Romantically Chaotic Hanoi

Wow, Hanoi, where do I start? 🙂 First of all, I’d like to say that if it weren’t for my job, I would have probably never visited it. I am not even sure why but I am not much of a fan of Asian destinations. I do know Thailand has awesome beaches. Been there done that. But that’s about it, right?

Wrong, of course. I know Asia has a lot to offer, I just couldn’t seem to find the opportunity to go back. Until this April when I needed to visit Hanoi on business. It was a tough bargain but I managed to find a good distributor for our products in Vietnam. And after one year of “online relationship” it was time for me to pack my bags and meet their team in person.

Honestly, I was scared to shit out of this trip. I have never flown so far on my own (I always have someone to “hold my hand” up there in the air) and I kept on postponing it for as long as I could. But a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do, so I booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur (I also had some business to take care of there) and took a connecting flight to Hanoi. Che sera, sera 🙂

The traffic “wow”

Landing in Hanoi was a sight for sore eyes! The view of vast green areas, lakes, rivers and colorful settlements finally calmed me down after an extremely turbulent flight. I had a taxi driver waiting for me at Noi Bai airport, arranged online by the hotel. I read that taxi cheats in Hanoi are quite often and after the additional warning from the hotel staff I decided not to take the risk. I am glad I didn’t because the taxi driver could barely speak English and I am not sure how I would argue with him if he wanted to pull some scam on me.

The minute I sat in the car I knew this trip would be very different from what I had been used to. Traffic jams, scooters with three or sometimes even four people “on board”, drivers horning and people jaywalking everywhere… well, let’s just say you need to take a deep breath and realize you are in Vietnam 🙂

 

Hanoi traffic is beyond chaotic. Most of the people drive scooters, because this is the fastest and the most flexible option to move around the city. But the problem is that there are “9 billion” scooters in Hanoi. And none of the drivers seem to give a shit about you. They never stop in front of the crosswalks (with the exceptions of some traffic lights) – they just slow down and try to avoid you somehow. The same goes for the car drivers. And here is the catch – this is how things actually work here. Avoiding the traffic and simply crossing the road as hundreds of motorbikes whiz around you is all part of the fun. It is a bit challenging for the first, second and third time, but you get used to it very quickly 🙂

The cash “wow”

You can easily get confused by the high numbers on banknotes: 1 USD is about 22,000 Vietnamese Dongs (VND) and I suggest you study them well because some of them look the same. And it might be challenging for those who can’t do the math quickly enough (myself included) to pay 50,000 VD for something, what in fact only costs about 2 dollars.

I strongly recommend you to carry some change with you all the time. Credit cards are only accepted in hotels, but not in bars, street shops or taxis. Change around 20$ in the airport, because you will need it for your ride to the city, but don’t change too much because the currency exchange rate is not very good there.

The food “wow”

The food “wow” goes for cheap prices as well as for Vietnamese cuisine and habits. Most places just have plastic stools and small low tables that are literally placed in the road. On top of that add hundreds of motorbikes speeding past sometimes only a meter away and imagine the thrill 🙂 But at least the street food is good and very cheap. Their traditional local food is Phὁ – a noodle soup with chicken and vegetables. You can find it around every corner and it costs only around 1.5 $. The same goes for the drinks – you’ll pay less than 2$ for a local beer Bia Hoi which is quite popular in Hanoi. One reason is because of the heat and humidity, especially during summer, and the other is that the beer tastes great and it is freshly made every day.

The dark side of the “food wow” is the fact that some restaurants in Vietnam still serve dogs meet as their specialty 🙁 Fortunately I didn’t see any of them because honestly I don’t know what I’d do if I saw human’s best friend on the menu. If you are challenged by exotic food, please rather go for snakes or insects which are plentifully served as well.

