Hanoi, Vietnam : A city worth getting lost in

March 1, 2019

by May Polon

December of last year, I was invited by my Aunt to join her on her trip to Vietnam, then Cambodia, then Thailand all in the span of ten days. Being the wanderlust that I was (and it is my first time to go out of the country), I said yes.

We were set to meet in Hanoi since she would be coming from Hong Kong, and I would be coming from the Philippines. And of all the places in those three countries we traveled to, Hanoi was by far the best one for me.

Why?

Climate

Upon arriving in Hanoi, I already noticed that the climate is cooler than the average Southeast Asian Country. This might be because December is considered winter in Vietnam. But still, Hanoi is cooler than most places in Vietnam. You can go around the city with a second layer on.

Ambiance

Time seems to go slow when you’re in Vietnam, and this is probably because of the laid back vibe that the people there give out. The establishments there have small spaces due to high land taxes, but the things Vietnamese can do with those small places can amaze you. They use the sidewalk as an extension of their cafes or restaurants, lay-out small chairs, and tables. Viola! You have a place to sit and relax right by the road.

Streets of Hanoi Vietnam

A coffee shop by the road with a sidewalk set-up

Also, one thing to love in Hanoi and one thing that adds to its city ambiance is the abundance of Almond trees. The great thing about Almond trees are the leaves, they have this reddish hue that makes it look like Autumn. And the abundance of trees in the area, compared with other cities, is also a nice addition to the laid-back ambiance.

almond leaf

Structures

A lot of the structures that can be found within the city has a strong French influence. The soft yellows, shutter-like windows, and stained-glass windows, they all compliment the city-rural type of place that Hanoi is.

Residential area in Hanoi, Vietnam

Also, you’d love the diversity of the establishments. There are streets there that are named after the products that are being sold in that street (i.e. beer street, jewelry street,etc.), but when you go to the very center of Hanoi Old Quarter, you will be amazed by the diversity of the establishments there. I know I was. You would see a hotel right beside a fruit stall, a restaurant beside a shop selling bags. This kind of variety in shops makes every turn of the corner a surprise. You’re never really sure what you can find in your next turn on the streets of Hanoi.

Hanoi Vietnam

Diverse shops sitting side by side in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

People

Of the three countries that I went to for this trip, the people in Hanoi are the most friendly in my experience. There are two people, in particular, that made our trip welcoming: our tour guide, and our hotel receptionist.

For our tour, my aunt booked us for the Old Quarter Walking Tour and City Tour through Hanoi Free Private Tour Guide. They offer free tour services to foreign visitors. Most of the tour guides are students, that’s why they request you to pay for the entrance fee of the museums, taxi fares, and food for the tour guide which is a lot cheaper than booking a tour with a large group. My aunt was offered two tour guides but since it was just the two of us, we opted to just request for one tour guide. We got Mr. Thu-ong Nguyen as our guide. He’s a 20-year old Vietnamese student who does free tour guide to learn about the culture of other people. The tour was amazing, not only because Hanoi was an amazing place, but because we get to choose where to go, how long we get to stay there, take pictures in every corner. These are the perks of having a private tour guide instead of joining a large group tour with a tour guide raising a colored flag just so you know who to follow and where you’re going. Thu-ong was very friendly and just as curious as we are about our story as well. Our private tour with him was from 9 am to 5 pm, and we planned to book a food street tour with him at night however he has a class at 7 pm. That was a blessing in disguise since, after our tour, we were exhausted that we opted to stay in that night and get some rest.

Private Hanoi Tour Guide

(L to R) Me, my aunt, and our ever smiling tour guide Thu-ong

Our hotel receptionist’s name is Anna of Hanoi Hostel. For our last night, she was very accommodating in helping us find a good place to eat. She even had a map and explained thoroughly where we are and which turns and streets to take. She had a smiling face the whole time. She also helped us to book our train ride going to Da Nang to visit the Golden Bridge. She was very patient with us while we decided the time of our trip, the kind of seating/bed arrangement we wanted on the train, and trying to settle the payment since we were still not used to their currency. While waiting for our Grab car to arrive after check-out, she told us her story and where she was from, at the same time asking us of our story as well. It was a nice way to pass the time. And as a last gesture from us, she gave us bottled water for our trip.

I know it’s part of both these peoples job to be accommodating, but the way they treated my aunt and me, you’ll see that it’s more than just a job for them. They genuinely like what they are doing, and they genuinely like helping other people out.

For my whole stay in Hanoi, I never had a bad experience with the locals there. They were always ready to help, even for the locals who aren’t comfortable with English. It was a very friendly place indeed.

Food

Well, a particular kind of food – Bun Cha! After our morning tour, we decided to walk back to the Old Quarters to have our lunch. Thu-ong said he had this great place in mind where we can eat. We weren’t prepared for the almost 30-minutes of walking (Thu-ong said it was near and we can walk, we shouldn’t have believed him. Haha). Upon arriving at the corner food place, we had no idea what we up against. Our tour guide was the one who ordered, and when it arrived, I was a bit skeptic. I am a picky eater. A plate of herbs and greens, a plate of rice noodles, and a bowl with soup and grilled pork were served in front of us. It was heaven. The soup where the grilled pork is in had pickled papaya in it which balanced out the taste of plus the noodles were cooked just right. It’s a dish worth going back to Hanoi.

Bun Cha

Rice Noodles, Picked Papaya Soup, Ice Tea, a plate of herbs, and Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Conclusion

There are a thousand reasons why you should visit Hanoi, but these are just a few of them. The place is rich in history, tradition, good food, and good people. So if you’re ever looking for a city to get lost in, Hanoi, Vietnam is perfect.

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