Hanoi City, Vietnam
Flew from Da Nang (nearest airport from Hoi An) to Hanoi on Jetstar again. The plane was full as before. Flight was 1.5hrs and uneventful; arriving at about 6PM, sundown time. Went to the Tourist Info desk and asked for a taxi; the lady there took one look at our bags and said $30. But had read on the inflight magazine that taxi’s into town should not cost more than about $18.
Decided to go outside and found some smart uniformed women handling taxis and a clear sign for taxis for 380,000 dong to the city ($18). So took one minivan; driver knew no English, so gave him the hotel address and he drove us thru the rainy streets of Hanoi. It was now dark, and it rained the whole way. The driver was pretty aggressive, and I assume it is necessary to be aggressive to get anywhere in the Hanoi traffic with plenty of motorcycles like in Saigon.
The driver stopped at the hotel address we had given him (he showed me the address on the building), but this was a commercial building in a busy area, and was locked/closed. Not a hotel. Started getting worried about what to do, when a lady came over and knocked on the minivan window and told the driver to go around the corner, where the hotel had moved to (without informing Agoda.com).
Phew. This is Asia, have to go with the flow. Got situated in the hotel (reasonable 2 star hotel (Hanoi View 2 hotel) for $25/night incl breakfast, booked on Agoda.com) and went off for dinner at a very popular local restaurant which was full with locals mostly and some foreigners. Good food. The Hanoi beer was OK, but I think I will stick to Tiger beer from now on.
Street food in Hanoi was also very good; we had BBQ beef (Shish kebabs), grilled salmon, grilled vegetables (mushrooms, corn, aubergine etc) and beer for 132,000 Dong or $6.50 for dinner one night.
The hotel was located in the Old Qtr, in a small street. Starting at 6AM, the whole street outside the hotel turned into an open air vegetable, seafood, meat and fruit market. People on motorcycles would ride into the street, stop at a street vendor, and shop for their vegetables etc right from their motorbikes.
The meat vendors also had dog meat; decided not to publish the picture of that. If you want to see this, please email me and I will send to you privately. Apparently, the dog eating started in North Vietnam during the Vietnam war, as the north was very poor, and so to survive, they had to eat what they could get their hands on. You got to do what you go to do.
Market outside hotel
Asked about Ha Long Bay (one of the 7 natural wonders of the world) tours at the hotel, and they informed us that all the next day’s tours (that they handle) were closed. So spent Friday in Hanoi.
Hanoi is a large city, but it is different from Saigon in that it has very large street/boulevards that are all tree lined with large trees. So it is felt much more spacious and open after Saigon. Very clean as it is the Capital and has many Govt buildings that all have the Vietnamese red flag with gold star flying, and guards outside.
All buildings in general were in good shape. See pics to get an idea. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, One Pillar Pagoda and Presidential Palace are all located close to each other, and were close to the hotel so got some good walking. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is closed on Fridays and Mondays, so will have to skip that. Grand place, got some pics from the outside. The Presidential Palace was nice and grand.
The buildings on the streets, by contrast were very narrow (some were only 1 room wide) and tall. See pics. Found out that the reason was that the property taxes are based upon the street frontage the building has. So the people adapted with narrow buildings, but deep and tall. Stairs are usually in the back of the building.
Visited the Temple of literature that was dedicated to Confucius (Who was from South China that used to be part of Vietnam many years ago). This was a place of higher learning started in 1076 AD (National University) and was churning medical doctors and philosophers, poets etc; all learning was based on Confucius thinking. Interesting place, with interesting people there.
In general, found that hardly any people in Hanoi speak English. However, they are friendly and willing to help with directions etc when asked. Many of the women riding motorcycles, completely covered themselves with clothing, presumably to reduce sun exposure.
Lots of motorcycles everywhere, but less than in Saigon, as Saigon has 8 million motorcycles for a population of 12 million people. Hanoi has 4 million motorcycles, for a population of 7 million. Cost of motorcycles/scooters varies between $2k (Japanese) to $1k (Vietnamese made) to $400 (Chinese). Cars have 250% import duty.
The Old Qtr of Hanoi is the busy bustling area where all commerce takes place in little streets and gulley’s, with hundreds of little shops carrying tons of merchandize. Different areas of the old Qtr specialized in different trades e.g. all shoe vendors were all in one area. There were areas for shoes, silversmiths, florists, clothing, silk material, etc etc. Found good food and cold, sweet coconut water for $1.
Also found the Al Noor Mosque. For those that cannot get enough shopping during the day, there is a night market along one long street that goes north-south through the center of the Old Qtr that was road blocked to cars and motorcycles. This was very busy indeed, mostly with locals.
Asked about where we could get fresh beer (microbrewery), and were told to go down one particular street to get “Bia Hoi” or fresh beer. Went there and found the place to be very busy and crowded. Just then, the police arrive just then in 2 small trucks, and started confiscating the small plastic tables, chairs and steel kegs of whoever they could catch selling Bia Hoi.
Most of the seller of Bia Hoi had disappeared by this time; however, a few unfortunate vendors could not escape in time and had their stuff confiscated. Apparently, selling Bia Hoi is not legal and hence the police sweeps. Within less than 10 mins after the cops had departed, most of the Bia Hoi vendors came back and set up their stalls on the sidewalks. Sat down and had several Bia Hoi’s and peanuts. In Hanoi, the fresh beer was more expensive than in Saigon or Hoi An; it was 5,000 Dong in Hanoi (25 cents ); good tasting beer.
Water puppet theater is supposed to be good here, but when we got there, it was sold out (plenty of foreigner tourists milling around waiting for opening time).
Next day, went off to Ha Long Bay for an overnight cruise on a junk-like boat.