Where to stay in Hanoi

If you want to feel the real pulse of Hanoi, I suggest you stay somewhere in the charming Old Quarter. Accommodation options in Hanoi are vast and you can easily get a very good 3 star hotel for less than 50$ per night in a very good location. I stayed in Splendora Boutique Hotel the first night, but it was too noisy for me (if you don’t mind the noise from the street, I highly recommend it because the staff is super friendly, rooms are nice and breakfast is 5 stars!), so the next day I switched to Pan Pacific Hanoi hotel, which was fantastic and just what I needed. You can search for the hotels in Hanoi on Booking.com – click here to get a 15€ discount for your next booking.

Things to see in Hanoi

A must see is Hoan Kiem lake with a small island and Ngoc Son Temple, and if you walk around the lake you can see some fascinating old buildings from French colonialism era, like Hanoi Opera House, St Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi Post office, et. The second area worth exploring is the one from West Lake towards Ba Dinh square where you will find the impressive Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, with the embalmed body of “Uncle Ho” – the first Vietnamese President, as well as the President Palace, and some other imposing government buildings. You can check my top 5 things to see in Hanoi here.  And the beauty of it is that you won’t go broke even if you want to see everything. Entrance fees to most of the places worth visiting are usually around one or two USD.

To sum up

If you are already decided to visit Hanoi, scroll down to the very end of this post for some other useful price and travel tips and check the rest of my Hanoi photos here. For those who are only reading this for fun and still hesitating to go there one day: don’t. Hesitate, I mean. Hanoi is chaotic but charming. People are very friendly and the whole atmosphere is unexplainably romantic. Not to mention it is really affordable for all kinds of travelers and obviously a very popular backpakers destination. If you add a trip to the famous “James Bond” Ha Long Bay (many agencies in Hanoi offer one or 2 day trips there!) you can have a complete Hanoi Experience. And if you add a weak in one of the fabulous Vietnam beaches I bet you will be in heaven. OR you can wait and read about it in my blog. I am definitely visiting Vietnam again very soon! Scroll down for some other useful tips and prices!

Some other price and travel tips

  • Check your visa requirements at least 14 days before your departure. I applied for visa online with one of the agencies who »take care of it all«. I paid around 40$ for everything (hassle free, no waiting lines, personal approach), but if you do it yourself and are prepared to wait in line (sometimes over one hour!), you can get it for less than 15$ per person.
  • If you take an official and reliable taxi, you should look for “Taxi Group” with typical red and blue color or “Mai Linh Taxi” with typical green color. Taxi ride from Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi center costs fixed 15$ for a 5-seats car and 17$ for a van.
  • Uber in Hanoi runs surprisingly smoothly and they also offer scooter rides. Uber was my number one choice after I got to Hanoi. I also took it for my ride back to the airport and paid around 12$.
  • Local city busses cost less than 1$ in one direction.
  • If you are staying in Hanoi for more than just a day or two it is smart to buy a local sim card. The monthly package with VIETTEL (calls, SMS and unlimited mobile data) costs around 4 USD. Wi-Fi can come very handy if you get lost and want to use your GPS.
  • Weather: Despite the fact that Hanoi is located in Southeast Asia, it still has winters (December to February) with temperatures around 10 – 20°C. Springs and autumns are warmer, but have less sunny days – in my case (April) the sun was hiding behind the clouds and fog for 3 days in a row. Summers (June – August) are the hottest and craziest: the temperatures can reach up to 40 °C with high humidity and regular downpours.
  • Some entrance fees: Ngoc Son Temple: 0.70$, Hoa Lo Prison: 1.50$, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: 0.50$, Tran Quoc Pagoda and St Joseph’s Cathedral: free.

