Vietnam was my first country in South East Asia. I had a little expectation and even less knowledge of what I’m going to see there. I did my research just like everyone else but still wasn’t quite ready for this trip. I was also traveling solo.
No matter where you live you probably haven’t experienced anything similar to the street crossing like here in Hanoi. The endless river of motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians never stops. It took me some courage to step into this stream. I waited and waited and realized that I just have to do it. I screamed inside (and probably out loud too) and made a step forward. As crazy as it might sound but you will quickly adapt and will be crossing the street fearlessly as local.
How many days to spend
Unless you are planning to visit every museum and take a photo of every corner, you only need 1.5 – 2 days. Everything is within the walking distance. The main part is Old Quarter and French Quarter aka shopping district.
There are not so many things to do and most of the tours will take you outside of the city.
Where to stay
If you are not planning to rent a motorbike (and I suggest you don’t) it is best to stay in the central location which is the Old Quarter. Most of the hotels are very affordable. For example, the mid-range stay will only cost you 12-15 US dollars. Hostels are even cheaper, about 6-8 US dollars for a double stay.
It all depends on how far you want to go and on capabilities of your stomach.
I am not as brave so I avoided the street food. I tried to eat in places what seemed to be clean and busy. However, clean in Hanoi means different than clean in Los Angeles.
I also avoided the tap water and didn’t order any iced drinks for the same reason.
I’m not a vegetarian but I saw that one of the restaurant workers dropped the whole pot of meat of the dirty street, picked it up and kept cooking I decided that It’s about the time to go vegetarian.
One of my favorite foods banana pancake. Such a yummy treat! Food portions were really small so I ended up ordering 2-3 dishes at ones. Otherwise, I was hungry all the time!
The street market is one of the things you sure want to experience in Hanoi. All kind of handcrafted goods is sold here. You will notice of the replicas of big brands all over. Remember to bargain the price down as you will still pay the “tourist tax” as I call it. Meaning that whatever price you will end up paying is still higher than a local would pay. So, don’t feel bad negotiating a deal.
The great thing about Vietnam is that you can really stretch out your stay even if you are on a very low budget. A wide variety of housing from hotels to hostels and home stays lets you plan how much to spent. Food is not expensive as well and ranges from 1-7 US dollars. An average price for coffee is 2 USD. Water bottle from 50 cents to 1 dollar. Fresh fruits are surprisingly pricey. You can bargain with street vendors but few fruits will still cost you 5-10 USD. Not sure why but they charge you like fruits do not grow there at all.
One of the main criteria to build my opinion of the country I visit is the people. Vietnamese culture is very friendly and polite. Despite the very little English spoken locals will do everything in their power to help you.
One thing what fought my attention was the absolutely zero stress level. People remain calm in situations where most of us will freak out. For example, traffic and insane driving on the road. I caught myself thinking that I would get a panic attack if I had to drive in Vietnam.
When travel I always pay attention for animals on the street. How Do they look, how locals treat them if they are hungry? Every dog and cat I saw in Vietnam looked fed and happy. Not even once I noticed any animal cruelty of any kind. Pets were not afraid of strangers, happy and friendly.
Hanoi is definitely worth to visit and experience. Very touristy but authentic. Dirty and clean. Noisy and quiet. Different angles to look at the same city. I’m happy I visited it but not sure if I would like it to come back.
Life in Wanderlust