BOOM! We’re back. After an epic 18 day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia (see Planning Vietnam & Planning Cambodia for details) my blog is back on-the-go and it will soon be filling up with all our views, reviews and news from our self-titled Upside Down Heart Tour. What’s more, we moved home just 3 days before our adventure started so since we returned last week we’ve been working pretty much non-stop. “Less about you and more about your trip” I hear you cry… OK, let us commence Part One of our Vietnam review and where better to start our story than in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
Those of you with a keen memory will remember why/how we ended up touring Vietnam (Vietnam: An Accidental Adventure). For those of you that are new to the blog or for those of you too preoccupied with remembering your own damn lives let me remind you; we scored some cheap tickets to Bangkok back in January and having already explored much of Thailand in 2014 we chose to tour Vietnam after hearing such positive things from friends and family. We planned the route based on things picked up in books, blogs and from buddies. Starting our adventure in Hanoi was a great choice although we felt slightly worse for wear having traveled with KLM from London Heathrow > Amsterdam > Bangkok and then with Vietjet Air (great uniforms!) for the final leg to Hanoi. All in all we traveled for over 24 hours; leaving home midday on Monday and arriving in Hanoi around 4pm on Tuesday. I’m sleepy just thinking about it. All things considered, the journey wasn’t too bad. KLM were a delight to travel with and its always a buzz when we land; nothing makes us happier than arriving in foreign climes, bursting through the arrivals door feeling like a celebrity couple and finding our handwritten name on the board of a taxi driver- which is exactly what happened when we touched town in Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport.
Our first impressions of Vietnam were made through the window of our 40 minute taxi transfer to Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Scooters, Communism and Coffee were the 3 things that struck me the most. You’ll be amazed how many scooters you can fit onto these tiny streets. It is literally bumper-to-bumper and handlebar-to-handlebar. If ever we thought Bangkok was big on bikes, Vietnam completely blows them out of the water. Expect to see entire families, fragile loads, flammable liquids, livestock, deadstock and more oddities hanging from these two wheeled devils; and good luck enjoying your very own real-life version of the classic game Frogger as you hop across the road between them. The Communist pride clearly shines through in this region of North Vietnam and every lamp post is adorned with either the red of the Vietnamese flag or the red flag of the communist hammer and sickle. The coffee shops became more and more frequent as we approached our home for the next four days; again this is a proud heritage which was introduced during the French colonisation. The Vietnamese utilise a unique one-cup coffee filtration system and I highly recommend their yummy take on the humble iced Latte by using sweet, condensed milk rather than fresh milk.
As we checked into the tired looking Hotel Amanda (how appropriate given our 28 hour day so far…) for our 4 night stay in Hanoi we were instantly amazed by the narrow, bustling streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The area oozed charm and character. The shabby area is clearly poor (read: developing) but bursting with pride and practicality. Want a lettuce? There’s a lady on the floor selling a selection. Looking for some dodgy looking liquor? Not a problem, the guy on the corner sells plenty. Searching for dinner? Grab a plastic stool and join the family next door selling out of their kitchen-come-home. When booking this trip we were expecting something a little similar to Thailand but instantly, as you can now imagine, Bangkok this certainly is not…. and at this point I’m not too sure how I feel about that…
Onwards and upwards (literally) as we headed off in search for a nice bar for a bite and some beer. Caps N’ Taps was our first port of call, providing balcony views, live music and some cold, cold, beers. I highly recommend this joint and it provided the perfect springboard to some more drinking down the road. It can’t be a late night however as tomorrow we’re off to the sexy Halong Bay for a 2 day, 1 night luxury boat trip. I implore everybody visiting Hanoi to make the 2 hour journey to Halong Bay and take advantage of a boat trip for a night or 2. It is a highly popular excursion and rightly so. I’m leaving this subject right there as Halong Bay deserves its very own post (coming soon!).
