There are two major cities in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh at the south and Hanoi at the north. We spent about 10 days in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We didn’t intend there to stay that long, but at first we were waiting for Natasha’s mother to come from Russia, and then we were waiting for our visas to get made. We even got a discount in our favourite restaurant where we went almost every day — by the way, you should try it out if you’re ever in Hanoi.
Russian citizens don’t need a Vietnamese visa if they are staying in the country for less than 15 days. If they want to stay longer, they need to make a visa on arrival (for that you need to get a special letter from a tourist firm, available via internet), or make a visa in Vietnam. We didn’t get the letter in time, so we had to make our visa in Hanoi — that took a week. We made our visas in a tourist firm that doesn’t usually make visas — but a girl that worked there asked her friend to help us, so we gave our passports to a total stranger. But if you overcome the feeling that someone is constantly trying to trick you, life gets easier.
Guidebooks say that Hanoi is an Asian Paris. Frankly, for us Hanoi didn’t have that much resemblance with Paris. It is a very authentic and Vietnamese city, and there is not much left from its colonial past — only some architecture in the old city (but it is not exactly european) and tasty white bread, vaguely reminiscent of French baguettes.
In Vietnam narrow multi-storey houses are built right next to each other. There are some old and beautiful buildings in the historical center, but they all have a touch of decay — no matter how hard you try, you can’t imagine that you are strolling through Parisian boulevards. Outside the old city the architecture is not very impressive — it seems that people care little about the external beauty.
There are some problems with the wires in Hanoi: if someone needs to get electricity, they pull the wire from the nearest post by themselves.
The main impression from Hanoi is that everyone is always going somewhere, transporting something, cooking, eating and doing all kinds of other stuff. The feeling of constant motion also occurs because of the crazy traffic on the streets. Motorbikes are the main transport in Vietnam, and there are thousands of them in Hanoi.
Sometimes the policemen regulate the traffic, but it usually gets even worse for the pedestrians.
The sidewalks in the old city are occupied by the motorbikes and small restaurants, so you have to walk on the road. No one cares about the pedestrians here, so you are in constant worry about your own life. But strangely, you get used to it: after 3 days in Hanoi you just join the traffic and go wherever you need to go, not dripping with sweat.
You get used to many other things when you travel: to the constant moving, sleeping at a new place every few days and having few things with you. This way of life seemed intense to us when we were in Moscow, but now it feels like the most natural thing in the world.
Outside the old city the pavements are also often used not the way they’re really supposed to be used. For example, people play badminton or socks.
The tourists often use trishaws (and look kind of ridiculous, to tell the truth).
There is constant trade going on in Hanoi. Some women are carrying the goods on them all day long.
People sell fruits, flowers and many other thing from their bicycles.
In Asian cities, Hanoi included, it often feels like everything happens in the streets. People work here and people hang out here.
There are a lot of markets in Hanoi. Don’t hesitate to bargain here — you can get everything at least twice as cheap.
People sell white bread in the streets — it is very tasty. Vietnamese cuisine is overall wonderful, and we will tell about it later. For now, you can read our big post about Korean cuisine!
Hoan Kiem lake is located in the center of the city. There is a park zone around it where people walk, rest and do sports.
There is a small Temple of the Jade Mountain in the center of the lake where you can get via a bridge. It is very peaceful there.
When we came to the temple, local old men were playing some board game — seems like Chinese chess.
There is a big square near the lake where something is always happening, day and night.
Local people, despite the crazy pace of life in Hanoi, are generally pretty calm and relaxed. They like to drink coffee or tea seating on small chairs at the street, play games or rest in the parks.
There are a lot of Communist reminders in Hanoi as well as in other parts of Vietnam. For example, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, a legendary Vietnamese political figure, is located in Hanoi. We came to mausoleum under heavy rain, and it looked pretty unreal.
Children are wearing pioneer ties.
It is very cheap to live and eat in Hanoi: a room for two people in a hotel in the city center costs around 10 dollars; for 12-15 dollars you can get a great room with a window, breakfast included. There are several hundreds of hotels in Hanoi. There are also a lot of restaurants and small cafes — all is very cheap and very tasty.
The urban bustle of Hanoi takes a lot of energy. The way of life in smaller cities in the center of Vietnam is much more calm. But Hanoi is definetely worth visiting — especially if you need a dose of vivid impressions.