 

 

 

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5 things to see in Hanoi (Vietnam)

I visited Hanoi in April 2017 during my first business trip to Vietnam and Malaysia and I had just enough time to see & feel the city’s charm. Hanoi is very easy to explore, because most of the attractions are located around 2 lakes (both quite central), and the beauty of it is that you can rent a scooter and do it the way locals do – for tourists it might seem a bit chaotic, but it’s definitely exciting and memorable! Here are 5 things to see in Hanoi if you are visiting the city just for a day or two:

1. Old Quarter

The easiest way to start exploring Hanoi is to book a hotel in the Old Quarter and you can do everything on foot from there. The Old Quarter is the oldest part of the city and the pulse there is something you need to feel for yourself. The streets are narrow and full of traffic, with scooters running up and down all the time. Endless street food “restaurants” offer delicious local dishes (mostly noodles and rice with veggies, chicken or beef) and chopped tropical fruits. Architecture lovers will enjoy the signature on the buildings from the French colonialism era (like neo-gothic style Saint Joseph Cathedral), and others can bargain for some quality clothes or souvenirs in one of numerous stores throughout this busy area. You do know that a lot of clothes from famous brands are “made in Vietnam”, right? 😉

Tip: I stayed one night in Boutique Splendora Hotel which has a very good location overlooking St Joseph Cathedral. The staff there is super friendly and they serve splendid breakfast. Just keep in mind that the Old Quarter is a very busy area so you might be disturbed by street noise during the night.   

2. Hoan Kiem Lake

Old Quarter ends with this cute lake, known for a very small island in the middle. The island hosts an ancient structure, called Turtle Tower (Thap Rùa), which was built to honor the legend of Golden Turtle God and a magic sward. A walk around Hoan Kiem Lake (due to the legend also known as Sword Lake) will take you about 20 minutes and it is a must for everyone. The path around the lake is surrounded by well-maintained green parks with a lot of benches to sit on and watch people making selfies or laugh at the tourists trying to cross the street for the first time.

Near the northern shore of the lake lies Jade Island with Hanoi’s most visited temple – Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) from 18th century. Jade Island is connected to the lakeshore by elegant red-painted wooden Huc Bridge.

Tip: You pay peanuts to see the temple but make sure your shoulders are covered. Unfortunately I didn’t do my homework so I could only see it from the outside (they didn’t even allow me to step on the bridge!).

3. Ba Đình Square 

Ba Dinh Square is the center of Ba Dinh district and offers several interesting buildings, as well as some nice green parks to sit in and hide from sunlight (unless you visit Hanoi during winter, when sun mostly stays behind the clouds). This is also the square where president Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam back in September 1945.

The square is located close to the West Lake – the biggest freshwater lake in Hanoi. It is quite empty during the day (with the exception of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum opening hours) but in the evenings it becomes a popular gathering place for locals who want to exercise or just hang out with friends. Some of the famous buildings around Ba Dingh Square are the yellow Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Assembly Building which lays the opposite of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The architecture of all these buildings is quite impressive so if you take your time to take some nice photos, you can easily spend a few hours here.

4. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

As I already mentioned above, the most impressive building in Ba Dinh Square is Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which was built in the mid-seventies, in honor of the respected President Ho Chi Minh. The building is actually a part of Ho Chi Minh complex, which consists of the Mausoleum – spectacular granite building with the embalmed body of the iconic leader laying in a glass case, the garden with plants donated from all regions of Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh Museum (admission 0.5$)- a elaborate description of Ho Chi Minh’s life, with 8 chronological topics.

The entrance to Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is free, as long as you dress and behave respectfully: no short skirts or tank tops, no photos, talking or finger-pointing, no hands in your pockets and no bags inside (you can put them in safe deposits before you get in). The only chance to see the the leader is through a moving line – visitors are not allowed to stop and look at the embalmed body for longer time. Keep in mind that the mausoleum is only open 5 days a week (closed Mondays and Fridays) from 7 to 11 am, so you can imagine the queue that forms there during those times.

Tips: The mausoleum might be closed occasionally for maintenance so check its opening hours before your visit. The exhibit signs are not in English, so you might consider taking a tour guide in English to understand everything better.

5. Tran Quoc Pagoda

The oldest pagoda in Hanoi lies in the south east part of West Lake and you can reach it by crossing the Thanh Nien road (or bridge – whatever you want to call it). Tran Quoc Pagoda is over 1500 years old and it is famous for its lively scenery and sacred sanctuary. It is designed according to strict rules of Buddhist architecture with high »layered« towers and three main houses in sunny yellow colors.

