The best thing about Hanoi is snacking around. The food is great, there's lots to try and it's cheap. Have fun!
Fondest memory: All good travelers know there is something of an order effect with regard to how one perceives a particular country. I had been wary of visiting Vietnam after Laos, as everyone I had spoken with that had knowledge of the two places seemed to love the latter and had merely learned to tolerate the former. But there were too many factors pointing me in this unenviable direction and I could not ignore them. And so I found myself leaving the friendly and relaxed confines of Laos and heading to Hanoi.
The fifty-five minute flight stretched to nearly three hours as a dense fog surrounded the city. So, I was irritable on landing. I decided perhaps foolishly to go with a tout to a hotel rather than deal with a taxi driver, who might prove to be just as much a hindrance to getting to my hotel of choice. Actually, the tout’s hotel itself turned out to be better than expected and was fairly priced. But what was not so pleasant was every time we left, on passing through the lobby, we were besieged with requests to purchase one tour or another. It was explained to us that the room prices were so low that they needed to sell tours to make any money. It seemed odd after two weeks in Laos where no one tried to sell us much of anything despite rooms being half the price of the one we were currently inhabiting. But we good-naturedly decided it was easier to buy a tour from them rather than save a couple of alienating dollars at an agency.
After a couple of enjoyable enough days in Halong Bay, we returned and on our way back to our original hotel, a tout from another place offered us an even better deal and perhaps against better judgment, we took it as it was better located and equally as nice. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
It was the beginning the TET festival, Vietnam’s equivalent to New Years, Christmas and your birthday, all wrapped up in one. Needless to say, the streets were a chaotic affair, with literally streams of motorcycles carrying not only the customary full families, but also everything from refrigerators to kumquat or cherry blossom trees that are the traditional home decorations for the holiday. Though interesting, it was disconcerting. Most travelers had suggested that Hanoi was more relaxing than Saigon and indeed, we had looked forward to the old town with its narrow winding streets and countless photo opportunities. If this was the easier going big city in Vietnam, we figured we were in for a long month. It did not help that the weather was damp and cold, with little respite in our heat-less room. Despite this, we managed to enjoy the sights and especially the varied and delicious cuisine of the nation’s capital.
Normally, Hanoi would have taken us three or four days to explore but with the TET festivities in full swing, some things were not open and more importantly, travel reservations somewhat booked out. Or so we were led to believe. Our new hotel staff assured us that they could get us a much-coveted sleeper on the Hanoi-Hue run of the Reunification Express, Vietnam’s refurbished train that runs down the coast to Saigon. Their first quote was for $29 and this seemed fair enough despite being five bucks more than the backpacker bus that runs through the entire country. After checking my guide that evening, it was indeed a bit of a high quote.
(continued below in Fondest Memory)
Fondest memory: The next morning, I learned my first lesson in Vietnam: when purchasing anything, always speak to only one person at any individual place. I naturally assumed that anyone at the front desk would give me the same price but the perky girl now residing there informed me that the price was $31 due to the TET. This was something we learned as TET got closer. All prices went up as you got closer to TET. In a bit of a panic, I told her to check into the availability despite the price being more than previously quoted. Later that night, she said our tickets were reserved and demanded the money. Since the original clerk was on duty as well, I asked why the ticket had gone up $2 and soon the two of them were having an argument. I ascertained, though having no faculties in Vietnamese but lots in traveling, that the new clerk was merely tacking her share onto the price. I said I would pay only the original price and this brought on louder arguing from the two of them, I assume over the cut of the commission on the sale. I was adamant about what I would pay, keeping my voice low as not to lose face but this young girl seemed to know nothing about this Asian code of ethics, yelling at me that I was “no honest.” I calmly explained that I was willing to pay what was originally quoted and said, if I could just see the ticket with the price on it, I would gladly pay more. This infuriated them to no end, as the price would obviously be lower than either one offered. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Due to Vietnamese hotel policy of taking your passport on signing in, I was in a vulnerable position to say the least. So, to avoid any further altercations, I told them, I would pay for my room plus the $29 each for the two train tickets and be on my way. The senior member of the two, asked if we were not happy with our room and we explained we were but not with the staff. Utilizing their own cultural reservations, I said that with TET approaching, we did not want to start the new year off in bad fashion and thus ruin the luck of the whole year. This seemed to bring them back to reality, at least theirs, and soon, we arrived at an agreement. We paid for the room up till that point plus the originally agreed upon price for the train tickets and we got our passports back so we could go to the bank. Needless to say, I never gave my passport to a hotel clerk again as it was always conveniently in the Cambodian Embassy awaiting visa approval, whereupon I would present a photocopy for their inspection and information purposes.
