Good morning Vietnam! - Hanoi

Sunday, January 22, 2017

While doing our research about Vietnam, we read so many bad reviews and stories that we started having second thoughts. There were a lot saying that the Vietnamese people aren’t that friendly and that you should expect to be scammed at every corner.
Turns out though, the Vietnamese were some of the nicest and most helpful people we encountered throughout our journey.

We planned on doing Vietnam top to bottom, starting up North with Hanoi and of course the Ha Long Bay, going down to the small and ancient city of Hoi An and ending in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and the Mekong Delta in the South.
Before our trip we applied here to get the visa. We received the approval letter shortly after paying a service fee of 28$.
You need to have the approval letter with you at the customs as based on that letter you receive the actual visa.
The visa costs another 25$ per person, however as Romania and Vietnam were communist brothers, we got it for free. First time communism did any good. :) 


Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake

We landed in Hanoi after a short flight from Bangkok via VietJet airlines. Just a heads up, they weigh your backpack (carry on) and it has to be max. 7 kg. This and Tiger Airlines were the only 2 companies throughout SE Asia who did that.
From the airport we took the Vietnam Airlines bus to Hanoi city centre for 40.000 VND each. VietJet also has one for the same price a ticket, I believe they have the same stops as well.
I remember looking out the window and not believing my eyes: millions of motorbikes and scooters were descending upon the streets of Hanoi. They were literally suffocating it! 
Everybody was riding one, even kids who seemed to young to be doing that. Understandable when you think that there are aprox. 4 million motorbikes in Hanoi and 7 million people.
They all had personalized helmets and some matching air filtering masks. My favourite, a cute Vietnamese girl with her pink motorbike and Hello Kitty helmet, she really stood out in the crowd. Wearing a skirt did not discourage young girls to ride the motorbike, they would just ride it with both legs on the same side…classy I’m telling you.
Also, you could see entire families riding together on the same bike or people carrying what looked like their entire house on a tiny motorcycle.

We reached the bus station and we had a little bit to walk through the labyrinth of streets that was Hanoi’s old quarter. Here came our first challenge in Vietnam: crossing the street!
I kid you not, we waited at the crosswalk for about 10 minutes looking at the stop light turning green and red and green again…and nobody stopped!
Eventually we gained courage and followed the locals, we crossed the street hoping for the best while hundreds of bikes were zooming past us.

Later on we learned that in Vietnam you have to close your eyes and cross the street. Nobody ever stops but they know how to avoid you, as long as you keep a constant pace and move predictably. Apparently the accident rate is very low, so they must know something!
Besides that they are almost constantly honking, so imagine the noise.
Safe and sound we reached our hotel. We stayed at Eclipse Legend Hotel, were we booked a double room for 23 euros/night. However when we arrived there they have just upgraded us to the honeymoon suite. Well played, Vietnam!
Hanoi by day is not that impressive, but by night the whole city turns to life. Everything happens on the street, from eating to partying and trading. You even get to cook your own food on the street. Some places have tables that have their own grill, so you just order what meat you want and some veggies, and you cook them right there on the spot!

Proving my master chef abilities @ Linh's Kitchen

I have heard about Vietnamese food that is very good and I must say, that after our trip it has become one of my favourite cuisines. From the famous Pho to Bun Cha to the even more famous spring rolls, everything we ate was mouthwatering and fresh. Fresh is the word to best describe their amazing food. I know, I’ve been talking a lot about food…but have I mentioned how good it was?

Bun Cha and Spring Rolls

The traditional Pho
We were there for Vietnamese King's Commemoration Day and some streets were closed to make room for the…night market (I developed a fascination for them). Also they had a lot of mini concerts all over the old quarter, with different bands singing in the middle of the road.

Cute Vietnamese restaurant

The crowded streets of Old Hanoi

Hanoi’s playground, with its tiny stools and tables

The streets of Hanoi, especially the old quarter are indeed crowded, but once you get used to the Vietnamese lifestyle, it is a unique experience to mingle with the crowd.

Because I promised myself that I would keep it…errrmmm shorter, and if I were to write all about Vietnam in one post it would be a never ending story, I’ll tell you about Ha Long Bay in the next post.
Until then…


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