Hanoi, Vietnam ハノイ、ベトナム
My Xmas/New Year holiday can best be described as “schizophrenic”. I went from warm, sunny weather in quiet, sleepy Luang Prabang to cool, mostly damp weather in noisy, frantic Hanoi. I had heard many stories of the traffic, in particular the motorbikes but nothing really prepares you for it the first time you see it, or better yet, are right in the middle of it. People drive by what I came to think of as the 2H rule: horns and headlights. There are very few traffic lights and the ones I did see were more or less ignored. Lines on the road? Mere suggestions. Yet, despite all that, it all seems to work somehow. Everything flows and in the four days I was there, having walked all over the place, I didn’t see one accident. I even had a ride on the back of one of the ubiquitous motorbikes after I got turned around and then sent in the wrong direction (by a soldier holding an AK-47 no less). My driver assured me he was the “number one motorbike in Hanoi”. Actually, it was great. My one regret is not actually shooting some video while on the back.
I had two disappointments during my trip to Hanoi. The first was that my hotel did not at all live up to the way it was billed on the website. I’m seriously thinking that the positive comments on the website were actually put up by the people running the hotel. I won’t bother going into detail but honestly, despite being a budget hotel, there’s no reason it couldn’t be neat and clean. The only saving grace was that at least the bedding and towels were clean and it was located in an interesting area of the old part of town. The second disappointment was that I lost my cell phone. I have a feeling it slipped out of my pack when I was at a cafe or restaurant. Obviously it was picked up and not returned.
Those two disappointments were offset by the friendliness of the Vietnamese people. Honestly, I had more people greet me or stop to talk in four days there than I have in four years living in Hong Kong. Food, coffee and funky places to enjoy both also enhanced the experience. The cafes in particular were a welcome retreat from the constant noise of blaring horns. Thankfully, several of the ones I found were set back away from the road in early-20th century buildings being perfect, quiet oases. If you go, I recommend Cafe Nola and La Place. As for restaurants, the “must go to” is the Green Tangerine. It’s French cuisine with a Vietnamese twist. The food, setting and service are impeccable. Also, if you’re looking for something really authentic, go to Cha Ca La Vong in the old quarter. They only have one thing on the menu (cha ca) and they’ve been doing the same dish since 1871. They’ve definitely had a lot of practice.