Hanoi was meant to be a staging point for Halong Bay and Sapa trips but in the end I stayed much longer than anticipated and it was an interesting introduction to South East Asia travel. Most of my time there was spent just walking around or drinking cheap beers!
Whilst as some towns feel dangerous, Hanoi didn’t. Sure there is a crazy amount of hustle and bustle and hundreds of people, but it’s not over-bearing. There is loads of noise as the cars and bike vie for space tooting their horns as they go and the people talk so loudly it’s unreal. People yell for you to ride on their motorbike (it’s a scooter darn-it!!!) and others offer you a ride in their cyclo. Tourists look terrified when trying to cross the roads and those brave enough to actually take a cyclo sit in sheer panic as they are pushed out first into the traffic first. The worst thing for me was walking down the street and just hoping that the next time a car or bike hits you, it doesn’t hurt as much.
The Hoan Kiem Lake
Walk out of the Old Quarter and you reach Hoan Kiem Lake which is said to contain the sword which drove the invading Chinese out. It’s a nice old lake and sitting down one day had me the centre of attention and a number of people sat down next to me to have their photo taken – I felt a bit more of a freak show than usual! in the lake itself there are a number of turtles swimming around (I heard there is only one, but apparently that number can’t be confirmed) and it’s meant to be really lucky to see one – I didn’t realise this whilst watching the turtle swim about so took pictures of the people taking pictures. I haven’t had any luck either so who knows!
Other wandering sites in Hanoi
The hostel we stayed at offered a free walking tour which is the same one in the Lonely Planet book but with the added benefit that one of the staff wander with you and point everything out. Typically my camera battery died so I just spent the time walking around looking at things. it’s “ok”, nothing particularly great to see to be honest.
We wandered a little further afield to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum which is an un-imposing building (I didn’t go in). Behind it lies the unimpressive one pillar pagoda, which is literally a concrete pagoda sitting on one pillar in a pool. The military museum looked ok, but I skipped it in favour of a coffee.
After all that walking, you need a beer in Hanoi (and most of Vietnam) they offer Fresh Beer at little outlets called Beer Hoi. It’s brewed fresh each days and is sold by the pint glass for around 5000 dong (25c or 15p) and people sit around at street corners drinking the watery ale on stools too small even for toddlers. If it wasn’t for the mayhem unfolding in the street, the constant nagging feeling that one day a erratic scooter is going to plough into you, the cold weather and the smog, I’d have been reminded of a European City. Hmm, I guess the reality is, its nothing like a European city!
The beer is cheap though.
If I could have a dollar for every person I’ve heard telling me how great the Water Puppet show is, I’d have almost $10. So many people swore blind it’s the best thing to see that I was left wondering if I was at the same show. We walked into the little room and contorted ourselves into the seats and sniffed the smell of slightly stagnant water. After a while the music started and it was quite impressive (especially the “traditional” electronic wave twiddling machine). Then the singing started and man it was bad.
The singing was a mix between someone strangling cat whilst dunking it in a bucket of water. It was just terrible.
The Puppet show itself was ok I guess with the performers waggling puppets around in water from behind a curtain. They puppets didn’t really do anything other than wiggle about and get pulled around in dances splashing water. I believe that it was all a vain attempt to depict some aspect of Vietnamese life but given that most weren’t obvious and I don’t speak Vietnamese, I didn’t have a clue what on earth was going on.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth popping along to see, but the hype it receives is way over the top and for me it was about twenty minutes too long.
I’m planning on writing something about the culture as I saw it in Vietnam itself and the Hanoi Hilton was my first introduction to it. I’ll add a suitable link later…
The biggest part of Hanoi for me was Christmas, but I’ve written about that in a separate post called A Different Type Of Christmas
Halong Bay and Sapa
As I mentioned at the top, Hanoi was a staging point for Sapa and Halong Bay. In the end I didn’t go to Sapa for a variety of reasons, but I did make it on the worst cruise I’ve ever had (this includes the miniature disasters that unfolded aboard the Amigo in The Galapagos) – you can read about in the blog post A Party Cruise & Halong Bay
Click here to load a map showing you the location of this post and images from the digitallery taken nearby.