My relationship with Hanoi was not one which was love at first sight, but this congested, eclectic city has grown on me.
When I first landed in Hanoi, I hated it. Of course, the fact I had to physically drag myself away from chilled out hippy enclave Pai, and then to be thrown in to a city filled with car horns, traffic, and a polluted haze, definitely did not help. As my taxi from the airport navigated the tiny streets filled with scooters, street vendors, and the non-stop car horns which seems to be a part of Vietnamese life for all drivers, I felt bombarded and stressed. During my first day in Hanoi I had a wander, I saw the lake and felt a sense of serenity, and went on a wicked, hangover inducing night out. It was fun, yet I still saw Hanoi purely as a base to get to Halong Bay. I couldn’t wait to leave.
But the thing about Hanoi is, it’s a base for many other tourist hot spots in the north, such as Halong Bay and Sapa. As such you leave, but then you need to go back. I’ve been in Vietnam for 9 days now and 5 of those have been in Hanoi. This city has totally grown on me in a way I did not imagine. It’s the sort of city that can be overwhelming at first, especially when you have no idea what to expect. But then as you explore and find your feet and scratch under the surface, you discover it is a hidden treasure filled with culture and vibrancy.
On my second day in Hanoi I visited the prison. I was pretty hungover and wasn’t up for going anywhere, but this place which now serves as a museum was just what I needed. It introduced me to much of the culture and history of Vietnam which I had previously not understood. Hanoi is filled with museums and I think it is a good idea to visit at least one while in the city, because it allows you to understand Vietnam further. I believe it is so important that when you visit a new country, you explore the culture and get to know what the country has been through in the past, and why it exists in it’s present state, rather than just remain ignorant. I also went to the women’s museum, which also opened my eyes up to women’s lives in Vietnam, the roles they have played in war, culture, and cultivation.
Hanoi is also a great place to eat. Many small restaurants serve amazing Vietnamese cuisine however you can also get lots of tasty western dishes. My favourite place to eat in Hanoi has been Minh Thuy – this restaurant is owned by the winner of Vietnamese Masterchef. The food is cheap and the restaurant is no thrills, yet the food is divine and has a mixture of Vietnamese food, Western food, and other Asian dishes. I also had the best Indian of my life in Hanoi. Namaste is the place the Indian’s go to eat, and boy it was good. It was more pricy than your average street vendor, yet so much cheaper than an Indian at home.
However, the thing I love most about Hanoi, like anywhere I go that I end up falling in love with, is the little things. Yes the car horns are loud and people want your money and you feel like you will be run over by motorbikes constantly, but eventually you learn to smile at the people trying to sell you motorbikes and say no, you learn to cross the road confidently without getting yourself killed, and you see what Vietnam is all about. It’s the little things like a train track that goes behind peoples houses, the tiny alleys filled with shops selling just about everything, and the French presence, like this Cathedral, in a quintessentially Asian city.