Fast forwarding past our Halong Bay trip and we’re back in the Old Quarter for what is now our third day in Vietnam. We’re slightly more accustomed to the food, the people and their culture after spending a few days on a boat with a good, social crew and the chit-chat that we’d had with the many Vietnamese people we’d met along the way. Back in Hanoi and we’re all set for a fancy rooftop meal. Suits and boots. A smart night out that went wrong. A night that started with good food and conversation at a restaurant overlooking the entire city and a night that ended with me getting reacquainted with said food and making good friends with the toilet bowl following a devious detour in our plans this night….. but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
If you’re in Hanoi and fancy treating yourself to a good meal then look no further than Skyline Hanoi situated on the top floor of the Tirant Hotel. A beautiful dining environment, stunning views and great food will greet you on top of this otherwise quiet, looking hotel. This hotel is frequented by a trendy, younger Asian crowd than we’d experienced elsewhere. Clearly the clientele here have a little more disposable income than the people they left down below. That being said, a good 2 course meal and drinks shouldn’t set you back any more than £20 per person. Whilst up here we met an English chap, working in Hanoi proclaiming it to be his favourite city in the world. Again, we’re still undecided on this front… Up so high in the sky (by Hanoi standards) we spotted a bright, lively road in the distance as we were departing from our delicious meal. I asked a waiter if this was a night market and he looked confused and said no and that he wasn’t too sure what it was. Like moths to a flame we searched for this colourful alley and were excited by the atmosphere that greeted us when we found it. Ta Hien, or Beer Street as it is often known. Aka Backpacker Nirvana. A crowded, narrow street with bar after bar of cheap liquor, loud music and boozy travelers. We were lured into 1900 Le Theatre, an atmospheric, westernised nightclub with a relaxed, open door policy, thumping music and top notch drinks service. What started as a fancy meal soon descended into anarchy as we bounced from the DJ booth to the bar (and back again) several times; tanking B52s, Budweisers and White Russians like they were going out of fashion. Our stuffy Britshness had disappeared and our were reservations cast aside; we had an absolutely blinding night.
Back to Hotel Amanda and all was well. We were full of glee as we hit the sack. That is when the room started spinning. If you’re not one for drunken stories I’ll spare the details but I’ll leave you with this tip- do not eat noodles if you intend on having a heavy night drinking. As you wrap them around your fork you don’t realise how long they are until you’re pulling them out of your sick filled throat at 3am in the morning. Nice. Did I say too much?
Swiftly moving on… we paid the price for our heavy night by spending the entirety of the next day in bed. This was partly due to fatigue and jet-lag, partly as we’re not as young as we once were and partly as we were not completely in love with Hanoi anyway. Its not that it isn’t a great city, it is. But not for us. Its just not what we were expecting, I suppose; its a little older, a little more run down, a little more 3rd world and a little more tired. There isn’t an abundance of tourist attractions and the food options are perhaps a little limited. This day was reserved for sightseeing but walking to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in 32 degree heat or walking to a park to see a bridge didn’t really appeal. Our cultural intake for the day was limited to a trip to the Water Puppet Show which was, frankly, bizarre. It felt a bit like an acid trip. I wouldn’t really recommend this either and it kind of summed up Hanoi for us. A bit wild, a bit confusing, a bit repetitive and a bit over-hyped. Sure it was great for a night out but the day times here lacked. With short stays of 3-4 nights there is also no point in spending on a luxury hotel as the chances are you’ll be away in Halong Bay for a few of these nights anyway. Admittedly we spent all our time in the Old Quarter rather than the newer parts of town with the flash cars and government offices- but we were among the real people and experiencing new things out of our usual comfort zones, perhaps.
If anything, Hanoi was an eye-opener. We had some good nights but some long days. It was unexpected but still a great way to start our Vietnam trip because from here the only way was up. And, indeed, up it went. Next stop, the beautifully quaint city of Hoi An.
Carl from the future speaking here: Now that I’m back perhaps you’d like to check out what happened next, or indeed what happened before…. The following blogs are from my Upside Down Heart Tour; click until yours is content!
WITH THANKS TO:
Nam-ho Park (MAIN IMAGE)
Have you been to Hanoi or are you planning on visiting? What did we miss out on during our final, hungover day? Ever been dissapointed or surprised when you visited a new city? Let me know in the comments section at the bottom.