Jan 6-24, 2019
18-Day Mini-Life in Hanoi
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
A walk around Hanoi's Old Quarter is a sensory overload of food outlets, fake Northface, souvenir shops, motorcycles zooming in-and-out of traffic and kinetic energy of shopkeepers scurrying in their traditional family shophouses. The frenetic feel is like Kathmandu without the dust. Fortunately, there is always a cafe for a rest stop. Again, the cafe scene of Hanoi is a category all its own. In another comparison, the Old Quarter is like talking a walk out of your camp in Burningman - you get sucked-out into all the myriad offerings that you lose yourself in the many streets and alleys. No telling what you stumble-upon or when you return back to your hostel. You need to pace yourself at the Old Quarter - a few days of whisking around and your get exhausted.
Hanoi people seem to have that rushed feel to them...like people in Singapore. They seem to carry a compelling urgency in what they do. As such, they exude that no-nonsense grit in them - take it or leave it, makes no difference to them. Perhaps that is also their charm, not unlike the 'rude' French who are either loved or hated - no middle ground. Me? I take it as charm. It wouldn't be Hanoi any other way.
It's all on the exterior anyway. Once they take you in on a personal level, you feel their generosity - even a gentleness despite the tough carapace.
Dong Xuan Market
Perhaps the most famous market at the Old Quarter is the Dong Xuan Market. This is not for the tourists but mainly for the locals. As such, with good bargaining skills and a rudimentary pricing instinct, you can get deals at local prices. I would often default to this place just to lose myself into its myriad passages and alleys revealing wonderful finds.
The immediate thing I noticed about Hanoi is that it's more expensive than HCMC or DaNang (and a lot colder). I could still get a VND20k meal in those 2 places, but in Hanoi, meals usually start at VND30k. Not only that, tourist pricing seem to be institutionalized - you are blatantly charged more than locals for the same goods and services. Sometimes, vendors do this with impunity. I would tell them the local price and they would insist on tourist price or even gesture me to move on. I know this practice is done in every touristy capital but Hanoi takes it up a notch. Often, I would just walk away. Best bet is to choose a place with visible pricing and locals patronizing the place. I was told that when you get out of Old Quarter, food is actually better and priced fair.
For once in a very long time, I was at ease in Hanoi knowing I had some money. Sure, I still made effort to make a little on the side, but without the nosebleed-urgency of being a few meals away from starving. That was huge for my sanity. I didn't splurge, but I could eat as much street food as a wanted - Pho here, Banh Pi there, Bun Rieu over on the other side, etc. I simply relished my simple and momentary freedom from monetary subsistence. Thank you Mike for that cash advance (even if you didn't have to)!
For the most part, my stay in Hanoi was mostly being in front of my laptop - marketing pitches, finishing the Wat Pa Tam Wua website, helping-out a friend with his new venture into the painting trade (domain name, email options, web dependencies, etc), backlog blogs (Pai and Chiang Mai) and my Hanoi blogs. I wonder sometimes if my laptop is the one in control of me. Given the time I spend on my laptop, I would be making more money if I spent it in the private sector.
Selling Google Map
When I finished a customized Google Map for my hostel including its logo, a walking tour and food locations, I thought I could monetize on this unique offering to other hotels. It wasn't as easy as I thought. I couldn't talk to the decision makers - only managers. Some managers couldn't care less. I sent out a few emails but I think they all got filtered out before decision-makers could read them. It remained a hard-sell. I didn't make 1 cent out of all that effort.
LoneRider or LonelyRider?
Increasingly, I'd been going through phases of self-doubt. Am I still enjoying what I'm doing? What's the whole point again in being homeless and establishing a mini 30-day life in different countries? It's an exciting life very few people get to experience. But why am I not excited anymore? Do I need to settle down? Hmmm. Maybe my 60-day stay in Chiang Mai will resolve this dilemma.
Tour of the Peach Blossom Farm
As a last hurrah, Trang invited me and Sam to join her look for a Peach Blossom branch for the Tet holiday. It was a cab ride north to a series of plantation farms devoted to the Peach Blossom (Vietnamese equivalent of the Japanese Cherry Blossom). It was a long process of selection to find those 3 branches from among thousands of trees. This was followed with lunch and Che (Vietnamese dessert) at Trang's favorite eating spots.