Much in need of a beer after this pre-festivities spectacle, I was happy to find an old woman on our corner with a freshly tapped keg of the local Bia Hoi, a tasty if watery brew. We downed quite a few with some locals and though there was no means of communication between us outside of the odd nod, wink and smile, this simple setting finally brought about the holiday feeling we had anticipated. The haggard old woman, in particular, was full of warmth and readily accepted us as one of her brood. As comfortable as it was, we decided to make our move to the waterfront to watch the fireworks. I motioned to pay and was embarrassed at the low cost of our bill. I tried to round it up but she refused anything extra. We shared one last smile and I happily walked away knowing that not everyone was out to make something extra on the TET this year. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Once on the lake, we were quickly called over by some locals to join their impromptu party. We were happy to grab a space on their blanket, as it was already quite crowded. They offered us some local snacks and we opened up a bottle of wine we had bought for the occasion. They enjoyed practicing their English and one young girl, fascinated with Doreen’s long blond hair, sat behind her and stroked it most of the evening. She felt a bit like a golden monkey in a cage but the obvious genuine affection with which she did it, made it more amusing than annoying. The scene around us was much the same with groups of people sharing their goods and company on big blankets. The fireworks came and went but what we will always remember are the smiles of our welcoming hosts.
Since we were leaving the next day, we went back to the hotel, half expecting another problem with our tickets. Surprisingly, the lobby was full of people from the hotel, sitting around much like at the lake. We were warmly greeted and given our tickets immediately. I told them this was a good sign for the New Year and we were then offered some local delicacies associated with the holiday. It was a nice continuation of the earlier feelings and a relief to finally have our ticket out of town in hand.
Later that evening, in our room, I took a closer look at the ticket. The real price was in Dong, the local currency, and far less than what we paid. I expected as much but made no comment on it when I left the next morning. It was, after all, a New Year. In fact, the Year of the Monkey, and I figured it was time to stop making an ass of myself over a few Dong. Just the same, I made a mental note to buy my tickets at the train station next time.
I was in Hanoi after the Tsunami tragedy. I have read that one cannot get any international news on the local televisions, but I was so wrong.
My little minibudget hotel actually has CNN coverage ! Amazing. For a place quite devoid of McDonalds and KFC, this is quite out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, I was thankful and managed to keep abreast with the current news of the tragedy.
This small bridge in the middle of the Hoan Kiem Lake joins the banks of the lake to the central island where you can find the Ngoc Son Temple.
It has a certain "japanese" flavour, and gives some excellent photograph opportunities, with that brigh red colour reflecting over the quiet waters of the lake...
This unique puppet show was first showed in North Vietnam, and the best place to see it is at the Municipal Theatre here in Hanoi.
They play it at a small pool inside the theatre, from behind a curtain. From there, with long bamboo sticks that go under the water (not visible) they move the puppets from below, making them look as if they were floating on the water.
Everything is in Viet language, but as the stories (rural scenes) are so simple and graphical, it is easy to understand it and is a gorgeous colourful show. There are peasants, brides, fishes, dragons (that spit fireworks!), cats, tortoises...
At the background, there is a local music group that play traditional music.
The show takes about 1 hour.
A nice way to explore Hanoi is by Cyclo. My Hotel got one for me, and I was very pleased.
A nice man, that could speak good English, would stop for me to take photos, and would tell me about the places I was seeing, what a way to go!!
AND...... An experience, sitting in the "frontline," watching all those Motorbikes whizzing past and around you, hoping that you and the Motorbike do not hit!
If you do take a cyclo ride, see if you can go past the Embassy homes, they were colonial, and beautiful.
COST IN 2008 FOR 2 HOURS... 60,000 DONG
I asked for a city tour, and was very happy with what I got. I used this same Cyclo a few times as he did an excellent job!
There are many travel at the Old Quarters.
For Halong Bay trip, I would suggest that you stay a night on the boat for the experience and to gaze at the stars at night on the deck chair.
