Published: April 7th 2008April 4th 2008
boys and girls selling duriam along the main road
Well, to make a long story short, Ha Noi sucks! Of course, as with all my entries, these are personal experiences and by no means a general opinion. Go out and enjoy yourself.
As for me, I have to say that Ha Noi was probably the worst place I've visited in Vietnam (or maybe it's right up there with Kon Tum). It is dirty, it stinks, and the people are so unfriendly it's not funny. The only friendly people seem to be in the upmarket hotels (because they get paid to be nice) and at the cinema.
But first things first... After being dropped off in the outskirts of Ha Noi by the bus company, we had to somehow make our way towards the town center. Walking along this grossly dirty river (it was BLACK and didn't really seem to move either) we received some dirty death stares from the locals that were telling us we're not wanted there in their part of town. Well, too bad. It wasn't our choice to be there either but didn't want to fork out ridiculous amounts of money for a taxi so decided to look for a bus. We did find one
time to chill...
and it was ok and saved us a lot of walking, for 3000 VND you can get a one way ticket to the Old Quarter, but be prepared to get stared, pointed and laughed at. We(the Westerners) are just not welcome on public transport... and that's judging by all 3 times we have used the local buses, it didn't just happen once!
Funny, but the first 2 nights we stayed in the Ha Noi Elegance Hotel II and it was nice cuz the staff were very nice. That's because they get paid well and can't afford to lose business. But check into a normal or cheap guesthouse (like the Old Darling Cafe) and you get shit. We had a terrible room there, it was moldy and smelled evil and toxic. Gross!
Good and affordable food was hard to find as well. Even when we splashed out and went for some more expensive food, it was a disappointment and a waste of money. I think the Lonely Planet was right suggesting that in Ha Noi the motto is "put them in a dark whole and feed them shit"... or something along these lines. We ate well at "Ladybird" at
open air barber shop...
night but when we went back for lunch it was a bad idea too cuz the staff was obviously not in the mood to work and the food was very ordinary.
The best thing about Ha Noi was by far the cinema... we watched 2 movies, just so we didn't have to put up with the hassles outside. You can't even look at a shoe without getting pulled into the shop. And, they won't even tell you the price! You have to walk away to get them to give you a price! Hassle city it is! Very unfriendly. The ladies in the streets want you to buy their fruit and as you walk by they put the shoulder things on you and ask for money. We made the experience that you can't even walk down a street without getting hassled and you get ripped off by everyone! Even the metered taxis! That was the worst thing ever. NEVER get into a green taxi!!! Watch the meter and if it runs, get out at the next traffic lights. We got ripped off big time!!! I just felt like I didn't want to be there cuz we were obviously not wanted,
The red bridge
all these people want is money! I didn't want to spend ANY money there just because I didn't think they'd deserve it. Sorry, might sound terrible but as I said, this was my experience and if you're on a budget (and not just going there as a tourist for a week or two) it's hard to just ignore the bullshit.
The water puppets were good though but we had to book days in advance. But good and cheap. It was probably the most 'culture' we got there. The Temple of literature was a disappointment too, the most important things there seemed to be the souvenir shop and the ATM... yes... catered for Western tourists that forgot to take enough money for the ice creams, post cards and other souvenirs...
Another problem was buying train tickets to Sa Pa. Yes, there is an official website with prices and apparently you can buy them directly from the train station... but there are many of them and we were sent from one to the next to the third... until we spoke to a rude lady that told us we can't buy the tickets we wanted. Apparently all booked out... of course that
At the Temple of Literature
wasn't the case(cuz we ended up buying tickets the day after for the same train we requested that night). They want you to go to ET Pumpkin and those tourist offices and pay loads more for your tickets. We were quoted USD 32 for a ticket that costs 300.000 VND, which is about half of that. By luck we found a train ticket office in the city and were able to purchase the tickets there even though we had to pay 40.000VND commission for each ticket. Still cheaper than 32 dollars though.
Ha Noi, to me, is a cold, dark, rude, grey and unfriendly place and I was happy to leave again on the night train to Sa Pa... which was certainly an amazing place.
Arriving in Lao Cai at like 6am in the morning after a night on a noisy train with next to no sleep was an experience. Touts come up to you and tell you to get a van to Sa Pa. The official price per person is 25.000VND, so try to get the ride for 30.000VND. We didn't know that at first and paid 35.000VND and got screwed around for a while (having to change
daily street scene
buses 3 times) but we made it to Sa Pa eventually. It's less than 40km but the ride takes more than an hour. Very beautiful scenery as you drive up the mountains though.
We stayed at the Lotus Hotel and it was a bad choice! The room as freezing and wet and smelled moldy again and - believe it or no - we even had food stolen from our bags! We didn't realize it while we were there but once we did, it just brought up a feeling of disgust knowing that other people went through our bags and stole some food. We do know who it was too (bloody freaks that went into the room 'checking the electricity cables'... yeah right, whatever!). So, not a recommended place. We checked out and check into another room for the last day cuz leaving on the night train back to Ha Noi would have meant not being able to shower etc for the day and we had planned to go hiking. Oh well, didn't happen though cuz the day was foggy and rainy and cold.
Sa Pa was quite enjoyable though and we found a place that served nice food. Little
SaPa II on the main road is a good inexpensive choice, staff is incredibly friendly and happy about your business and the food is just yummy. There is also a bakery that has some yummy treats but make sure they are fresh and not hard as a brick (like the almond pastry I bought and ended up throwing away cuz I could have killed someone with it).
We had a beautiful first afternoon there and the next day was nice too after the morning fog had lifted. Walked down to Cat Cat Village and just enjoyed the scenerey. Less enjoyable were obviously the moto drivers that even walked up the trails and followed us trying to get us to pay them for a lift back. But no thanks, I don't do business with someone that hassles me... And while there was about 10 of them sitting around doing nothing waiting for tourists to come past and jump on their motorbikes, there were 4 women in the fields working like animals! And there were about 5 toddlers with them...
But anyway, Sa Pa was a nice place. Unfortunately all the good tours had been booked out and we didn't
The cool Kid putting on a show...
get to go to all the villages but it was still worth it. It wasn't even as touristy as it is always made out to be but maybe that's just because we didn't go on a tour... who knows. The H'mong were very nice too. We must have met the nicest lady up there too. Her name was Mai, a 42 year old H'mong lady that didn't try to sell us anything but was just happy about a nice chat and she explained to us how much things should cost us when we buy them, like bags and stuff. She seemed to be a very humble person. We even tried to find her again at the market, which was where she said she lived, but we didn't see her again.
Well, that was Sa Pa for us. The night train back to Ha Noi was very noisy and I had like no sleep whatsoever. The following night wasn't any better as we took the sleeper bus from Ha Noi to Hue. Very uncomfortable and extremely freezing!!!
Why back track you say?
Leaving Hue tomorrow morning at 6am. Going to Savannakhet (Laos). See you there...
There are more photos below