Our arrival went exactly to plan. As we were arriving near midnight, we had a private car organized by our guesthouse to pick us up. We crashed hard.
We stayed in the Old Quarter, but chose accommodation that was specifically well-reviewed for its quiet street. Booking.com let’s you search reviews by key words such as ‘quiet’ or ‘breakfast’ or ‘bicycles’.
Hanoi is a crazy, vibrant town. The sidewalks are choked with parked motorbikes and myriad other obstacles, including but not limited to:
piles of discarded construction debris
tiny plastic stools belonging to established and transitory cafes
commercial goods displayed well beyond the natural borders of the shop.
As a result, pedestrians are forced into the street amidst the manic honking vehicles. So there is absolutely no walking-and- looking-around. You walk, or you look.
Two days was the perfect amount of time for us in Hanoi.
We walked around Hoan Kiem lake in the rain, went twice to Train Street, which was in our neighbourhood, and toured the Hoa Lo prison where John McCain was imprisoned (the Hanoi Hilton.)
Train street is widely reported to be closed to tourists now, and there is a guard forbidding you to pass. So what you do is linger around the barrier, and wave at or catch the eye of one of the track front entrepreneurs – the guy at The Railway Cafe is a good bet. Once you signal them, they walk down the track and escort you, their valued customer, back to their establishment, where, yes, you must buy something!
We went earlier in the day, got the lay of the land, found out when the train was coming that evening, and planned accordingly. Even without a train scheduled, it’s worth the price of a beer to see it.
We also stuck a toe (figuratively) into local cuisine, and jumped with both feet into the cocktail scene. But all of these were a sidebar to putting the worst of the jetlag behind us and getting our bearings.
The cocktails, please understand, were purely therapeutic. A way to ensure a good nights sleep. We haven’t had a bad one, and even in the bars mentioned above, they run only about 100-120k VND. That’s $5-6 CND. We haven’t done the exact math on these because it’s enough to know its half of Vancouver prices.
When we left Hanoi, our only regret – mostly mine, I suspect – was not seeing the women’s museum. Everyone we met said GO, and we were walking in that direction on our second afternoon when a wave of sleepiness overtook us and we turned in the direction of naps.
Never hurts to leave something for next time. We were on to our next adventure on Catba island…or so we thought!