Vietnam was on my travel bucket list for so long that I couldn’t believe we were finally going! Our month-long visit started in Hanoi, a city that I’d heard great things about and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. However, contrary to what I expected, I didn’t instantly fall in love with Hanoi. In fact, after coming from laid-back Chiang Mai, it felt like a huge let down. As we spent more time there, it did start to grow on me but I completely understand its reputation as a city that divides opinion.
Rather than gloss over my initial reservations, I’m going to talk about the good and the bad of Hanoi. It’s a really interesting city with tons of history but this can quickly overflow into chaos – particularly on the roads! Let’s get the negatives out of the way first but please do stick around, the absolute gems that follow are completely worth experiencing all the bad parts.
Things that I hated about Hanoi
While we were generally pretty savvy, we did encounter a couple of scams in Hanoi. The most ingenious was the guy who grabbed my companion’s foot – as we were walking – and started talking at speed about his sandals. In the second we’d paused, the guy removed his sandal, started sewing and cleaning it! Despite us repeating over and over that we wouldn’t pay, he still looked outraged when we handed him 5,000 dong purely to make made a speedy getaway. We had also read about cabs with rigged meters and while we were super careful, we still managed to get a dodgy one. His meter was jumping up incredibly fast and he even kept driving when we asked him to pull over! I wouldn’t say that it ruined the experience but it definitely isn’t the way to get tourists going back.
We had already spent a month in Asia when we arrived in Vietnam and I totally thought I had the whole dodging motorbikes thing completely down. But the traffic in Hanoi is a completely different kettle of fish. The pollution fumes are pretty bad and I learned to stay on guard constantly for bikes driving down the pavements. While you do become accustomed to the crazy roads, it sometimes tainted my view of Hanoi.
Choosing your location
I wanted to add this in, not because it was a fault with Hanoi, but more a word of warning. Stay in Old Quarter near Hồ Hoàn Kiếm and you’ll be right in the middle of the action. However, our first Airbnb was around a half hour walk from here and it just made things a little more difficult. We had to cross a horribly busy main road to get to any attractions and it was tough to find anywhere to eat nearby. When we moved to Hanoi Asia Guest House, I started to like Hanoi a lot more.
Things that I loved about Hanoi
It’s got character
Vietnamese cities may not be classically beautiful but Hanoi has so much character that it’s impossible not to appreciate the buildings around the Old Quarter. It felt like we could explore for weeks without really scratching the surface of Hanoi.
The food in Hanoi is great – in fact, the whole of Vietnam was possibly my favourite for finding food. It was incredibly easy to find great vegetarian places serving the most convincing mock meats I’ve ever had. We also found a delicious veggie restaurant serving BBQ ‘pork’ skewers and my favourite Banh Mi stand in Vietnam, Banh Mi 25. For 20,000 (less than £1), we got a baguette filled with cucumber, carrots and marinated tofu. We definitely ate our way around Hanoi!
There’s so much to see
If there’s one thing that I really loved about Hanoi, it’s that there’s so much to see and do. Vietnamese history is incredibly fascinating and from Hoa Lo Prison to the War Remnants Museum, you can learn so much about what Vietnam has been through in the last 100 years alone. Watching a traditional water puppet theatre show is fun or for something really out there, you can see the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh. Yep, we queued for hours to go into the Mausoleum to see the man himself. It’s not for everyone but it’s certainly a USP for Hanoi.
There’s a Harry Potter themed cafe
Of all the places that you’d expect to have a Harry Potter themed cafe, Vietnam is probably at the bottom of the list. So when I was surprised with a visit to ‘Always’ on our first night in Vietnam, the superfan inside me was thrilled! A Vietnamese-Potter lookalike sold us Butterbeer in the merchandise-filled cafe as I gaped at everything in there. It was pumping out some strange dance music that was a little at odds with our magical surroundings though.
I can’t wait to write more about my trip to Vietnam so follow my social media to keep up with my latest posts! If you’ve ever been to Hanoi, did you love it or hate it?
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