Arriving in Hanoi from Chiang Mai was a bit like getting slapped across the face with a wet fish. When we had told people our plans, they has said things like ‘Oh you think it’s crazy here, just WAIT until you get to Hanoi.’ so I was quietly dreading it. I had been warned about how to cross a road. “You need to step out into the traffic and keep walking without hesitation. The motorbikes and cars will judge your pace and either go in front of you or behind you, but if you hesitate, you confuse them and get run over.” Awesome.
We didn’t have the best start as we got into an argument with a taxi driver who had agreed to take us to our homestay for a set fee, but upon arriving, demanded more than triple that amount. The Vietnamese Dong is quite confusing, so we lamented that we’d probably misunderstood, and gave in to later realise we’d been totally ripped off. Not the best start to our time in Hanoi. A word to the wise, download Grab (their version of Uber) and just use that.
We found our cute but bizarre little homestay (Mong Homestay), dropped our bags and set out in search of a Bahn Mi, to find ourselves lost in a part of the city where seemingly no tourists go. I so wanted to take my phone out and film it, but we were dodging so many motorbikes, that if I had stopped anywhere (even on a bit of pavement) to get my phone out, I would have certainly been covered in tyre marks within 0.5 of a second.
This area was ABSOLUTE MAYHEM. Beyond words and beyond imagination. The smells, the constant sound of car horns, motorbike horns, aggressive sounding chat between neighbours, children playing, locals bartering buying vegetables, people hacking away at chicken and pork, the stench of Durian fruit, people having their hair cut on tiny stools on the street, barely an inch of pavement visible, so you’re forced to walk on the road, with motorbikes weaving in every which direction. Beeping at you until you’re out of their way. The stifling intense heat with no breeze whatsoever. All of my senses were overwhelmed.
We eventually realised our mistake, and found our way to Bahn Mi 25. A great place for a baguette and a beer with a side of people watching, if you’re in the area.
That first night is etched in my memory forever, as I’d never experienced culture shock before. I really was in shock and went to sleep feeling anxious about stepping out of our cosy little homestay the next day.
I did warm up a little to Hanoi over the next two days, but Hanoi really is unlike any other place in the world, and to be honest, it wasn’t for me.
But perhaps that’s the culture shock talking. I do hope to go back one day and am determined to like it. I think we made a poor choice with the homestay, which was itself lovely, but the area was too much like being thrown into the deep end for this first time traveller.
Here are some recommendations for things to do and places to eat:
Hanoi Social Club – our sanctuary in Hanoi. We went twice in three days, and spent half a day here working. Great veggie and gluten free options here too. We enjoyed the veggie burgers, as well as the black bean Mexican bowls.
Bahn Mi 25 – we sought this place out after seeing TripAdvisor reviews, and it didn’t disappoint. Our first Banh Mi in Vietnam, and the best of the whole trip. An excellent people watching spot also.
Bun Cha Ta – we had a very memorable dinner here. Bun Cha is a popular dish in the North of Vietnam, that comprises of a bowl of hot super tasty vegetable broth (we went veggie but minced pork is very popular), that you add minced garlic and red chilies to. You get a plate of fresh fragrant herbs and various types of greens, that you also add to the broth, and a side of crunchy fried spring rolls. It’s absolutely delicious and well worth trying.
Train Street – as it sounds, a tiny little street with a train track right through the middle. Great photo spot.
Lake – I loved wandering around the lake and getting a welcome break from the madness as it’s pedestrianised.
Old Quarter – This is near where we stayed. It was really cool to see and well worth a look around, but I wouldn’t advise staying there.
The Note Coffee – leave your mark on a post it. Friendly service and a quirky place for a quick coffee fix.
Cafe Giang – The birthplace of Egg Coffee. It was created by the grandfather of the owner of this cafe in 1946 when milk was scarce in Vietnam. Egg coffee is a Vietnamese specialty that everyone must try. Egg yolk is whisked up with sugar until golden, thick and frothy. Then spooned over hot or iced espresso. It tastes a lot like tiramisu and is rich, creamy and very sweet. Perfect for dipping a flaky croissant into in my opinion, although this didn’t seem to go down well with the Vietnamese.
Long Bien bridge – this bridge is worth visiting for the gram really. It’s a rusty old railway line that runs low over a busy part of town. We went mid afternoon and had to queue to get our pictures. I found it stressful to be on a working railway line for so long, unsure of when the next train was due, but I liked the pictures we took so that’s all that matters, right?
I’ve just re-read this post and decided I sound exceptionally whiney and negative about Hanoi haha! Of course I’m grateful to have been but this is honestly how I felt about it. Perhaps I’ll enjoy it more next time, knowing what to expect?