Having only travelled in Australia, Europe and the US; Hanoi, Vietnam would induce my first experience of culture shock.
It is so exciting to be in a city that is so different from the one which you live. To be immersed in a culture that is so different from your own is good for the soul and forces us to rethink the way we do things. It creates a more curious and daring version of yourself – one that is hungry to experience a deeper version of life; one that can only be accessed once we remove ourselves from our daily routines and normalcies.
We quickly fell in love with chaotic Hanoi during our brief 2 day stay here. Filled with centuries-old architecture, tree fringed lakes, bustling markets and millions of friendly faces – you will not run out of things to do or experience.
Where to stay:
The Sofitel Legend Metropole: An exquisite French-inspired hotel. Features a beautiful bar/restaurant, a stunning pool, gardens and beautiful architecture.
What to do:
Visit the night markets: Usually opens from 7.00pm onwards. Sells pretty much everything your touristy heart desires.
Stroll by Hoan Kiem Lake: In the heart of Hanoi, this picturesque park is a favourite leisure spot for locals. Watch a local game of badminton, relax in the sun and enjoy the beautiful gardens.
Soak in the French architecture of the Old Quarter: Hanoi is a stunning blend of East and West. Once the capital of Indochina (1902-1954), Hanoi features stunning French architecture erected during this period of Vietnam’s history.
See a water puppet show: No trip to Hanoi is complete without a visit to the water puppet theatre, located conveniently across the street from Hoan Kiem Lake. Live musicians and vocalists accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history. The narratives are performed in Vietnamese but follow along with translated titles in the provided programme. The cute wooden puppets will have you laughing and awing.
Wander the bustling streets, absorb the chaos (and watch out for motorbikes!) Saturday night is party night in the city transforming into a giant dinner/dance party for all ages. Plenty of food, ‘Bia Hoi’ and street DJ’s/dancing. This was a great way to spend our first night in Vietnam!
Museums/Memorials: Vietnamese Women’s Museum; Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; One-Pillar Pagoda (to name a few!) Note: Many museums have restricted opening times/days.
Temples: Temple of Literature; Ngoc Son Temple; Bach Ma Temple (to name a few!)
What to eat:
Eat like a local: The streets at meal times are filled with little plastic stools. Grab one and indulge in some local cuisine. A lot more fun than sitting in a restaurant!
Enjoy a glass (or two) of ‘Bia Hoi’: The cheapest beer in the world at just 15c a glass. Unpreserved, brewed daily, and delivered in kegs to local bars and restaurants.
Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk: A delicious and refreshing treat. Indulge in a glass whilst people watching from a local coffee shop.
Pho: One of Vietnam’s most renowned dishes – served throughout the North and South. It is basically a noodle soup with chicken or beef. Add lime and chilli for some extra zang!
What to be wary of (throughout Vietnam):
Street food: Be wary of food that may have been sitting in the sun for long periods of time. Street vendors will cook food in the morning and push it on tourists until it sells out – even if that is not until the end of the day. Try to only eat food that has been cooked on the spot. Side note: Beware of dog meat! Definitely something we were not willing to try!
Water: Only drink bottled, refrigerated, filtered water. Ensure the quality seal hasn’t broken, and don’t eat ice in drinks.
Money: The Vietnamese Dong is an incredibly inflated currently that took us the full two weeks we were there to get our heads around. Download the XE Currency converter app. General rule of thumb: 100,000 VD is approximately $6AUD or $5USD. Cash is king here however most ATM’s will only allow a maximum withdrawal of 2 million Dong. Look out for Western bank’s ATM’s (ANZ, CitiBank, HSBC) these will allow up to 5 or 8 million in one transaction.
Taxis: Although cyclos are the best way to travel short distances throughout the city, taxis are relatively cheap and are easily accessible for longer distances. Be wary however that some taxi companies exist to exploit tourists, our tour guide Kakada referred to these as ‘evil taxis’. Reputable taxi companies: Hanoi Group Taxi (Hanoi); Vinasun (Ho Chi Minh City); Mai Linh Taxi (throughout Vietnam); The ‘green’ taxi’s in Hoi An.
Cyclos: As with taxis, negotiate the fare with the driver before you commence your journey. 100,000 dong is a reasonable fare for a 15-30 minute drive in any direction. Pay the agreed upon fare at the end of your trip and be willing to walk away if your driver tries any monkey business.
Motorcycles: There are millions of them, they all honk profusely, don’t obey traffic signals , nor stay in their lanes. When crossing the street, wait for a break in traffic, start walking and don’t stop – the bikes will slow down for you.
Foreigner pricing: Unique prices set for gullible Western tourists. Most street vendors and shop owners will test you to see how much you’re willing to pay. Be prepared to negotiate and then walk away (9 times out of 10 they will come chasing after you!)