We arrived in Hanoi after a sixteen hour sleeper bus journey from Phonsavan, Laos. It definitely wasn’t like the Indian sleeper buses! It was crammed and more of a car seat than a bed but we made it. By the time we arrived in Hanoi it was around 6pm. As soon as you step off the bus you’re bombarded with scooter taxi’s haggling you with prices, we heard the roads in Hanoi can be manic and we couldn’t work out if they had spare helmets so we decided to walk towards the town. As soon as we headed out of the bus station there was a taxi rank for the same price of our scooter rides and we managed to get a metered taxi instead which was a lot better and easier considering the amount of baggage we had. The ride took about 45 mins due to Hanoi traffic and the driver stopped for us to get cash out and dropped us at ‘Republik Hostel’.
We arrived at ‘Republik Hostel’ and it was buzzing with people due to free beer on the hour from 6pm-9pm (only for the first 10 minutes after the hour). We asked if they had beds available which to our luck they did and it was only £5 per person with breakfast included! In the dorm you have your own little pod, with light and charging port, with the beds being super comfy it’s a bonus. We put down our stuff, had a quick shower then popped out to find something to eat.
The next morning we got up for breakfast at the hostel, brought a traveller SIM card from reception (400,000 dong for 6GB data) and then headed out to town to look for a scooter to buy. We didn’t come across any that took our fancy so we grabbed some lunch and then headed back to the hostel to join the free walking tour. On the tour we went to ‘Đồng Xuân Market’ Which is the largest market in Hanoi, it has 3 gigantic floors full of souvenirs, clothing and materials. Our next stop was to ‘Bach Ma Temple’ also known as ‘The White Horse Temple’, it was built-in 1010 to honour the white horse that gave the king an important guidance to build the citadel’s wall, making it Hanoi’s oldest temple. We then took a walk down the to ‘Hoàn Kiếm Lake’. It was starting to get dark so the lights started to illuminate the bridge, it was stunning. Due to it being the weekend the road was closed off around the lake, there was children on Segway cars driving around the place and locals were playing traditional games. There was one called ‘Bamboo Dance’. In this game there are people sitting down holding long bamboo sticks and moving them to a rhythm. The aim is to get through the bamboo sticks without getting trapped. Leila had a go and managed to get through successfully. Another game the locals were playing was ‘Shuttlecock’ This is similar to the shuttlecock in badminton but with a metal weight on the end. The aim is to keep it in the air using your feet very similar to kicks ups with a football.
The next day was spent looking for a bike and deciding our next destination. We went to ‘Vietnam Motorbike’, (31 Phuc Tan Street, Old Quarter) where the owner Tony had loads of second-hand bikes and scooters he was selling, We had a look at a few and settled on our Yahmaha Inovo. For $300 he gave us the bike, two helmets, 4 bungees, a phone holder, bike lock and even fitted a bike rack for us. We had to go back to collect it due to him fitting the bike rack, so we decided to go to ‘Hoa Lo Prison’.
This prison was built-in the late 1880’s, early 1900 by the French colonists to imprison Vietnamese politicians. Once the Vietnamese regained independence it was open as an education centre but during the Vietnam war, North Vietnam re-opened the prison in 1967 to imprison the American soldiers. Most of the prison was demolished in the mid 1990’s but a small area still remains and is now open as a museum. Throughout the museum there are many facts about the prison and you can walk around where prisoners used to be kept in their cells. It was very interesting and definitely worth a visit. Leila even took a picture of Harry in one of the cells and sent it to her mum and his dad to say Harry had been locked up by police and they totally believed it, but then felt silly once we said how would Leila would not be allowed into the cell to take the picture! It’s all about the facial expression.
We went back to pick up our bike, dropped it off to the hostel and then walked back into town to organise our next destination, Ha Long Bay. We went to a tour provider and decided previously that we wanted more of a relaxing cruise than a party cruise for a treat after being in hectic Hanoi. We decided on ‘Signature Cruise’ and the tour provider managed to get us a good deal. For one night, two days we paid £160 for a suite room with jacuzzi bath, and all meals included. The tour agent then took us round the back streets of Hanoi where the locals live in one room to a family in little alley ways and courtyards. That evening we had dinner at Avalon BBQ which is a rooftop restaurant near the ‘Hõ Hoàn Kiêm Lake’. The food was delicious here and very reasonable. You also get amazing views of the city. We then headed across the road to ‘Dinh Coffee’ to get our fix of egg coffee! You have to hunt for this shop as there is only a tiny sign and you have to walk to the back of a souvenir shop to get to the stairs leading up to the cafe. The owner is Ms. Bich, she is the daughter of Mr. Giang, who is the founder of one of the oldest coffee shops in Hanoi. If your lucky enough you can sit out on the balcony and enjoy views of the lake but sitting in the cafe still has a great atmosphere. Egg coffee is a must try when in Hanoi! The sweet meringue like topping with the bitterness from the espresso shot coming through at the bottom is such an amazing taste!
Afterwards we had a walk up the night market, which is only takes place on weekends in Hanoi. This is because the road the night market is on is closed to vehicles on Friday to Sunday from 6pm to 2am. We stopped off at ‘The Note Coffee’, the whole place is covered in sticky notes from other customers and you even get a note with your coffee to boost your mood! We decided an early night was in need as we had decided to ride the scooter to Ha Long Bay in the morning. Even though they offer a free minibus service, we knew we wanted to head to our next location instead of back to Hanoi after the cruise.
Tip: Walk around in Hanoi and get lost in the city, it’s the best way to explore it! And make sure you get a Egg Coffee!