaper options, which was a shared minibus, costing $2 per person, but this only took us to the centre and not to our hotel. Fortunately, our minibus driver seemed friendly enough and took us to the hostel for only another $2 (might have been a rip off, but we knew that by taxi it would have been another $4-5).
Having arrived at our hostel a full 22 hours after leaving London, we were absolutely knackered. After a good shower (we weren’t smelling too nice until that point) we did our bit to leave our parents at ease and advised our parents that we were still alive and well. This was followed by a total collapse mode and we fell asleep until the next day.
Our first full day started with taking a walk around the chaotic Old Quarter of Hanoi. When I say chaotic, I mean chaotic, like a total assault on your ears, eyes, nose. The amount of noise by in the streets can sometimes be overwhelming due to the incessant hooting by cars and scooters. Crossing roads takes a long time to actually do initially as there is rarely a break in traffic for you to cross roads. At times Raquel and I felt like two gazelles in the Serengeti on the look-out for lions attacking us.
My road crossing technique developed in Bangkok, which consisted of walking into traffic regardless of how many cars are coming towards you, worked as the scooters and cars simply swerved to avoid you, yet somehow also managed not to hit each other.
What makes things worse is that sidewalks which do exist are almost unusable by pedestrians as they are either being used a parking lot for scooters or as a makeshift restaurant with tiny tables and chairs and cooking stations completely overtaking the sidewalk.
Despite the chaos, there is some charm to Hanoi. Some of this charm is in the old colonial French architecture still clearly visible in many places, such as Hanoi’s St Joseph’s Cathedral. Then there is the charm of the Hoan Kiem lake, which despite looking tranquil does not shelter you from the chaos of the roads.
The lake on the other hand, the great thing about the lake are the opportunities for people watching, even more so a Sunday morning when a lot of people were out enjoying the shade from the trees surrounding the lake.
The lake itself is also home to one of Hanoi’s main sights, the Temple of the Jade Mountain. However being Sunday, the pagoda was filled with tourists, both local and foreign. The sight is not one that will leave you in awe, but does provide you with a brief rest bite from the noise on the street.
It was around the lake we found something quite interesting which took us straight back to our wedding, which had only taken place a week earlier: Wedding photo shoots. We came across over five couples around the lake and the surroundings having wedding shoots. Some were wearing more traditional Vietnamese attire where others had simply decided to be a lot more flamboyant on their wedding day.
We had an interesting little experience around the lake which initially had us slightly suspicious (considering the opinions of friends who travelled to Vietnam before on scams and being overcharged). As we were strolling we were approached by a group of teenagers who “wanted to practice their English”. I was immediately suspicious of scam but fortunately Raquel interjected before I deployed my “No thank you, not interested”, as she had come across similar groups in Indonesia. These groups of kids are set a little project by their English teacher to go and talk to tourists after class and ask them questions, so that they can improve their English. Our group were a friendly and the girls clung onto Raquel asking her questions, while the boys decided to stick to me. It was a fun little experience and after around fifteen minutes, we went off for more sightseeing while the searched for more tourists.
From the lake we walked on towards the Hanoi Opera house, which once again was a clear indication of the French presence in Vietnam. The opera house offered more wedding couples being photographed, which at one point had me wondering whether there was a secret wedding couple conveyor belt somewhere popping out all these newlyweds!
We were getting hungry so we decide to consult our Lonely Planet for advise on where to eat. They fortunately indicated ‘restaurants’ close to our hostel, with one of the option stating quite boldly that “you couldn’t leave Hanoi without trying this”. “This” turnout to be Bun Ca, which was noodles with grilled pork. Unfortunately for us this restaurant was either having a bad day or the LP author for Vietnam had a rather horrible palette when it came to food! The noodles were awful and tasted like washing detergent. We were quite disappointed that our first food experience turned out to be so negative and it left us worried for what lay ahead for the rest of the trip.
By the time we had lunch, we decide to head back to the hostel for a nap as the heat and humidity were already getting to us. Our nap turned into a long afternoon sleep but considering that we were still suffering from jet lag, I think both of us didn’t mind missing out on some sightseeing.
Hunger was the main reason we got up, so we decided to give Lonely Planet another opportunity and try out another local dish recommended by the writer. This time, the writer got it spot on as we had some Bun Cha (Grilled pork in noodles) which actually quite tasty and followed this up with some fresh fruit juice in a stall across the street. Filled with food we decided retire to the hostel and arrange our next few in Vietnam using our hostel manager as a very good resource in planning the rest of the journey.
This post is based on our day of the 9thSeptember**Practical Details** Hostel: Hanoi Hostel – Double room including AC, TV, Fridge and ensuite bathroom $17 per night (see our review of hostel here)