Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Before we arrived in Hanoi, we were told how much we would love it. If Saigon is a bustling teenager, eager to try new things, Hanoi is the wise, older grandmother holding onto tradition. Hanoi is famous for its old quarter, and rightfully so plus, it is the capital and houses Ho Chi Minh’s remains. The city holds more charm than all of Saigon (and I really like Saigon).

Originally, we planned on spending two days in Saigon, hopping a plane to Hanoi and then coming back down the coast via five days in Hoi An and Hue, which are in central Vietnam. Both cities are written about extensively, and best of all, Hoi An has lovely beaches. I thought we could have the best of both worlds: beach and history. Perfect! Well, no one told the weather. I spent the week before we left tracking a typhoon that was headed for, you guessed it, Hoi An. I quickly added warm clothes to my packing list with the assumption we would head to Sapa rather than the beach (it’s good to be a planner).

Sure enough, the typhoon smacked into the central coast and flooded both cities. We heard crazy tales of leaving hotels in neck deep water, of pushing wives and luggage in small, round fishing boats to get to dry land. The best story we heard was the 500 crocodiles that escaped in Hue and were swimming around. At the time, they had captured fifty of them. It was then we knew we weren’t in the US anymore. Someone surely would have sued.

One day in Saigon, we watched as people were turned away from our guesthouse again and again. The floods had pushed all the central coast people north and south. Originally, we planned on just flying to Hanoi and finding a hotel. Watching them, we decided it would be best to book ahead of time.

Our guesthouse had an internet connection, so we went to Trip Advisor and found a hotel with a decent rating and rates. We booked it online and got our confirmation. Easy. We weren’t going to wander the streets of Hanoi. We planned ahead.

We arrived in Hanoi around 6pm and took a taxi into the city for $10, or so we thought. When the driver stopped the car, he told us $20 - $10 each. The injustice swelled in the back of my throat like barf pushing to get out. My bag was in his trunk. We were stuck. We had to give him something. Pete, rightfully so, starting yelling at him. I was silently freaking out. We didn’t have $20 anymore, but I had $15, which he finally took and set my bag free.

Bitching and moaning about getting scammed, we lumbered down the alley where our guesthouse was only to find it closed. Not like closed for dinner, but closed and under construction. CLOSED. As in never opened. EVER. I cursed Trip Advisor.

At that moment, we were wishing we’d gone to the tropical island of Phu Quoc instead of Hanoi. Luckily, the Hanoi Hostel was down the street, and full of helpful people. The owner/manager, a great Aussie – Mick or Mike, was awesome. I was slumped in the corner, defeated while Pete and he figured out what happened. Basically, the scamming isn’t limited to taxis. People submit bogus reviews to Trip Advisor, get listed, have people come to their hotels even if they aren’t that great or, in our case, open. Oy. Since it was our honeymoon, we lifted the budget accommodation requirement and told him we’d stay anywhere – even the Sofitel. But no. Everything was sold out. Everything.

Some sweet women from Australia offered us the second bed in their room, saying they could share and we could share (the generosity of humans never ceases to amaze me), but Mick/Mike, who’d disappeared, reappeared to tell us he’d found us a room around the corner for $55. **If you are a budget traveler and find yourself in Hanoi, please stay at the Hanoi Hostel – great folks. I didn’t see the rooms, but everyone seemed happy.

From there, Hanoi looked up. Our room was lovely – I mean, not the Sofitel or anything, but really quite nice. We had a balcony that overlooked the Cathedral.

The next morning, we tooled around the city, which is incredibly walk-able. We wandered through the Old Quarter and the French Quarter (I couldn’t figure out the difference or are they the same?). We had breakfast at this cafĂ© that was hard to find, but once we did, we climbed to the top and looked out over the lake. We found another restaurant we loved, and sat upstairs looking down on the street as we sampled spring rolls. We quickly learned that most restaurants have upstairs, and that’s where the best tables are.

The following day we headed to Halong Bay, which shouldn’t be missed even if you hate tours, and then onto Sapa. After Sapa, we had one day in Hanoi before flying to Saigon and home to Los Angeles. But more on that later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! You make me want to jump on a plane to Vietnam!