"Hanoi" Hanoi by Martialsk
Hanoi Travel Guide: 2,831 reviews and 6,303 photos
I don’t know where to start with this one! I didn’t initially like Hanoi at all. A city with a chilly somewhat unfriendly vibe, people cold and aloof, grey hazy skies, frenetic and chaotic streets and noise - a lot of incessant moped horn noise. We were to spend a week here and within the first couple of hours I was enough. I really cannot explain why I took an instant dislike to Hanoi. Other travellers I had met along the way had decided which city they preferred between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi and rarely did they like both - it was always one or the other! Such contrasting cities that cannot be easily compared to one another - but I guess I know I’m in the Ho Chi Minh club. A huge urban sprawl with an instantly likeable edge, Ho Chi Minh City instantly drew me into its clutches. Hanoi was the exact opposite.
Perhaps some of it was because Hanoi is the capital of epic scams and it’s widely publicised to a point where paranoia probably had a little to do with my initial dislike. It is particularly famous for pulling extraordinarily elaborate hotel and short-trip scams to fiddle money out of unsuspecting travellers. It was our last stop and the last stop tends to be the one where one’s guard drops and complacency sets in. I don’t know but I’m still trying to understand why I would develop this totally baseless and undefined opinion about a place I know so little about!
Vietnam’s capital city and second largest city with a population of approx 7 million, Hanoi has been Vietnam’s most important political city for just over 1,000 years but has been inhabited in one way or another for over 3,000 years. It has an impressive history and its political record was marred only briefly by Hue, when it was the capital city during the Nguyen Dynasty. However, Hanoi was considered the capital of French Indochina from 1887 - 1954 even though Hue ‘technically’ remained the country’s capital until 1945. Between 1940 - 45, the Japanese sat resident in Hanoi until they were kicked out…only to be replaced by the French who fancied a second round of colonialism. By now, Vietnam was really enough of foreign intervention, having spent years and years fighting off Chinese expansion before France decided on a piece of the action pre-WW1 and Japan during the war era. After 9 years of conflict, the Vietnamese finally managed to boot the French out for good and in 1954, after the French vacated, Hanoi became the capital of independent North Vietnam. Then, just to keep things moving progressively forward, the battle began between North & South and the Americans which went on until 1976 when victory prevailed and the city became the capital of a united Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh, the larger of the two cities, continues to angle for the top job believing that it’s big enough and perfectly deserving of the title, so it is questionable how long Hanoi will be able to hold on to it’s position as the official capital city.
We experienced 2 major problems on our return from our brief excursion to Ha Long Bay which only served to reinforce my immediate dislike of this city.
We hadn’t booked any accommodation in advance of our return from Halong, naively thinking we’d get something when we got back to town. Big mistake! From door to door we marched, each hotel offering extortionate rates, or full up. Our best bet turned out to be a family room on the 4th floor of a nasty looking place down a dark dingy alleyway.
Since we’d struggled to find somewhere to live that night and the dump we had found wasn’t particularly palatable, we decided to head back to the hotel that we’d stayed on the night of our first arrival in Hanoi. What we didn’t know was that one of our party, who had stayed with us that first night but hadn’t joined us for Ha Long Bay, had had some problems checking out of this hotel after we’d successfully checked out a few hours before. They attempted to swindle her out of US$50 by claiming that the bill hadn’t been paid (it was all paid online) and refused to give her back her passport. Thankfully, she’s a clever girl and tricked them into giving the passport over before swiftly running out of the hotel with all her baggage! So, when we turned up, they started going on about this ‘unpaid’ bill demanding us to pay up. A brusque NO was our response after which we stomped off down the street back to the seedy hostel we’d found earlier. The fact that they didn’t attempt to chase our friend down the street - or us for that matter - just went to show that it was all a load of cobblers and they were trying to pull a fast one.
Therefore, we were forced to return to that hole of a hostel that we’d located earlier because by now it was dark, and we needed a bed.
