-The chaos that is Hanoi hit us like a truck as we arrived in Vietnam’s capital.
Although we were pretty stressed about getting into Vietnam with our online visas, we actually had no trouble at all! It was definitely worth me printing off proof of our onward transport out of Vietnam (it just made life easier at check-in), but other than that showing the visas we had sorted a couple of weeks earlier online was absolutely fine!
Landing safely in Hanoi after a 1hr flight (Bangkok Airways) from Chiang Mai, the stunning views that I had glimpsed on our descent left me absolutely buzzing to hit the city! We had a minor hiccup in that our pre-arranged taxi was nowhere to be found; luckily, an information booth allowed us to make one phone call to our hostel, and we were soon on our way.
Nothing could have prepared us for the outright chaos of the Hanoi roads. Weaving through lanes, no seat belts, using a phone, scooters driving literally anywhere they wanted- our journey ticked every box! We were therefore incredibly relieved to arrive safely at Flipside hostel and be met with a cold beer; the chilled-out atmosphere and amazing staff (the lovely Eoin from Ireland gave us a warm welcome) made an immediate positive impression on us, as did the clean, comfortable dorm beds (which all have a privacy curtain, plug socket, light and storage space).
We decided to explore Hanoi while getting lunch, as well as changing some money into VND (the currency is MAD- £1=30,000 dong! We did learn pretty quickly, though, that everyone basically just ignores the 1000- £1= 30K- which makes everything easier).
Just as we realised the chaotic scooters are actually all moving really slowly, Hanoi may initially appear to be an absolute maze, but is in actual fact highly organised and easy to navigate (the streets are clearly named and numbered). We did, however, still have difficulties finding somewhere to eat; my travelling companion was very anxious about food poisoning, to the point that we spent around an hour wandering around aimlessly…
I persuaded my friend that our best bet was to go wherever was busy (a guiding philosophy that I think is, as they go, pretty good when it comes to foreign food). Our first experience of Vietnamese food was ‘Bun Cha’; consisting of rice noodles, salad leaves, some kind of broth and pieces of grilled pork, we soon learnt that it was a DIY operation, using chopsticks to serve yourself from the main plates into our little bowls.
Struggling as we sat amongst the fumes and oppressive heat of a Hanoi Street, oh how I missed the Pad Thai of sleepy Chiang Mai!! In hindsight, my limited appetite definitely didn’t make the most of the popular ‘Bun Cha’. However, for 75K dong (just over £2), we could hardly complain!!
Squeezing in a cold shower (I was literally dripping with sweat minutes after leaving the hostel), we then headed to Hoàn Kiem Lake (which is relatively easy to find, in basically a straight line from Flipside hostel). It was nice to get at least a semblance of fresh air coming off the lake as well as some easy entertainment; a couple of students came up to us and asked if they could practise their English with us?! This seemed a bit weird to us, but the girls were really sweet (one of them recommended that I try egg coffee, which again sounded a bit strange…) and generally harmless.
Hanoi is absolutely nuts. What I liked most was that it was EXACTLY how I had imagined a Vietnamese city; with scooters everywhere, a multitude of electrical cables crossing the sky like scars, thick fumes, women carrying baskets full of fruit to sell on the streets, it provides a constant bombardment of the senses!
My night took an unexpected turn, as my travelling companion explained to me how much she was hating South-East Asia. I had also found Hanoi a bit of a shock to the system, but she said it was making her physically sick- after we ordered some food, she left me alone in the rooftop bar to go to bed at 8pm?!
I decided that I had two options- either go to bed or try to make the most of my evening. Remembering the philosophy of one of my closest friends PG, “You don’t remember the nights you got lots of sleep”, I opted for the latter. Rather sheepishly approaching a group of four girls at the bar, explaining my situation and asking to sit with them, I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and sweet they were.
Part of the G Adventures Indochina tour, I loved hearing all of their adventures, and took them up on their offer to spend the evening out in Hanoi with them.
We went back down to the lake, where we saw a HUGE crowd watching some Vietnamese boy band perform on a temporary stage space. We then ordered some food and drinks in a nearby restaurant called “Flower”- it transpired that this was apparently the restaurant’s last day of business; almost nothing was in stock, and the waitress genuinely couldn’t have cared less! Still, 2 vodka lemonades and a bottle of water for the equivalent of £1 cannot be knocked!
Hitting what seemed to be Hanoi’s ‘Pub Street’, we pushed our way from a PACKED Street into an even busier tiny little bar! Seated on tiny plastic chairs outside the bar, we soaked up the atmosphere of night-time Hanoi; I think this was a turning point in me falling in love with the city.
Returning to Flipside for a few more drinks before going to bed, I was extremely grateful to the group that let me tag along for the evening! (I was also really proud of myself for being brave and turning my night around… thanks PG 😉 )