How’s Hanoi?

Welcome to Hanoi
Welcome to Hanoi

I finally left the chill of almost winter in Tokyo for the slightly less chilly damp winter of Hanoi.

I had a long flight on Korean Airlines with a two-hour layover in the enormous mall they call Incheon Airport. Fortunately, I arrived at Narita Airport two hours early so I could enjoy the United Club, which was far superior to any airport lounge in the US. I was treated to comfortable seats, decent wifi, and a nice selection of food and self-serve drinks–there was sushi, cappuccino, wine, beer, liquor, and sake. I was disappointed that I had to go board my flight. The airport has showers, hourly beds, and even massages–I could actually live in that airport.

Anyway, I arrived in Hanoi at almost 10 pm. I was worried about my visa–I ordered a visa on arrival online and wasn’t sure how it worked because I had never heard of such a process. The website charged $60 for an “approval letter,” which I had to print from my email. I then went to the visa on arrival line, handed over one passport photo and $95 for a three-month, multiple-entry visa, and I was done. More shocking was that people working at customs and immigration in the airport actually smiled.

This is not where I bought dinner
This is not where I bought dinner

I paid about $20 for a taxi to take me to the Old Quarter of Hanoi and my hotel that I had booked the previous week. I read reviews online that claimed Kangaroo Hostel was worth staying at. Obviously, I was misinformed. I arrived to find two young women complaining that they had no place to stay that night because the hostel didn’t have a room. They also didn’t keep my room, despite my message stating that I was arriving late. The reason was that the employee had “friends” who came to stay. He also said his “friend” had another hotel nearby. I refused his offer of riding a motorbike and demanded he pay for a taxi to take me the whole two or three blocks to the other hotel.

I was taken to Camellia Hotel. This place was a dump. It looked like they placed two double beds next to each other and gave it some new sheets. Too bad the rest of the room looked like it was last cleaned and maintained in 1974. I was told there was wifi, which there was a weak signal. I was also told there would be breakfast; there wasn’t. I spent that late Saturday night walking the area in search of a new hotel. Then Camellia closed the shutters over the front door when I returned from my walk, forcing me to bang on it until they opened for me.

Fortunately, I found Hanoi Graceful Hotel around the corner. So far, the staff here has been amazingly accommodating–I’ve had to make a few requests as I’m working out of the room during the week. They even gave me a Vietnamese coffee filter for the small cups in my room (I have a single-cup coffee maker, but it’s too big for these cups).

Anyone up for some claustrophobic shopping at Dong Xuan?
Anyone up for some claustrophobic shopping at Dong Xuan?

After that rocky start with the hotels, I had to explore some of the city on a rainy Sunday (really, why does it rain wherever I go? I should start selling my services to drought-prone regions). I first headed out to the Dong Xuan Market. Along the way, I found Christmas Street–almost every store sold some sort of Christmas decorations. I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo of the guy on a motorbike with a Christmas tree upright on the back. I also heard a guy on the back of another motorbike singing a Christmas song.

Almost every shop on this street is selling decorations for Christmas
Almost every shop on this street is selling decorations for Christmas

It has taken time to get used to the traffic in Hanoi–with all the motorbikes and cars, and the lack of traffic laws and/or enforcement, it can be harrowing to cross the street. It’s not unlike crossing the streets of Shenzhen, but there are a lot more motorbikes (of course, in most cities in China, motorbikes are illegal). After two months in the quiet organization of Tokyo, this is quite a shock–cars in Tokyo would stop on the opposite side of the street for me to cross at intersections. I’m sure I’ll get used to the traffic and noise, but it will take some time.

hanoi-streetAs for food, I’m still trying to figure out where to go to eat. I haven’t felt the desire to try the nicer, more expensive restaurants, but there isn’t much in between that and greasy spoons and street food. I’ve noticed that, for the most part, each street around here serves one type of food, and I didn’t really study all the different foods of Vietnam, which is why I’m usually lost when seeking a meal. I’ve also been told that there aren’t many good restaurants right near my hotel. However, I did find an open-air restaurant down the street that serves draught beer for about 38 cents.

Another problem I’m having with the food is that a lot of Vietnamese food is noodles. I ate a lot of noodles in Japan as well. After two months of that, I’m kind of tired of eating noodles.

Despite some minor problems, Hanoi has been pretty cool. The people are friendly and some of the architecture is rather interesting. I should enjoy my time here.

Have you been to Hanoi? What was your impression of the city?

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