Our 2nd problem occurred later that night. We all returned to the hovel after an early dinner after which the 2 boys decided to go out again whilst my friend and I opted for an early night in. After a cold shower, which was a lovely end to a long day, we put our ear-plugs in to block out the street noise and promptly went to sleep. My friend woke up to someone attempting to enter our room at about 11pm. She thought it was the boys coming home and got out of bed thinking she’d had maybe locked them out and they couldn’t get in. It was somewhat of a shocker for her when she came face to face with a complete stranger who was attempting to enter to ‘recover his jumper’ which was hanging in the wardrobe! Or so he said. More like he knocked, no one answered and it was a perfect opportunity to have a snoop around to see what could be successfully stolen. I slept through all of this. My friend on the other hand, had an absolutely rotten, unsettled night. We needed to get out of this place as a matter of urgency.
Thankfully, the hotel we ended up finding was fine for the duration of our stay in Hanoi and the staff were absolutely perfect. We were lucky - but I remained nervous and edgy for a few days afterwards, convinced that bad things happen in 3’s and we just hadn’t had the 3rd piece of rotten luck yet…!
In the meantime, we found our haunts: a great little local restaurant serving very good food at great prices, a nice little bar just nearby with outdoor seating and superb staff, a street bbq joint for something different and a street bar complete with baby chairs placed precariously on a busy junction for late-night beer-swilling sessions whilst observing the world fly by on their mopeds.
Sadly enough, we even frequented the local backpackers hovel as it was only a few doors down - a joint fully of smelly, unclean backpackers - the type that believe being unwashed, partly sober and rough-looking is integral to the travelling experience! However, the beer was cheap, the cocktails tolerable (only after fishing out the huge piles of fruit, veg…and ice…!) and on some days, even the company was pretty good too!
We walked - a lot. Around the Old Town where we lived, soaking up sights and smells, popping in and out of little shops, avoiding vendors selling their wares, avoiding being run-over by crazy mopeds, yelling at them to get off those godforsaken horns for just a minute so I could locate my mind which had gone into hiding for all the noise around us, whilst ensuring that we did’t get run over by taxis and cars that insisted on driving through the narrowest streets known to mankind! Then, purely by choice, on every other day we would shove and grunt our way through the throngs of Vietnamese people at the markets, looking for good deals on trinkets, after which we would walk around the backstreets and suburbs, around the Lake in the middle of town only to return to battle the Old Town hordes. We did wander over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where Uncle Ho’s body lies in state in a crystal coffin but it was closed for annual ‘repairs’. Such a shame. So, we went to the Museum instead.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum was interesting - a dedication to the life and work of Uncle Ho…even if they did decide to chuck us out after 10 minutes because they were closing up for lunch…at 10.30am…The bit we did see was fascinating and Ho Chi Minh himself was quite a remarkable character. He is a very important piece of Vietnamese modern history and he was also a major-dobo in the shaping of the modern Vietnam we see today.
In spite of it being such a hectic, stressful place, I finally grew to respect Hanoi. However, even after a week there, I still did not particularly like it and I was very pleased to be heading back to the familiarity of Hong Kong island again. There, I knew I’d be at home.
Vietnam has been the most unbelievable experience of a lifetime. So fulfilling, rewarding, enjoyable and challenging. I don’t miss the mopeds and their incessant hooting, the crazy driving, the lack of basic hygiene practices, spitting and rude, offhand people. Saying that, I walk away yet again with the most remarkable memories & experiences of many days on the road that have served to broaden my outlook on the world, her people and life in general. I am but inconsequential in comparison to the grand scheme of things and my problems are small.
- Pros:central city, vibrant, hectic
- Cons:very touristy in parts, stressful, loud
- In a nutshell:shopping, shoving, noisy...this is living
We spent one night here before our excursion to Ha Long Bay and booked and paid in full for 4 people through Agoda.com.... more travel advice
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