Hanoi, Vietnam

Woman selling assorted grains

Due to some visa shenanigans (i.e. I’m an idiot who didn’t read the steps for acquiring a visa properly), I didn’t end up arriving in Hanoi until a day later than I had originally planned. No big deal - I still had an open schedule with zero plans, so I could stay in Hanoi as long as I wanted or needed. Or so I thought.

After a head-first introduction to the chaos that is Vietnamese traffic and traffic laws (or lack thereof), I checked into my hostel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, called Little Charm Hanoi Hostel. Costing me a mere $11/night, this place was also my introduction to the low cost of living that is present across Vietnam. Immediately after dropping my bags off, I joined the free walking tour around the Old Quarter. I ended up chatting with several wonderful people during that walk, notably Becca and Ellie from England, and Guy and Sophie from Scotland.

The tour started by bringing us to a little side street where various locals sold food and drink. Our tour guide strongly recommended trying a drink where you select from an assortment of what can be described as fruits, sauces, and jellies, mixed with crushed ice and coconut milk. It ended up being incredibly sweet and had the texture of mucus at times, but it was delicious!

Colourful ingredients for sweet drinks

An assortment of ingredients laid out for extremely sweet drinks

The tour then took us through a large market with no air conditioning (a theme throughout this country), with stalls of colourful felts, clothing, and little bobbles and souvenirs squished together across three massive floors. We were given the opportunity to wander the marketplace for a few minutes before the tour continued, to snap some pictures and maybe pick up a thing or two from the shops.

Local market

Looking out over the ground floor of a local market

We then left the market to walk along some train tracks that ran through the inner city, passing by various shops and restaurants. As we walked to the tracks, I thought back to my first experiences with Japanese shopping streets. While walking through those streets I was struck by the many wonderful and unique smells drifting through the air, this time I felt that it was my auditory senses being overwhelmed. Motorcycle and scooter engines, people milling about, and horns honking constantly. And due to the sheer number of people flying around on their motorbikes and the lack of street signage, the only way to cross the road was to start walking and cross your fingers that you wouldn’t die!

Anyway, the train runs through the city a few times a day, and people will often hop onto the tracks just after the train has passed to take photos. After out due photo op, we stopped at a small cafe along the tracks for drinks. I had a juice of some sort, but others purchased things like coconuts. It was nice to relax for a few minutes and take in the sights and smells of a country so different from Japan.

Train tracks and shops

Approaching the shops and restaurants along the train tracks

Finally, we returned to the hostel, hot and sweaty. Free beer hour was upon us, so I took a quick shower and joined my new friends from the tour. We all went out to get pho together, then hopped over to the local beer street, which was packed with pubs, people, and cheap beer. We were able to get bottles for 15,000 Dong, which is the equivalent of less than one Canadian dollar!

Beer street

Beer street, where the alcohol is cheap and good times are had

I ended up discussing the possibility of doing a home stay in Sapa with the UK folk I mentioned earlier. With no concrete plans and a boatload of time, I thought it sounded like an amazing way to get a uniquely Vietnamese experience. So much for free time in Hanoi!

The next morning we walked to a local travel agency to plan our homestay. It ended up being weirdly complicated to book due to various reasons, but by lunchtime we ended up with a plan: take an overnight bus to Sapa that night, stay in small villages for three days and two nights, then take an overnight bus to Cat Ba Island (a place that was supposedly far less touristy than the famous Ha Long Bay I had been planning on visiting).

The rest of my time in Hanoi was quite laid back. We all grabbed some lunch together, followed by me trying egg coffee for the first time (not a fan). Finally, some rest time in the hostel and a quick dinner filled the time leading up to our overnight bus ride. Shoutout to Ellie and her blog for inspiring me to get my ass in gear and write mine (this is when I started writing about Japan!)

Overnight bus

Settling into our beds for the ride to Sapa

The beds on the bus were uncomfortably small, but we weren’t paying for comfort. At least we had accommodation for the night, and transportation to take us all the way to Sapa!

Want more? Check out an overview of my Vietnam trip here!

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