My Hanoi travel experience certainly wasn’t what I was expecting! First of all, I should mention that I had an expectation of NOT being all that overwhelmed when I arrived in Vietnam. After all, I was in China for a year. It was one crazy year and figured it couldn’t get any crazier. I hit Hanoi head on, and boy did it hit back.
Hanoi weather in February is pretty nice. November to January is winter for Hanoi, so my arrival was pretty much the beginning of Spring. And thankfully, spring had a pretty good lead. I learned pretty quickly that in February, there is little sun and a lot of rain. According to Wikipedia – our lifesaver – Hanoi gets an average of only 1.5 hours of sunshine each day in February! Yeah, things were a bit gloomy. The weather in Hanoi was something I was actually expecting. The rest wasn’t.
The traffic here is absolutely crazy. Now this is coming from somebody who nearly died every single day for a year while driving in China! I’ve never been so overwhelmed in my life. Hanoi traffic makes China’s driving habits look tame. The streets in Hanoi are a lot smaller, and the motorbikes make up for most of the traffic. There aren’t really lines to mark the separation of lanes, so everybody just goes wherever. And then, to make things even more difficult for drivers, everybody parks on the streets. Rarely can two cars drive by at the same time without one having to stop and let the other get around. Thankfully the major highways aren’t like this.
There are a ton of places to eat in Vietnam’s capital. The street food scene is delicious and huge! Vendors serving food from a cart on wheels or a simple table take up every little bit of space on the sidewalks. In fact, pedestrians have to walk on the street because the sidewalks are so clustered by street food sellers and tables for customers to eat on. There are so many places to choose from, and with the roaming motorbikes, the blaring horns, the constant reminder to not get run over while walking on the street, and growling stomach, your mind is put into some serious overload.
One of the most popular places in Hanoi to stay at is the Old Quarter, and area pretty close to the river and about a 40-minute drive from Noi Bai International Airport. Because this is a popular area, there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, and tourists! This is tourist zone, and most of them are also in brain overload. Looks of confusion, excitement, aggravation, and disbelief are everywhere, and it’s kind of funny. In Vietnam, they also celebrate the Lunar New Year. That meant even more people! But it was actually one of my favorite things to see because, in Wuhan, China, everything went dead for the New Year. Things were more lively in Hanoi, and it was fun to watch.
This is a big one that really affected my Hanoi travel experience. I’ve been to several places overrun with tourists the same as Hanoi. But I’ve never seen so many people do everything in their power to rip you off! Foreigners are constantly charged higher prices, the taxi’s cost from the airport was hiked, and some of the street food was the equivalent to standard pricing at a sit-down restaurant anywhere else. Everybody wanted you to book a bus to Ha Long Bay with them, too, including people at the hotels. At one point, I was quoted VND 300,000 (~USD 13.50) for a SIM card of 5GB of data. In USD-terms, that isn’t bad. Thankfully I had done my research and knew to decline that offer. Instead, at an official carrier location (Viettel), the price for the SIM and 10GB of data came to VND 150,000.
The best thing to do is research prices beforehand and then haggle like no other until you get that price or pretty damn close. It’s awkward at first, but hey, it doesn’t feel good being played and ripped off, even if it isn’t a lot compared to your home currency.
In my opinion, there honestly isn’t all that much to do in Hanoi. A lot of other people online have said this as well. Just as many have said that Hanoi is awesome, though. Definitely go to Hanoi first if you’re interested in Ha Long Bay and Sapa. I realized Ha Long Bay would be flooded by tourists, so I turned it town. I’ve also been to Yangshuo, China and to me, Ha Long Bay looks similar. Sapa, on the other hand, I wanted to visit pretty badly. But January and February isn’t a good time to visit the beautiful area and see all the cool colors. It was hard to turn it down, but I knew it wouldn’t add much to my Hanoi travel experience unless it was the right time of year.
In the end, I used Hanoi as a relaxing three days to adjust to leaving China after living there for a year. It was also a breather before starting my Southeast Asia journey.
Do you have any Hanoi travel plans?