Tran Quoc Pagoda is also a small museum of priceless antiques like worshiping statues in the front house. The one which is most outstanding is the statue Thich ca thap niet ban, also considered as the most beautiful statue of Vietnam.

Tips: If you want a great view of the West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda druing your stay you might want to check Pan Pacific Hanoi hotel – I stayed there my second night and I enjoyed it very much. The entrance to Tran Quoc Pagoda is free. Keep in mind that respectful clothes are to be worn here as well (although no one was there to haunt you like they did in Jade Island). Also try to avoid visiting Vietnamese temples during feast days – which is every 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar month.

Hanoi is a charmer and a must for all Asia lovers. If you have more time during your visit, you can choose between several other sights to see here. And you are welcome to visit my Facebook album. for more Hanoi photos. Enjoy! 🙂

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Romantično kaotični Hanoi (Vietnam)

Po dobrih 10 urah precej nemirnega leta je pogled z letala na neskončne zelene površine, številna jezera in živo pisane zaselke pravi balzam za oči in dušo. Hrupna vožnja s taksistom, ki ne zna niti besede angleško, malo manj. A občutek začasnega nelagodja mine že v hotelski recepciji, kjer me pričakajo trije prešerno nasmejani obrazi. Prvi mi postreže s pitajo in osvežujočim napitkom, drugi vzame moj potni list in se pohvali, da pozna Slovenijo, ker je gledal svetovno prvenstvo v nogometu, tretji pa drži v roki list z navodili in potrpežljivo čaka, da ga bom pripravljena poslušati. Navodila za »preživetje« so strnjena v petih točkah in se večinoma vrtijo okoli prometa in varnosti. Utrujena od dolge poti ga med branjem prijazno prekinem, rekoč, da sem bom kot izkušena popotnica že nekako znašla.

Meka za popotnike

Mesto deseterih jezer in tisočerih skuterjev. Meka za popotnike in gurmane. Paša za oči, malo manj za ušesa. Kaotični, a hkrati pomirjujoče privlačni Hanoi. Zaradi ugodnih cen, pestre zgodovine, razgibane arhitekture in ugodnega podnebja skozi vse leto, številni turistični vodniki Hanoi uvrščajo med najbolj privlačne popotniške destinacije. Če letite v Azijo in je Hanoi vaša vmesna postaja, ali če se odločite za počitnice na prelepi vietnamski obali, si vzemite vsaj en dan za raziskovanje mesta, ki mu danes pravijo tudi »Pariz vzhoda«.

Hanoi leži na desnem bregu Rdeče reke, približno 90 kilometrov od obale Južnokitajskega morja. Najboljši čas za obisk mesta sta pomlad in jesen. Severna lega ga namreč umešča v vlažno subtropsko podnebje z vročimi in precej deževnimi poletji, najnižje temperature pa so januarja, okoli 15°C. Obdobje od januarja do marca je dokaj vetrovno in megleno, sonce takrat v povprečju sije le uro in pol na dan.

Vpliv kitajskih dinastij in francoskega kolonializma

Mesto številnih imen so skozi tisočletja močno zaznamovale različne kulture. Za časa vladavine kitajskih dinastij je bilo poimenovano kot Pesem miru, Zmajev trebuh in Zmajev rob, po zaviti strugi Rdeče reke, ki obkroža mesto in je v njihovih očeh simbolizirala zmaja. Vietnamske dinastije, ki so mestu vladale med 15. in 18. stoletjem, so v njem videle Prestolnico vzhoda in Vzhodna vrata, od leta 1831 pa se imenuje Hanoi, kar v nekoliko nerodnem prevodu pomeni Mesto znotraj reke.

Leta 1887 so Hanoi zasedli Francozi, ki so, s krajšimi prekinitvami, mestu vladali vse do leta 1954. Francoski kolonializem je v Hanoiu pustil močan pečat, ki se odraža v izraziti ulični arhitekturi. Med najlepšimi in tudi največkrat fotografiranimi stavbami iz tistega časa so operna hiša, državna banka, predsedniška palača in katedrala Svetega Josepha, ki s svojim gotskim stilom nekoliko spominja na pariško Notre Dame.

