After a steaming three days in Bangkok, I made a necessary and relaxing escape to Hanoi. I had lost my bank card in Bangkok, so I was pretty stressed almost the entire time there until I got some emergency funds. Now that I have cash again, I’m fully able to relax and take in my surroundings once again.
This time I’m in Hanoi, Vietnam. Something about Vietnam has always intrigued me, more than almost anywhere else in Asia. Maybe I just liked the name? Or maybe it was because I worked at a slightly inadequate pseudo-Vietnamese restaurant for 18 months? Either way, I planned to stay in Vietnam the longest in hopes that I would love it as much as I hoped. And 48 hours later, I already do! Here are my first impressions of Hanoi.
The above/featured photo, of the bridge, had to actually have its saturation toned down because it was too vibrant, and it’s vibrance represents Hanoi so well. There’s a completely different energy here in Hanoi that I didn’t feel in Bangkok, and I don’t get in Edinburgh too much. It’s super vibrant, energetic, and it has a captivating energy that claims you the moment you lay eyes on it. I’m staying in the popular Old Quarter, which is filled with amazing coffee shops, countless art galleries, and street food galore. It’s a very young city; almost everyone I’ve seen here looks under 25.
The food here is….incredible. I’ve never had real pho (Vietnamese soup) before, and real stuff does not disappoint. Like Thailand, everything is made right in front of you, literally, as they pour your food straight from the pan to your plate. Everything I’ve had here so far has been so flavourful, rich, and indulgent. However, the portions are small, but that means you get to try more dishes!
Somehow Hanoi is even cheaper than Bangkok! While an average meal in Bangkok cost me about $2.50, a meal here cost me $1-1.50. I made friends with a Brit and our lunches and beers combined were just $4 in total. How I’m going to go back to Scotland and pay 3-4x the price for the same amount of food is something I don’t want to think about. But, you can live here on $700/month and live like royalty.
Thriving Coffee Culture
Vietnam has a MASSIVE coffee culture. On any given street, you’ll see at least ten independent coffee shops serving many different types of coffee but most importantly, the traditional Vietnamese coffee, which is a special drip coffee with condensed milk. I had one yesterday that was drip coffee, coconut milk, and coconut cream over ice, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, no joke. And it was $1.10. Like in Italy, you’ll always see people drinking coffee on the streets watching the scooters drive by.
I’m here the end of Lunar New Year, which means Hanoi is at its emptiest, since it’s residents often go back to their families in the countryside to celebrate this weeklong holiday. Even at its emptiest, Hanoi is just chaotic, with motorbikes nearly flattening you in every direction and cars creating a symphony of honks. The second day was the end of the New Year, and there was literally human traffic; it was so crowded with people and bikes and cars that it took me way longer than it should have to go where I needed to go.
Vietnam as a whole is GORGEOUS. A very popular day-trip from Hanoi, I went to Ha Long Bay yesterday, which is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and it’s easy to see why. Gargantuan limestone isles dot the bay, visible from any angle. And kayaking through them is one of those things that if you’re in Vietnam, you absolutely must do. Ha Long’s not only limestone isles though, it’s also filled with obscenely beautiful caves, and it’s been a bit overwhelming in terms of the beauty.
Hanoi is dynamic and diverse, from its architecture to its history and culture. From typical skyscrapers to beautiful French colonialist architecture to shacks, and everything in between Hanoi’s a feast for the eyes. This, combined with French rule, a few turbulent wars, and a large expat community makes Hanoi the home of the resilient Vietnamese, but with a thriving international culture.
I must say, the moment I stepped into Hanoi, I liked it better than Bangkok. Bangkok was great, but Hanoi’s one of those few places that just stole my heart immediately. I haven’t found one flaw about this place, and it’s easy to see why there’s a large expat community; it’s vibrant, young, and trendy, without the costs or impersonal atmosphere of larger metropolises.
As a whole, Vietnam is one of my favourite countries I’ve visited, and I’m so excited to spend the next few days here. At the same time, I’m sad I have to leave so soon and I’m already scheming a three-week trip planning my next trip back.