It’s hot, it kinda smells like burning and fish and there are bugs… lots of them.
To say Hanoi is a shock to the senses would be an understatement… but to say it’s one of the most intriguing and fantastic places I have ever visited would not do it justice.
Hanoi has a unique charm which really comes down to the fact that’s it’s the only place I’ve visited that travellers do as locals do. You sit next to a local for dinner, you buy goods from the same stores, you walk the same streets.
Adding to its appeal is the fact it’s the cheapest place I’ve ever visited. Beers are 20c and dinner is $5. You can live like a king on a backpackers budget.
So go on – embrace the madness.
Planning your Pilgrimage:
Crossing the road
I covered this in my last article about Vietnam, but it’s worth mentioning again.
When crossing the road SLOW AND STEADY wins the race. Don’t run across the road, literally step out and walk calmly, the thousands of scooter riders will go around you, even if it doesn’t look like it.
Eat and drink at side of the road establishments. Yep the places with kids stools, plastic tables and no roof.
Please do this.
Yes the hole in the wall oven looks ominous, sure you’re never 100% sure what it is you’re eating, but the flavours are a treat for your tastebuds and it’s such an awesome experience. Trust me, you’ll have your best meals at these places.
I’ve mentioned the price of beer, and yes it’s ridiculously cheap, but moreover drinking beer on the side of an intersection is the best way to spend an evening in Hanoi. It’s hugely entertaining as you watch locals weave around each other on scooters, narrowly avoiding collision.
There are tiny beer selling ‘establishments’ on nearly every corner – our favourite was a jewellery store by day, then by night they wheeled out the keg, set up the stools and wam bam thank you mam it became a bar!
In the Old Quarter.
Specifically I’d like to recommend the Cinnamon Hotel chain (they have hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). A first class experience on a backpackers budget. Super cheap but offer beautiful rooms, amazing service and free massages!
Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum (where an embalmed Uncle Ho lays)
√ Go super early in the morning as it gets really busy but in fairness the line moves quickly
√ Side notes:
- He’s sent back to Russia to be tidied up for two months each year, so make sure it’s not when you’re there.
- You have to cover up knees and shoulders to go in
Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52
√ Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52
- OK this is a nightmare to find but well worth it once you do.
- It’s an America bomber planed that was shot down during the war and now sits in a lake in a suburb of Vietnam basically.
- They say the address is: Ngo 55, Hoang Hoa Tham, Hanoi, Vietnam, but try asking locals or getting a cab there…
- It is walking distance from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Explore the Old Quarter
√ Really take it all in. Get lost. Turn corners, take narrow side ally ways.
√ It’s a crazy place with loads going on, and each street is sectioned into a ‘theme’ so there’s home goods street, sunglasses street, children’s toys street and even party decorations street!
Walk around Hoàn Kiếm lake
√ Located right by the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem is a great place to go for a walk for three reasons:
1) There’s a pedestrian only track so you aren’t afraid of being hit by a bike.
2) It’s very relaxing and calm, the polar opposite of the rest of Hanoi.
3) There are always cool things happening at the lake, brides getting wedding photos, Vietnamese practicing Tai Chi.
So there you have it – Hanoi in 800 words or less. It really does deserve your time and your tourist dollar – go get lost in the mayhem.