Published: July 31st 2012July 28th 2012
I think it is rather hard to prepare for all that Hanoi is. In a nutshell, Hanoi is crazy! It is also a very intriguing city that leaves a ton to be explored, tried, and experienced. This is probably why I enjoyed my couple days here so much. (though two and a half days was plenty!)
The first thing anyone notices when they visit Hanoi (anywhere in Vietnam for that matter) is the traffic! It is was overwhelming for me at first with motorbikes, bikes, cars, vans and big buses coming from all directions (literally), the constant shrill of horns seemingly honking to just make noise, and small streets making for one wild scene. There are very few stop lights and even when there are, stopping on red is optional. They technically drive on the right hand side of the road, but that is also optional. There are so many motorbikes it's unbelievable. And the motorbikes carry anywhere from one person to a while family of four hanging on to two people delivering a huge flatscreen TV. Watching all of this take place made me wonder how the heck I was supposed to walk around and even cross
the street. I asked the people at my hotel this and their response was "just walk slowly, stop to let them avoid you, and don't ever turn back". Simple enough until you are in the middle of swarms of motorbikes and cars weaving around you all honking. But that is how it is done and the locals walk around the streets like a pro using this technique. After a few days I was pretty confident myself handling the traffic on foot.
Vietnam used to be a French colony and Hanoi was the capital of indochina for a long time and is still the nations capital. As such, the old quarter where most tourist stay and where a lot of the hustle and bustle of the town is, is well preserved in a colonial style and maintains the feeling that this was and is a very important city. Outside of the old quarter are also huge reminders of the importance of the city with the government buildings, the palace, and more. I got to see way more of the city than I bargained for as I got lost so many times walking around. I've never had such a
I got tricked into this photo
The lady was very quick and afterwards wanted four dollars. I gave her one (20,000 dong)
hard time keep my sense of direction straight but it made for some fun off-the-beaten path discoveries but also incredibly tired legs. I walked for over six hours straight one day. Thankfully the city is super flat.
I have found the people in the city to be either extremely friendly and helpful or extremely rude. I have had multiple local people come out of the stores without me asking them when they see I have my map out and they kindly, though also sternly, try to help me where I need to go. I have had a couple people also just come up to me and chat, curious about me and where I was from. Though one of these guys wanted to offer me a tour, he still stayed and chatted for a good 15 minutes after I told him I wasn't interested in a tour and didn't just walk away when he learned I wouldn't be using his services. I liked that. Several others though have not given me the same warm reception. When I ask these others for directions, or try to bargain with them, they put on their pouty faces, often give a dismissive
hand gestures or try to ignore me. All the same, I was told the north of Vietnam was less friendly than the south do we shall see when I go down there. What they do all share in common is very few speak good English and it makes it a little more difficult for sure.
For food, I have been mostly eating street food. After eating on little plastic stools in Thailand and Laos, I didn't think the stools could get any smaller. Vietnam proved me wrong. Eating on the street, which most of the locals do, is cheaper and probably a little more questionable when it comes to health standards, but also means that I am left sitting with my knees touching my ears. I have yet to be able to learn what anything is (except pho of course) and not all these little street places have menus so almost every meal I get by pointing to something, asking how much and then hoping that what I'm getting isn't dog. Yes, when there is menu, more often than not, dog is one of the meat options. For the most part though, I have been really enjoying
the food. It's also good I'm not a picky eater.
One thing that is driving me nuts about Vietnam though is the "foreigner prices". It is pretty well known in Thailand and Laos that the natives get better pricing than we do as visitors. But you can usually talk them down to somewhere closer to the locals price. But in Vietnam, they are very explicit that all foreigners will pay more while most locals will get it free or much cheaper. So even when you bargain, you have a hard time going too low because then they just say, "no! Foreign price more!". Argh!
Interesting fact: when the city was built the streets were named for what was sold on them (ex: shoes, fabrics, toys, rice, etc). While the the streets still have the same names, they are not all exclusively selling one thing, but it is still better odds you will find what you need if you are on the right street name. Yet, on the street where my hostel was Hang Ga, or chicken street, they sold very few chickens.
There are more photos below