Novodobni Hanoi

Leta 1976, ko je severni Vietnam dobil vojno z Američani, je Hanoi postal prestolnica združenega Vietnama. Skupaj z okoliškimi provincami danes šteje več kot 7 milijonov prebivalcev in je (za mestom Ho Chi Minh) drugo največje mesto v Vietnamu. Zaradi priseljevanja naj bi se ta številka do leta 2020 več kot podvojila. To na eni strani predstavlja svojevrsten izziv za zastarelo prometno infrastrukturo, na drugi pa ponuja odlično priložnost za razvoj hitro rastočega trga nepremičnin.

Medtem ko je osrčje mesta ohranilo nekdanjo podobo ulic in kolonialnih stavb, so se na obrobju v zadnjem desetletju razrasli moderni nebotičniki, ki pričajo o naglem razvoju prestolnice. Najvišja stavba, Keangnam Tower, meri v višino 336 metrov, kar je skoraj štirikrat več kot ljubljanska Kristalna palača.

Prometni kaos

V trenutku, ko sem se iz labirinta ozkih ulic prebila do prve malce bolj prometne ceste, mi je bilo žal, da navodil, ki sem jih prejela v hotelu, nisem vsaj preletela. V njih namreč piše: »Ko boste videli številne skuterje na cesti, se boste morda malo prestrašili. Kako prečkati ulico? Takrat, ko je gneča malo manjša, zakorakajte na cesto in se počasi premikajte na drug konec. Skuterji ne bodo nikoli ustavili, vendar tudi vi se ne smete. Hodite počasi in zaupajte njihovim voznim sposobnostim. Bodite pogumni, vse bo v redu!!!«

Zdaj se navodilom, ki bodo v mojem spominu ohranjena v poglavju »saj ni res, pa je«, iskreno nasmejim. A narediti prvi korak na cesto, polno drvečih skuterjev, ki niso imeli prav nobenega namena zmanjšati hitrosti, kaj šele ustaviti, se je v resnici zdelo kot prostovoljni podpis lastne osmrtnice. Po približno 10 minutah čakanja ob cesti in opazovanja pešcev, ki so se izziva lotevali na različne načine, sem le zbrala pogum in se podala skozi mravljišče. Bila sem popolnoma preznojena, a je šlo. Tudi drugič, tretjič in četrtič. Prečkanje ceste osvojiš dokaj hitro in že naslednji dan si ti tisti, ki samozavestno daje navodila prestrašenim turistom. Sčasoma se navadiš tudi na to, da ti motoristi ne trobijo zaradi kratkega krilca, ampak ker ti ponujajo prevoz.

 

Glede na prometno kulturo in ozke ceste je skuter za vožnjo po mestu dejansko najbolj racionalna izbira. Domačini jih uporabljajo ne glede na status ali namen – na njih opaziš urejene gospodične s petkami, gospode v službenih uniformah, otroke in starejše prebivalce, včasih pa tudi celo družino. Za taksije opozarjajo, da je treba obvezno izbrati samo tiste uradne, če ne želiš vožnje nekajkrat preplačati. Sicer pa je katerakoli oblika prevoza po Hanoiu, in tudi sicer po Vietnamu, zelo poceni. Sama za prevoz s taksijem (razen do letališča, ki je malo dlje), nikoli nisem plačala več kot 5 evrov, avtobusne karte pa ne dosežejo niti pol evra v eno smer.  

Kulinarika

Naj bo na ulici, v baru, restavraciji ali hotelu – brbončice so na skušnjavi prav na vsakem koraku. Hanoi ima namreč bogato kulinarično tradicijo in od tod izvira veliko znanih vietnamskih jedi, kot je na primer »Pho« – juha z riževimi rezanci, zelenjavo in koščki govedine ali piščanca ter podobna ulična hrana, pripravljena z rižem in različnimi vrstami mesa.

