Tag: Destinations, Highlighted, Vietnam   Type: | |
November 21, 2011   No Comments

Hanoi is the major city in the north of the country and when visiting Vietnam it’s likely it’ll either be your first stop or your last. Either way it’s some experience. Hectic and buzzing with scooters that race down small streets and alleyways, it’s a commercial hotbed spilling out of it’s colonial buildings and a great base for some world-class excursions.

It serves as the base for visiting the essential natural wonders at Halong Bay and also the well-worth-it rice terraces and hill tribes of Sapa.

For us it was sadly the last stop in Vietnam, having travelled up from Ho Chi Minh. The not-so-far-away Hoi An is also another reason you have to come to this amazing part of the world. What are you waiting for?

Like shopping? Come prepared!

It’s a shopper’s paradise with countless markets to be explored (where you can barely squeeze between overflowing stalls) – typically aimed at the locals rather than tourists, indeed the whole city vibrates with an authentic Asian buzz. There is a mix of Eastern and Western, but we think Eastern dominates.

Classic Asian streets and alleys dominate the maze-like city centre, with shops spilling out on the pavement – the pavements are blocked and the road is a death trap with scooters whizzing millimetres past you. It’s a genuine thrill. You have to go with the flow to enjoy it, leave your western worries somewhere else.

Fish Oil Alley

Each street is named after the traditional product or service that was sold there – hence sunglasses street, fish oil alley, rice road. Well…sort of…things like that, times 100. It’s wonderful to just wonder around and work it out yourself what that street’s speciality is.

It’s a great place to hang out. There are also a few tourist sites, (see below) but mainly we just soaked up the ambience while relaxing on the street with a beer. Indeed, they have Bia Hanoi here which is super-cheap draft beer, often served on a street corner where you sit upon a foot-high plastic stool – a great perch to take in the energy and rhythm of life as it pulses around you.

Tourist sights in Hanoi

The island – the Ngoc Son Temple situationed on an Island on Hoan Kiem Lake is worth a look for it’s overflowing shrines but also the natural beauty of the trees, lake and views across the water.
The university – or the Temple of Literature to give it it’s proper name, is a centre of learning and champions education over the years. Set amongst scuptures, ornate gardens and pretty buildings
Bike taxi…or at least cyclo – other than walking the best way to get in the middle of all-things-Hanoi is to hire a bike taxi or a cyclo and become one of the crazy bikes yourself. Gets the adrenaline pumping but negiotiate hard before setting off.
Shopping – give yourself extra time in Hanoi to search through the huge shopping potential of the city, there’s so much to see and plenty of amazing things to pick up

Options, options, options

Having come back from an awesome trip at Halong Bay, we genuinely weren’t sure where to go next, after Vietnam. Indonesia, Borneo, Bali? One exciting option was a trip northwards to China to see the sights and attend a wedding of a close friend.

In the end we decided to go for it – why not? Why not pop over the border and attend the Chinese wedding of a close friend? Easier said than done, with a visa, flight, hotel, route, guide book to sort out…in just a few days…but we’d give it a shot.


First we had to sort out the troublesome Chinese visa, which online research led us to believe wouldn’t be possible from Hanoi. But after trekking around a few travel agents in town we found one that said they could do it, for a sensible price.

It should come back a day or so before our Vietnam visa ran out.

Pretty tight.

They seemed organised enough on first impressions so we gambled and handed over our passports, really not confident we’d see them again.

We had to wait a few anxious days to get the passports back so we headed off to Hanoi train station for the journey to Sapa. After a successful trip to Sapa, later that week we were back in Hanoi and nervously came back to the office.

Our passports had been back down to Ho Chi Minh and back up to the north of Vietnam in a matter of days – a huge distance that we knew wasn’t quick to traverse having travelled it. Had they really air-shipped our passports down there for the price we’d paid? We tentatively entered the office and asked about our Chinese visas…and they handed the passports over and there they were.


We gave them a kiss (the visas!) but…were they real? Would we be rejected entry at Beijing airport and thrown in some aweful prison due to a fake visa sticker?

We’d find out soon enough!

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