After Hue, I headed to the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi. I took a sleeper bus to get there and, once again, arrived safely and in a timely fashion. The scariest part of the journey was getting off the bus in Hanoi as I was treated rather like a good cut of beef at a steak restaurant. The moto and taxi drivers all but steal your bag in order to try and get you into/onto their vehicle and paying their inflated price. I had been in touch with my hostel before my arrival and arranged to be collected from the bus stop so I was able to confidently refuse all services. If you haven’t prearranged pick up, haggle hard.
I stayed at the Street Backpackers Hostel on Ly Quoc Su street in Hanoi. I was very pleased with my stay. The hostel is able to book you almost every kind of trip or travel you might desire at, what my research showed to be, reasonable prices. They also provide breakfast for you between 7-10am and free beer or rice wine between 8-9pm. Their laundry service is a competitive rate and you are in a good location. Additional to this, the owner is simply lovely. I booked a trip and all my transport through Street Backpackers and was very pleased with everything. I would recommend them for not only board but also travel agent services.
I didn’t see or do a great deal in Hanoi City because I was beginning to feel like I was at learning capacity. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything at all though.
I visited the Temple of Literature. It’s set in a series of pretty courtyards.
There’s a lot of turtles guarding scripture.
In total I remember three courtyards. The prettiest was the first and the last contained the most interesting stuff. The last courtyard contains a temple, a structure housing a big bell and a structure housing this gigantic drum.
The temple building in the last courtyard is a kind of small museum but it’s all in Vietnamese so no real value for an English only speaker in there. The courtyard is good to just sit in if you can find some shade, it gets pretty hot walking around.
Apart from seeing the temple, I also saw the smallest frog. He was miniscule (smaller than my thumbnail) but I was too nervous to slide anything into the shot for scale incase he hopped off.
I visited the Women’s museum too. It looks at the traditions, ceremonies and roles of Vietnamese women through time. It covers marriage, birth, social roles, working roles and women at war. It is all very interesting. Admission to the museum is 30000 dong (15000 for students) and I think it’s completely worth it as you really do come away with a solid appreciation of just how different each tribe is from one another and also how different life for a Vietnamese woman is compared with the life of an English woman. You see examples of cooking, everyday objects, crafting skills and details of traditional ceremonies for weddings and births. The sections on on women at war are incredibly powerful. After I had been through the war section, I was left in no doubt as to why Vietnam has successfully repelled invasion after invasion over the years. It’s because Vietnamese women are as proud, tenacious and capable as the men and the men know it. Vietnamese women are not shut away like precious porcelain in times of struggle, they’re out doing every bit as much fighting as the men. On the top floor they have an excellent display of fashion and jewellery items. It’s really a great little museum. Try and find time to go.
A good free activity in Hanoi is to have a slow stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s a pretty sight with a very isolated island in the centre.
There’s a temple you can visit set on the lake but I was temple’d out so I didn’t go in. I just took a photo of it instead.
There’s plenty of eating and drinking places around the lake so you can take your time and enjoy the lake one side and the crazy moto traffic the other.
The trip I booked through my hostel was a two day, one night Halong Bay tour. I paid $45 (USD), was fed, was taken from Hanoi City to Halong Bay and slept on the boat (the Halong Wonder). My $45 also included kayaking and entrance to a lit up cave which was pretty but you could tell had been heavily modified for tourism.
The cave took on a more gimmicky feel than I was happy to endure so I elbowed past the other tourists and got out as quick as I could really.
The view outside was markedly better anyway.
After the cave and kayaking, the boat chugged slowly through the bay until sunset. At sunset, we admired the view from the deck and toasted our luck with too much booze.
The Halong Wonder was definitely the party boat that evening. All other boats had shut off their karaoke at about midnight but we ploughed through. Come morning, the view hurt my head.
I had a fabulous time in both Hanoi and Halong bay. I would highly suggest at least 1 night in Halong Bay as opposed to a day trip. It’s worth the extra money, trust me.