Do you want to spend time in Hanoi Vietnam?
In February 2014 I spent a few days in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was the first stop of many on a South East Asia trip with some friends of mine.
For those of you who don’t know, Hanoi is the Capital of Vietnam and it is the second most populated area in the country. Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954 and then as the capital of North Vietnam until the end of the Vietnam war in 1976 where it became the capital of a newly united Vietnam.
February is actually one of the colder months in Hanoi but the average low is still 14C and the average highs are 21C. So we were expecting nice weather, especially compared to the freezing cold of February in Canada that we were used to. Unfortunately I don’t think it came above 15C at the peak of the day for most of the time we were in the city.
Other than the less than stellar weather, Hanoi was an incredible change from the usual vacations I’m used to. As soon as we were on the shuttle from the airport to the city center, it was an incredible eye opener. I haven’t spent much time outside of North America and the trips that I had gone on were in Europe which is highly developed and prosperous. Vietnam is not highly developed, the conditions people lived in on the route from the airport will make you very thankful for the opportunities you have in life.
The streets of Hanoi
The first day in Hanoi we signed up for a walking tour, which I’d recommend in any city you’re visiting. You’ll get a tour of the area in which you’re staying so you’ll be more familiar with getting around and hopefully won’t get lost trying to get back. You also have a chance to ask as many questions as you want with a local or at least someone who is very familiar with the way things work in that city.
In Hanoi, we were lucky to have a local guide show us around. Probably the most important thing we learned on the walking tour was how to cross the roads. Now I know that sounds like a very dumb thing to learn, but if you’ve ever been to a city where the traffic is 95% scooters, you’ll know what I mean. The streets of Hanoi are packed all day with scooters. There was every type of scooter and combination of people and cargo on them; from one person on a scooter to a whole family or a cargo load that was meant for a truck. Those pictures you see online aren’t one time occurrences; they’re everyday life somewhere else.
As it turns out, the proper way to cross the street in a sea of scooters in Vietnam is to just walk out at a steady pace. You don’t wait for people to stop and let you cross at the crosswalk because that will never happen. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to a rock in a stream. When you put a rock in flowing water, the water just moves around it, no matter where you put it. The scooters will just drive by you as long as you walk at a navigable pace. If you’re stopping and starting trying to dodge the scooters, they won’t know where you’re going but if you just walk at a steady pace, they’ll time it so they just miss you and no one needs to slow down. It’s extremely nerve racking at first, but once you get used to it, it’s just like crossing the street anywhere else.
The Vietnam Military History Museum
One of my favorite parts of Hanoi was definitely the Vietnam Military History Museum. Since I really didn’t know much about the Vietnam war, this was a very interesting experience. Now of course the view on the war is extremely skewed in favor of the Vietnamese, but that’s to be expected because they won the war and this is real life and not a Hollywood film (which embarrassingly enough was pretty much my only insight into the war previous to this trip, so basically I knew it happened and that’s it).
In the courtyard of the museum there were a lot of old US military vehicles that were captured or left behind when the US pulled out of Vietnam. It’s interesting to see all of these decommissioned vehicles and ordinance up close. The most impressive piece there was actually the tail section of a B52 bomber. The Vietnamese like to talk up their accomplishments of shooting down several B52s throughout the war. There is at least one other monument/display of B52 wreckage in Hanoi and several mentions of them shooting down 31 of them throughout the war.
Through the museum were dozens of displays on how the Vietnamese fought against the American armies. It’s really kind of mind blowing that the superpower that is the US military was ineffective at defeating the North Vietnamese. Some of the displays shed some insight on the Vietnamese’s guerrilla warfare tactics and others show the weapons that were used in some of the villages in some of the smaller battles.
Probably my favorite part of the museum and I know this might sound bad, but I can’t help but find it entertaining, are the translations or possibly exaggerations on the displays. I’ll post a few of them below but there’s everything from calling a rocket propelled grenade a machine gun to stating the exact number of bullets a group of women from a village captured using a sickle (500 for those of you wondering, they also killed 4 enemies and captured their 4 guns, all with a sickle; a small curve knife for cutting grass).
Was it expensive?
No, it definitely was not expensive. We ended up staying in a decent hostel that had a room with three beds, so it worked out well since it was just the three of us we didn’t have to worry about other people being around our stuff. The hostel ended up costing $7 USD per night and included wifi and breakfast. The bar and food services in the hostel were also extremely cheap. Alcoholic drinks were only a dollar or two depending on what you bought.
The hostel even had a travel agent in house to arrange for trips to Ha Long Bay, Hue or other cities and sites in the area. These trips were reasonably priced but better deals could be found at small travel agents. Being new to travelling in South East Asia, we stuck with booking through the hostel for the extra comfort of knowing they weren’t going to pack up a desk and disappear the next day.
Outside of our hostel food and drinks could be found anywhere from $1-2 up to some of the nicer chain restaurants that were around where meals cost around $10-15. The first time we ate outside of the hostel we tried one of the chain restaurants and for the price; it was not worth going there over the smaller places. Yes it looked nicer inside but the food difference was negligible and it was 10x the price.
Overall Vietnam was incredibly cheap once you got there but being an obvious foreigner you were always asked for money and to buy things everywhere you walked. Literally they would try to sell you anything anywhere. Some vendors were aggressive in trying to get you to buy their goods, but others waited for you to approach them. Overall it’s more aggressive than a lot of North American shops but not as aggressive as Thailand.
Have you ever been to Hanoi or other parts of Vietnam?