Jan 6-24, 2019
Peoplescape of Hanoi
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Always, the travel experience in any place is highlighted by the people I meet. Hanoi is no exception. From locals to travelers to expats, I've had the pleasure of meeting the most amazing lives - at the hostel, coffee shops and street food eateries.
Kevin and I had been bumping into each other since we met at the Vipassana meditation center in Mae Hong Son. We saw each other again in Pai, then in Chiang Mai and now here in Hanoi, we ended up in the same hostel. Uncanny. We didn't really hang-out but we would often find ourselves trading stories on where to eat or find common places we'd been to. He left Hanoi earlier, but I won't be surprised if I bump into him again.
I picked a road-facing seat at G66 Coffee and sat near Phoebe. That's how we met. She's a pleasant and smart landscape architect from Hong Kong, finishing-up her Masters. I found that interesting. I didn't know there was such a course, let alone a Masters course. I suggested she visit Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery for its manicured landscape and forested surroundings. And while there, why not spend a few days in meditation as well! I let her taste my latest coffee-shazam, a concoction of Nutella, condensed milk and local whisky added to black coffee. She liked it!
Hien was from Ho Chi Minh City and also a hostel guest at AZ Hanoi Hostel. As a Vietnamese, I asked to be tagged along when she goes for lunch. At least I'll be assured of good eats at the right price. Turns out, she was also taken by the tourist trap - we had to pay VND90k individually for Bun Cha! So much for local know-how. We later went for coffee at Cafe Huy and traded personal tales. She was gone the following day. That's life on the travel lane.
Gabriella is an intrepid lone traveler who braved the cold and winding rough roads of Ha Giang on a motorcycle. She came back to the hostel to chillout in Hanoi. She had interesting tales of the Hmong indigenous people of the north - culture, tradition and the way they allow one day in a year for spousal infidelity! You hear the most interesting tales from travelers.
Indra was a Singaporean Indian who came to Hanoi for some motorcycle R&R up the Ha Giang. Ultimately, he wants to ride up the Himalayan mountain trails to check-off a bucket-list entry. Perceptive, with a modulated voice, we traded anecdotes with me mostly talking about my lingering impressions of Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew.
I met Sato on Harry's Hanoi Food Tour. We found common ground and carried-on to dinner at Pho 10 and tea at Kafe Coffee. We traded narratives about walking-away, clutter-clearing, yoga, and many other things. Like me, she's a traveler who chose mobility as a lifestyle.
At Harry's Food Tour, I met Gladz, a spritely Filipina from the same city of Dumaguete where I lived for 2 years. We share many common friends and seem to share common activities as well - climbing mountains, fitness, love for languages, etc. It was a looming friendship full of promise. The planets didn't seem to align though. She couldn't make it to the Ca Tru play and an afternoon meetup didn't go as planned. Even with the best of intentions, mishaps do happen and you take the wins together with the losses.
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Hanoi (city), Vietnam
- 18-Day Mini-Life in Hanoi 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
- Vietnamese smokers used to smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. But this habit seems to be changing now.
- 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.
- only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
- 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
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
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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