Hanoi: One Absolutely Amazing City.

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Show me someone who feels ambivalent about Hanoi, and I’ll show you a liar. Hanoi invokes strong feelings, and the people who visit the Vietnam capital tend to either love it to pieces or hate it bitterly.

Into which category would I fall?

The former.  I absolutely loved Hanoi, and it was one of my favorite destinations on the trip so far.

So, what’s there to love about Hanoi?

The Old Quarter. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Southeast Asia, crammed with stores of all kinds, street sellers, open-air restaurants with tiny stools, and foot traffic pushed onto the street.  Looking for shoes?  There’s a whole street for that.  Chinese lanterns?  Also, yes.

The Old Quarter feels like Buenos Aires or even Paris, but with an Asian bent!

Also, I was rather chuffed after finding Degree deodorant and Maybelline mascara at a local drugstore.

Hanoi’s street food is delicious, served at street stalls and open-air restaurants with teeny-tiny plastic stools.  One of my favorites?  Freshly grilled frog!

While Thai, Lao and Khmer temples seem to meld together stylistically, Vietnamese temples are completely different — and will blow your socks off. You definitely see Hanoi’s Chinese influence in the temples.

Hanoi is home to incredibly friendly locals — including this bride, who asked if we would take a picture with her!  Again, she wanted a picture with us!

Take a look at a map, and you’ll see how close Hanoi is to China.  The Chinese influence is present throughout the city and ancient Vietnamese and Chinese civilizations have a lot of similarities.

Every city in Southeast Asia has a different kind of tuk-tuk, and cyclos are Hanoi’s tuk-tuks! The driver pedals you in a bike-like device that looks somewhat like a wheelchair.  While they’re built for two people, maximum, I managed to squeeze in with my Dutch buds Sander and Cas!

Hanoi has beautiful and varied architecture, both ancient and modern, including this pagoda in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the Old Quarter.

Looking for hilarious photo ops?  You’ll find them!

And, of course — traffic, traffic, traffic. Hanoi is defined by its traffic, primarily composed of motorbikes.

Crossing the street in Hanoi is always an adventure — you do it by walking slowly into oncoming traffic. (If you wait for the street to be free, you’ll be waiting all night.)  The motorbikes will drive around you!  It’s scary, but it works!

A lot of people don’t like Hanoi because of the ever-present scams and ripoffs.  It’s true — you will get ripped off in Hanoi, and with frequency. But I went into Hanoi knowing that, so it didn’t bother me much.

Bargain hard and viciously, settle transportation prices firmly in advance, and if an unscrupulous motorbike driver changes his price after you’ve arrived at your destination, give him the money you settles on before and walk away.

Don’t listen to the naysayers — Hanoi is a really special place, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best cities in Southeast Asia.

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25 thoughts on “Hanoi: One Absolutely Amazing City.”

  1. Love it, Kate! You definitely made a case for Hanoi – it looks amazing! As long as you’re aware that you could get ripped off and be careful, it looks like you can really enjoy it.
    Also, the “hilarious photo op” really cracked me up 🙂

  2. It sounds a lot like what I found in Albania! I was scared to go after hearing many bad things about Albanians (mainly, I realized, from people who had never been to Albania), but I got there and it was amazing! The buildings are all painted bright colors and different designs and the people are really friendly. I can understand someone not liking Albania if it’s not their style, but I don’t think you can complain about the people!!! The architecture was cheerful, the people were friendly and the landscape was breathtaking. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

    1. Amy- glad to hear the positive report on Albania. I’ve been a little iffy on addng it to my (distant future) Southern Europe trip, but from what you said, it sounds like a good choice. Thanks!

  3. After 6 months teaching in Saigon, finally making it to Hanoi was awesome. Wondering the labyrinthine corridors of the old quarter, watching kids break dance in the park and strolling around the lake filled my days. I am glad you are loving Vietnam’s capitol city!

  4. It looks amazing!.. though I don’t think I could bring myself to eat a frog!!! How funny that on her wedding day, a bride wanted her picture with you 🙂 I love completely random moments like that!

  5. Aaahhhhhh so amazing! I have been dreaming of Vietnam for months now, and am planning to visit in November of this year. Your photos and stories of there are only reinforcing how badly I want to go. Glad to hear you’re enjoying the country, can’t wait to hear where you’ve gone next.

  6. I love love love the photos in this post. I highly recommend The House on Dream Street if you loved Hanoi. Its all about an American woman’s lifelong love affair with Vietnam starting in the early 90s. Its slow to start but one of my favorite travel memoirs!

  7. I was sooooo sick while I was in Hanoi so missed most of it 🙁 I’ve gone back to Vietnam since for work but only got to go to Saigon, so I’d love to return to Hanoi and discover the magic.

  8. I totally agree. I got scam in Hanoi but after traveling south, I agree that Hanoi is a wonderful wonderful city. I’m not sure what the big hype is with Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Hanoi has my vote!

      1. I agree Kate. I wasn’t too fond of Hanoi actually. But, hey you’ll never like every where you visit. I absolutely loved Saigon and would go back in a heartbeat. I picked myself up a really nice North Face jacket in Saigon and shipped it home. Looking back, it was the single best investment I made on the entire trip. It’s kept me warm during this vicious Massachusetts winter this year… be glad you’re not home! 😉

  9. I first went to Hanoi in 99 and absolutely adored it. It still remains to this day, one of my favourite cities. It has something so special about it. It always amazes me how people complain about places because they were ripped off there. You get ripped off anywhere. I constantly do in my own country and it’s legal!! Ever seen what an Aussie gets charged for internet and how third world the service and quality is???
    Please, look beyond this and see a place for what it is really worth.
    So happy you love Hanoi as much as me. Can’t wait to go back

  10. Yes Kate, you are absolutely right. Hanoi is one of the best destinations in Asia. I love that place . The old Quarter in particuler. The hotels are cheap and the food is cheap. Plenty of restaurants.I have already been to Hanoi twice and will be going again in January 2014. The climate in January is very pleasant. I have nothing to say bad about this city. Traffic is not a problem. The vehicles always avoid you when you cross the road. No petty crimes to my knowledge.Walking tours are wonderful. So many attractions at close proximity.

  11. Kate, lovely to hear you loved Hanoi. I love Hanoi as well, not because I’m an Hanoian, but because Hanoi has its own unique beauty and cultural features that I couldn’t find in any places I have been to. Hanoi has an outstanding street culture and delicious cuisine, including street food. Agree that traffic in Hanoi is crazy but besides that, Hanoi is pretty. Discovering Hanoi in early morning is my favourite activity as you have chance to see a pure beauty of Hanoi.

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