Arriving in Vietnam – Hanoi

On New Years Day (2018) we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam to start our intense travel adventure once more. We had had time to relax in Hong Kong and knew that flying into Hanoi, a notoriously busy city was going to take some adjusting to.

Straight away we were confronted with a different culture. We had to get a shuttle bus to our hostel from the airport and probably spent 10 minutes trying to find it. We even had a bunch of people tell us the shuttle bus didn’t exist anymore which we knew wasn’t true as the email from our hostel told us about it! Maybe they generally thought it didn’t exist but a bit of me thinks it was to make sure we didn’t give a rival business any money!

Eventually we managed to get on the shuttle bus and arrive at our hostel. Only after being driven around the airport twice and changed to a different shuttle bus! It was 2:30pm when we landed and we didn’t arrive at our hostel until 6pm with a couple of hours of that just sitting on the bus waiting to leave the airport terminal! Hanoi is known for a scam run by the taxi companies where they take you to a different hotel or hostel to the one you’ve asked to go to and tell you that the one you booked has been closed, knocked down or it just doesn’t exist at all. There is an even crazier scam where they completely replicate the hotel so that the name and appearance is the same and then charge you way more for everything before you even know it’s happened!

Our hostel (Central Backpackers Hostel – Old Quarter) was nice. It was clean and had enough space in the rooms which is all you can really ask for. It also offered free breakfast and free beer between 7-8pm so that was definitely a bonus! We went for a few beers on the rooftop bar of the hostel before we ventured out in search of our evening meal. After walking around a few of the streets in the old town where we were staying, we decided on a small restaurant that spilled out onto the street. Niall got chicken rice and I got noodle soup and we both really liked our meals – so far, Vietnam was doing alright! It wasn’t a late one for us after having very little sleep from New Years Eve but we were looking forward to having a good look around Hanoi the next day.

On our first full day in Vietnam, we had our free breakfast at the hostel and then headed out to explore Hanoi. The weather wasn’t great but we didn’t let that stop us and enjoying walking around the busy streets full of people selling fruit, flowers and street food and tonnes of motorbikes.

We walked and talk, just wondering around the city for a bit to soak it all up. We had a few things we wanted to see while we were on Hanoi but as we started to steer ourselves towards these tourist attractions, it started to rain. This wasn’t a real issue at first as it was only spitting lightly but the longer we walked, the heavier the rain got and as we were constantly walking in it, we were getting quite wet!

We walked to Lenin Park (a homage to their communist ways!) and to Hoan Kiem lake which has a red bridge and fountains leading to a temple in the middle of the lake. We didn’t go in here as we wanted to get out of the rain.

We didn’t really know where we were going but I guess seeing as we weren’t specifically trying to find anywhere you couldn’t really call it getting lost. We stumbled across a street with a railway running through it which was pretty cool and saw a few people posing on the tracks for their perfect picture, even in the rain – we probably ruined a bunch of those shots when we were looking around! It was getting a bit miserable and cold so we had some lunch and then headed back to the hostel to chill and have a look into the next leg of our journey.

For tea, we went to a random restaurant and Niall has some beef noodles that, unfortunately, were a bit bland whilst I had some spring rolls which I really enjoyed. We were then able to enjoy our free beer at the hostel but the weather was getting worse so we didn’t bother venturing out for the night.

Our hostel offered a free walking tour every day from 10am so, after our first day ending up with a bit of aimless wandering, we thought we’d take them up on the offer. Karen was our tour guide and we thought she was pretty good!

Our first stop was Yêu câu Su pagoda which was built in 1131. The temple was named after a monk who was able to heal people. He has healed the King so after the monk died the King had the pagoda built so that he would honour and worship him.

Next we headed to St Joseph’s Cathedral which is a catholic cathedral built to mirror Notre Dame in France in 1886. It’s the biggest church in Vietnam and runs all of the catholic churches from Danang and above (so around half the country). It hosts around six or seven masses a day and sometimes they need to have screens outside the church because the crowds are so large they spill out of the church! I can’t imagine what it was like for Christmas!

We liked this church and it’s definitely a strange site when you’re walking through the small, crowded little streets.

We headed black to Hoan Kiem Lake that we had visited the day before. The lake is also known as Turtle Lake and the story goes that a long time ago, Vietnam was at war with China and the King of Vietnam went out onto the lake and found a sheet of metal in the lake so forged it into a sword. Vietnam ended up winning the war despite being the underdog and so the King went back out onto the lake. Whilst he was out there, a giant turtle god who lived in the lake asked for the sword back. The king obliged and the sword hasn’t been found since. There are giant turtle species that are from the lake but there are only two left in the world and the male is now too old to breed so this species is going to go extinct which is a shame! The people made a ‘turtle tower’ in the lake to honour the turtle god that helped their country and they have also preserved old giant turtles after they die out of respect.

Just along from the lake is the statue of Ly Thai To who is the founder of Hanoi. He moved the capital of Vietnam to Hanoi to allow for expansion as the previous capital had been in Ninh Binh which, although was strategically excellent for defensive purposes, didn’t allow for growth which was needed. In 2010, Hanoi celebrated it’s 1000th year anniversary which is pretty cool!

Before heading to a large market called Dong Xuan, we stopped off to try the famous Hanoi Egg Coffee. This is made from coffee, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and egg. The coffee sits at the bottom of the glass and then the mixture of other ingredients sits ontop in a gooey, tasty mess. It’s very nice even when the coffee is mixed in properly (me and Niall aren’t big coffee fans normally). Cafe Giang invented this drink which can now be found in a lot of places around Hanoi so it was great going to the founding place – something we wouldn’t have known about or tried had we not been on the tour!

After getting some iced tea and rest back at the hostel, as well as having a look at the rooftop view ( I hadn’t really looked at the view properly in daytime) we headed back out for more exploring. We stumbled across Bach Ma Temple which was a nice little temple just on the street and almost looked like a house from the outside! There was lots of gold detail inside from statutes to pictures on the wall and was nice to pop our heads round and have a look while we were passing.

We had to get some more of our trip booked and so took our time exploring Hanoi in between planning and booking a couple of buses as well as our Halong Bay Tour. Hanoi was busy and walking around the road took nerve to trust that the bikes and cars wouldn’t hit you as well as showing you hundreds of street vendors selling all sorts of fresh and tasty looking treats. I’m not sure there is anywhere like Hanoi and I’m glad that we were able to experience it for ourselves.

Sending Love x

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