Za tiste malo bolj pogumne Hanoi ponuja tudi številne restavracije, ki kot specialiteto ponujajo kače in različne insekte, pogost pojav na menijih pa so tudi psi 🙁 K sreči želja po prehranjevanju s psi zadnja leta upada, saj jih vedno več Vietnamcev obdrži kot domače ljubljenčke. Cene kužkov, ki jih bogatejši Vietnamci uvažajo iz Kitajske ali Japonske, lahko sežejo tudi čez 5.000 evrov.

V Hanoiu pridejo na svoj račun tudi pivoljubci. Lokalno pivo Bia Hoi, ki ga domačini pripravljajo vsak dan sproti, stane manj kot pol evra na kozarec, strežejo pa ga praktično v vsaki restavraciji. Na vsakem koraku pa lahko dobite tudi različne vrste tropskega sadja. Najbolj pogosti so pitaja, liči ter ananas, ki vam ga olupijo in razrežejo na koščke kar na ulici.

Tipične turistične znamenitosti

Najbolj živahno dogajanje ponuja Old Quarter, staro mestno jedro, ki je prepleteno s kavarnami, restavracijami, trgovinicami in arhitekturnimi ostanki kolonializma. Stara četrt vodi do manjšega jezera Hoan Kiem, katerega izjemno lepo urejena obala privablja tako domačine kot turiste. Sprehod okoli jezera ponuja številne fotografske užitke in je, kljub centralni lokaciji, izjemno sproščujoč.

Ena izmed najbolj obiskanih točk je Ho Chi Minhov mavzolej, kjer v steklenem sarkofagu počiva prvi predsednik Vietnama. Veličastna stavba, posvečena velikemu vodji takratne komunistične partije, ki je na trgu Ba Dinh leta 1945 razglasil neodvisnost, je obdana s prelepimi vrtovi in privablja številne turiste, ki včasih na vstop čakajo na soncu tudi po več ur.

V njegovi neposredni bližini je Tran Quoc pagoda, najstarejši budistični tempelj iz 6. stoletja, za tiste, željne zgodovine, pa velja omeniti še Pagodo enega stebra, ki spominja na lotosov cvet, Tempelj literature, znan kot prva vietnamska univerza, Vojni muzej in Muzej vietnamske zgodovine.

Hanoi je vsekakor destinacija, ki pusti pečat v spominu še dolgo potem, ko zbledi tisti iz potnega lista. Če ga želite doživeti v pristnem romantično kaotičnem vzdušju, pobrskajte po ugodnih letalskih povezavah in se tja odpravite čimprej. Čez dobro leto bo namreč mesto dobilo svojo prvo podzemno železnico, hitra rast prebivalstva in priseljevanje pa obetata še večje spremembe, ki bodo mesto gotovo precej spremenile.

Še nekaj osnovnih informacij:

  • Letališče Noi Bai je od centra mesta oddaljeno dobrih 20 km. Za prevoz s taksijem boste plačali okoli 15€, z Uberjem gre še nekoliko ceneje.
  • Za vstop v Vietnam potrebujemo slovenski državljani vizo, za katero je potrebno plačati 25 USD. Predhodno si morate priskrbeti še vstopno »povabilo« od ene izmed spletnih agencij, za katerega boste odšteli dodatnih 10 – 15 USD.
  • Uradna valuta je Vietnamski Dong (VND) in priporočljivo je, da imate pri sebi vedno nekaj gotovine. Na ulicah, v barih in manjših trgovinah, pa tudi taksisti namreč ne jemljejo kreditnih kartic.
  • Hanoi ima ogromno izbiro prenočišč, cene pa so odvisne od lokacije in ponudbe. Za zelo dober hotel s tremi zvezdicami v živahnem mestnem jedru boste odšteli okoli 40€ na noč, malo manj zahtevni lahko pridete skozi tudi za 20€.
  • Več fotografij lahko najdete v mojem Facebook albumu.
  • Članek je bil objavljen tudi v reviji Ona plus, ki je izšla 4.7.2017
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