I just stayed at the Old Quarter - Hanoi's most touristy place. It's always busy, bustling and yes, lots of tourists. I can only be glad there is AZ Hanoi Hostel for me to take refuge to. After 18 days of walking around Old Quarter, its exciting frenzy morphed into sensory overload. It was time to pack-up again for a steady pasture. If had more time, I'd probably venture outside the Old Quarter and experience the more authentic Hanoi. It's a shame that despite all the time I've spent in Vietnam, I've never taken to learn its language. I could just imagine how doors can open up even with a few utterance of Vietnamese. Again, it's not goodbye, but, "until the next time, Vietnam!"
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
(Jan 17, 2019) On my 3rd week of staying in Hanoi I could already do messaging while walking by those messy streets with transport (you'll get used to it soon)
(Jan 17, 2019) with Messaging? I need 3 months for that 🙂
(Jan 17, 2019) Thank you for sharing
(Jan 17, 2019) Very cool, and good to hear your voice again!
(Jan 17, 2019) nice vlogging, Git! enjoyed the narratives
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Next stop: Resuming Life in Chiang Mai
Hanoi (city), Vietnam
- 18-Day Mini-Life in Hanoi Jan 6-24, 2019
- Cafescape of Hanoi's Old Quarter, Vietnam Jan 6-24, 2019
- Peoplescape of Hanoi Jan 6-24, 2019
- Exploring the Culinary Specialties of Hanoi Jan 6-24, 2019
- Ca Tru Hanoi at the Dinh Kim Ngan Temple Jan 18, 2019
- Hanoi Food Tour with Harry Jan 16, 2019
- Hanoi Revisited Jan 6, 2019
- Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi Jan 4-7, 2015
Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) to Old Quarter, Hanoi by Bus
The airport is about 30kms away from the Old Quarter so it could be pricey if you cab it. For budget travelers, there is the air-conditioned tourist bus #86 which starts from inside the airport when you walk out the door and takes you all the way to Old Quarter for only VND35k, 30 mins.
NOTE: if you use Google Maps, it will tell you that you have to walk 1km to catch the #86 bus along the main road - this is wrong!
FYI / Tips
- Hanoi's Old Quarter is the backpacker area like Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The tourist establishments (hotels, restos, travel/tour agencies, cafes) are interspersed with local traditional businesses
- Grab XeOm or moto taxis are abundant
- street culture is alive and kicking at the Old Quarter. Family-owned and managed shophouses who have been doing their trade for generations are still around. Old Quarter hasn't been touched by shopping malls yet.
- best place to exchange foreign currency is with the jewelry/gold shops (see list on map). Worst place are the tour shops/hotels.
- BEWARE of resto tourist traps. Usually, they sell only one meal like Bun Cha. No menu, no prices. They are crafty in herding unsuspecting tourists (you will notice no local eats there) and serve them the Bun Cha without asking them (because it's the only thing they sell). You'll just be jolted when you receive the bill. I was had for VND 90k!
Things to do, Places to go in Hanoi
- Old Quarter - this is old Hanoi where family-owned business flourished with its specialty trade. The streets are narrow and busy. Nowadays, it's the center for backpackers visiting Hanoi
- lakes - Hanoi is littered with many big lakes, some of them have numerous pagodas along its bank. West Lake is the largest with an 18km circumference, ideal for joggers, hobby fishing and just finding quiet time
- Tran Quoc Pagoda - the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi lying on its peninsula by West Lake
- Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - it's a massive marble structure housed inside an expansive park with manicured gardens
Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts
- Hanoi Grapevine HCMC Update - for the latest events in Vietnam
- Vietnam establishments will not accept US dollars, unlike Cambodia. You have to use Vietnam Dong (US$1 = Vietnam Dong VND 23,255 = Php 53.20 as of Aug 1, 2016)
- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations - you can go to jail
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
Lesser-Known Vietnam Destinations
- Phu Yen Province - by the beach
- Hoa Binh Lake - locals' alternative to Halong Bay
- Ninh Binh - Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc, Mua Caves, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Van Long Nature Reserve
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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