If you like trekking, sign up for the 3D2N Halong + Cat Ba Island trip which cost about US$58.
One of the famous agent is ODC Travel which is located in the lobby of Camellia Groups of hotel.
The price is about the same for most agents. It is what you get to eat that makes the different.
ODC Travel offered seafood onboard their junks.
If you wish to have an aircon room, just add additional US$3.
People often want to know how much money you can withdraw from the ATM's.
A lot are only 1million dong..........
the INCOMB bank is 2million dong ............
ANZ BANK NEAR HOAN KIEM LAKE IS 9,900,000dong and there are security guards next to the ATM.
Fondest memory: Located near the Old Quarter side of Hoan Kiem Lake
If you dont mind being awaken early in the morning by honking of motorbikes and national athems or very loud sound or music over the public loud speakers on the street, this is the place to stay in.
We stayed at Phan Thai (Camellia 4) in the middle of Old Quarters.
Given a choice again, we will choose to stay south of the lake where the French Quarters and shopping centres are.
There are baguettes to be bought all over Hanoi and often you can buy a reel of soft cheese to go with them. Many places do ready made ones, or will do them in front of you. But i prefered to make one myself, buying a baguette for 500dong and then cheese for 4,000 dong.
Fondest memory: Makes a yummy lunch for a couple days, sitting by the lakside munching on the baguettes are lovely
Ha Noi Kids is an association of students that provides an “escort” or “companion” service for tourists visiting Ha Noi. This is NOT a guiding service but if you arrange it with them they will accompany you for the day, participating in your daily activities related to tourism in Ha Noi.
I found them on the internet while searching for information about Ha Noi. I made inquiries through they’re website and arranged for they’re representatives to meet us at an agreed upon address at a predetermined time. There is an application process to be completed and they determine your suitability for the program.
I organized this entirely through they’re website exchanging various emails and then decided on the date. They showed up exactly ON TIME and exactly where we had planned without ANY complication.
The intent of Ha Noi Kids is multi purpose, it provides students with some exposure to foreigners, it provides an environment that enables the students to practice they’re second language skills, and for someone that might be a little uncomfortable exploring a new and large city on they’re own it provides the tourist a mechanism to orient themselves into the pace of life and surroundings here in Ha Noi.
We were quite lucky…the organization sent two students to accompany us for the day…
I determined the day’s itinerary and they accompanied us until the late afternoon. You choose the day’s events or itinerary and they make sure that it happens. They facilitate communication with taxis or help you through the bus system, they do they’re best to explain some of the sights that you are seeing but acting as a GUIDE is NOT they’re function so its likely a good idea to prepare yourselves with some background information about what you want to see or do.
Fondest memory: We spent the morning exploring Ngoc Son Pagoda and walking the streets of the Old Quarter. They suggested a great place to have lunch and then we spent a part of the afternoon exploring the Museum of Ethnology. There is an architectural attraction in the Old Quarter at 87 May May Street where there is a calligrapher working…LouAn provided translation and I had quite an interesting conversation with the gentleman. You can catch a glimpse of this conversation on one of the attached videos here if you might be interested.
This is a FREE service however we picked up the tab for drinks throughout the day as well as the cost of lunch and taxis…
If the rest of the “kids” are as polite and helpful as Loan (pronounced LouAn) and Tai (I called him “T” ) then you really cant go wrong..
The website is down at the moment but it seems to me if I remember correctly the organization has been around for a few years and the number of students participating is about 150…so I don’t think that scheduling would be an issue
I'm happy that I took advantage if this service, I got to meet some really interesting young people who had spent they’re entire lives living and growing up in Ha Noi.
I would highly recommend you take advantage of this service for tourists!
You can contact them at this email address if you would like more information.
email@example.com or when it becomes available again...http://www.hanoikidstours.com/
Favorite thing: One of the best ways to explore Hanoi is by walking around the streets. If you are tired after a long walk and happened to be at the famous St Joseph's Cathedral, there is a foot massage shop at the row of shop houses just next to the cathedral called Aroma Foot Massage. I went for a foot massage here for about 1 hour, and it was quite good and the price is very cheap (see the second photo for the prices of the different types of massage here). The place is air-conditioned which is very relaxing if the weather is hot outside :)
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