For me, arriving in Vietnam for the first time was a daunting and intimidating experience. There’s lots of backpackers getting their luggage from the carousel and from here most of them will be heading to the old quarter in Hanoi.
Getting Into Hanoi
I had no idea how to get to the city. This is my first solo backpacking trip and this my first city so i have come relatively unprepared. Before I arrived, many people told me that they would only accept US Dollars to get into the city. This is not true. By doing this you will get ripped off as a few dollars is worth so many Vietnamese Dong. They will not want to give you any change. Get Vietnamese money before hand to be prepared.
I first tried to share a taxi with some other backpackers that were loitering but they didn’t want to share (pretty strange). Subsequently, I asked about the buses to the city which is always a cheaper option
Locals directed me to a bus area where a few of us jumped onto a random bus, then we were told to get off randomly and change to another bus. I finally arrive, after the confusion with the money and changing buses. You will instantly see that this city is hectic, buzzing with traffic, noise and people everywhere. You can hear the constant sound of vehicle horns, so much so that after a few days you will find that it becomes a part of your background noise. The streets are crazy, and crossing the road is a new experience for any tourist here. Waiting will get you nowhere. You need to simply walk out and bikes will swerve around you. It’s the cars that you need to watch out for, as they aren’t so agile to be able to dodge you.
Hanoi Downtown Backpackers
Hanoi has so many different accommodation options. And for the backpacker, there is no shortage of hostels to pick from. Before I left England, I booked into Downtown Backpackers. It looked pretty modern and high-spec on the Hostel World site and I think it was around $7.50 a night which is around average. After staying a couple of nights, it wasn’t my favourite hostel I’ve ever stayed in. If you are looking for parties every night, with many like-minded partiers then this is probably the place for you. If you’re not a fan of loud music every night, probably try somewhere else.
I also tried Central backpackers Hostel, in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This was a more basic hostel costing $5 a night, much smaller, without the large bar and common area like Downtown Backpackers. The staff were local people as opposed to other travellers and it was a more relaxed atmosphere. The rooms were basic with the obligatory bad air conditioning.
My advice is always book a hostel for 1, maybe two nights to see if you like it. Perhaps the place is beautiful, but the vibe isn’t for you. In that case you can always change hostel. After all the hostel is the place where you meet people, make friends and can play a big part in your travelling experience. It’s so much more than just a place to rest your head at night. Also in a place like Hanoi, there’s so many to pick from, so you don’t need to worry about being homeless because you haven’t reserved somewhere for your whole duration.
Before coming to Vietnam, I made a week stop in Dubai, The contrast between the two is vast. From modern, towering skyscrapers to old streets lined with food stalls and shops of all kinds. Rarely will you see a modern shop.
Like many developing countries, there are still streets that are industry based, so you may find a street that is just car repair related and others that sell metal related goods.
Take a visit to one of the many coffee shops. Hanoi is famous for it’s coffee and one particular one that i was introduced to whilst staying there was the egg coffee. Yes, it sounds quite disgusting. The combination of eggs and a hot beverage doesn’t sound too appetizing, but i promise you it’s so delicious.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
This prison now turned museum, famously called the “Hanoi Hilton”, held US prisoners of war during Wold War 2. The obvious renovations make it difficult to envisage what it was really like and the true conditions. However, it’s definitely an interesting visit for an hour or so. You are able to take in the ‘hints’ of propaganda, which is present in most Vietnamese museums. Here they show how well they treated their US prisoners with photos showing their prisoners playing basketball with huge smiles.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
Here you can see Ho Chi Minh himself. It is only open till 11am so you’ve got to get up relatively early for this. Last entry at 10:15am. I didn’t realise this and hence why I never entered, just viewed the building from the outside.
The Ho Chi Minh museum gives you a bit more story on the man himself. If you are a fan of museums, perhaps you would have enjoyed it a bit more than me. I found it quite dry and by the end of it, felt like I’d had my quota of culture for the day. Give it a visit if you’re passing by.
Explore Hanoi by walking. A great way to explore the city is by foot where you can walk along train tracks where locals carry out their day to day chores, lining the tracks with their belongings. I was a bit unsure whether the train tracks still operated but a few people told me they did. As sundown approaches I witnessed lots of people exercising, playing badminton in the streets and generally chilling/sleeping. Enjoy Hanoi’s buzz by exploring and soaking up the atmosphere.
If you enjoyed reading my first ever blog post, please hit that share button below!