What we did: We spent approximately
two weeks in Hanoi, and took a two-day side trip to Halong Bay.
For the most part, we enjoyed simply wandering aimlessly around
the city. We spent days meandering in and out of temples and shops
and restaurants and parks. It is easy to envision spending several
months here, just enjoying life day to day.
Overall: We really like Hanoi.
To use a word that too many travelers use to mean too many random
things, we love the "vibe" of the city. We’ll
try to explain why. It feels old, but not backwards. The city
is colorful and historic. The streets are lively and safe. It
hasn’t yet embraced technology completely, and it doesn’t
suffer for it. There are lots of people around all day, but it
doesn’t feel overly crowded (except when you’re trying
to cross the street). The weather is mild most of the time, and
great at this time of year. It is often possible to walk to your
destination, but if you don’t feel like it, transportation
is easy to obtain and very reasonably priced. Locals still outnumber
tourists in most places we go. In summary, it’s been one
of our favorite places so far and we’d love to visit again
someday to explore more of the city and the surrounding areas.
Thap Rua (Tortoise
Tower), in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake
Peace: If anybody knows how
great it is to *not* be at war, it's the Vietnamese. Until 1975,
they had been at war with each other, neighboring countries, or
colonialists on and off for over 100 years. Further, this happened
mostly on their own soil. Because of this, many generations have
known only war. Maybe that's one reason why Hanoi feels so peaceful.
It seems like the people are simply happy to not be fighting with
anyone at the moment.
Food: The food, both native
and foreign, is great (at least after you figure out where to
look) and usually very cheap. There are a lot of mediocre restaurants,
too, but with a little practice, they are fairly easy to avoid.
We also liked the available variety; we didn't feel like we came
anywhere close to running out of things to try. (Also see vietnam:
food, glorious food.)
People: The people are generally
friendly (though reserved) and most speak a little English or
are willing to communicate with rudimentary hand signals. Making
conversation was, in most cases, not too difficult. And while
sometimes we were given the hard-sell, we didn't feel like people
were always hounding us to buy something. We enjoyed learning
about the country by chatting with taxi drivers, hotel staff,
friends we met, street vendors, shop and restaurant owners, etc.
- everybody was very friendly.
Price: You can't beat it.
You can eat for as little as $1-$3/person, and it's pretty good.
Of course you can spend more if you like, but there are lots of
great places to choose from in the lower-end (less than $10) of
the price bracket. Mid-range hotels, often with breakfast included,
ranged from $12 to $30/night. We commonly could negotiate a discount
for staying for a longer period of time (5+ days). We stayed in
a few different hotels before we found one that we liked, Hong
Ngoc on Hang Manh Street. Of course, if you want to rough it you
can sleep for even less, and there are also several upscale places
if you'd like to splurge. Shopping is also cheap (and interesting,
too - see below).
Exchange rate: US$1 = 15,750
Specific places we visited/things we
did (there's a ton of stuff to see and do in Hanoi
- we did some of it, but there was certainly lots more to
do - this is only a sampling):
- Hung out with our good friend from home,
(creator of the not-yet-famous chonga-dog). "John Moon"
is also the name of a drink (currently gaining popularity)
made with ice tea and cranberry juice. Go ahead, try ordering
one the next time you're out.
- Shopping (The shopping in Hanoi is fantastic. If only
we had some way of getting things home, we would have bought
our brains out, and still not spent that much money. Things
are cheap and beautiful. Bring a duffle bag, or two, or three.
And even if you don’t buy much, as was our situation,
just wandering around the shops is a great way to spend time.
We especially liked the lacquerware, purses, and the variety
of household trinkets.)
- Ngoc Son Temple (This temple sits on a peninsula jutting
out into the lake in the center of the Old Quarter. We looked
at it everyday, and visited it once. It’s worth a look,
but it didn’t blow our socks off. We tried in vain to
catch a glimpse of the famous turtles in the lake, but we
had no luck.)
- Hoan Kiem Lake (This lake is basically the hub around
with the Old Quarter rotates. We learned to use it as our
landmark for getting just about everywhere. There are nice
places to sit around the lake, and we passed many hours there.)
- Temple of Literature, formally Van Mieu (This was a nice
half-day activity. The temple is beautiful and well-worth
- Water Puppet Theater (A great night out, especially now
that the puppeteers wear boots and no longer are prone to
catching all sorts of water-borne diseases.)
- Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island (We did an overnight trip.
It’s possible to do it as a day trip, but it would be
too much driving. We recommend doing this – it’s
a very typical trip, but we really enjoyed it – see
vietnam: ha long bay &
cat ba island.)
I sure envy both of u having a whale of time.
Your articles are delightful to read. I am planning to visit Vietnam
probably in Dec. Any recommendation of good stay in Hanoi ? Many
thanks in advance and happy travelling...
--KK Koh; Aug 8, 2005
The quality and price of hotels in Hanoi
vary widely. We were on a budget so most of the hotels we stayed
in are in the $20-$35 dollar range. We liked Hong Ngoc 3 hotel
(the one on Hang Bac street; there are a few with that same name).
It was clean, cheap and included breakfast. The staff is nice
and helpful. We've also heard that the other Hong Ngoc hotels
in the Old Quarter are pretty good.
We stayed in 2 hotels we didn't like:
Hanoi Star 2 (too loud because of the gravestone engravers outside,
and Pan Ang Hotel (too many bugs).
There was a new mini-hotel that opened
in the Old Quarter called President Hotel that looked really nice,
is in a good location and was cheap at the time. The Prince II
is another one to check out, though it's often full.
You can also check out www.elephantguide.com
to find out more about plenty of hotels in Hanoi. And lastly,
you can usually just find hotels after you show up, and that way
you can check out the room before you commit.
Hope this helps and hope you have a wonderful
time in Hanoi. It's one of our favorite places in the world!
--Susan; Oct 15, 2005
Amazing - setting off to Vietnam later this
week and was starting to get myself a little worked up - found
your website and now feeling great again and looking forward to
going. Your site is fantastic, cheers to both of you. Hope you
enjoyed Australia. Take care and safe travels, you are inspirational.
--Tiffany N. (Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia); Mar 7,