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How Hanoi Stole Our Hearts

Hanoi streets

I feel like I’ve been using the same phrase a lot:

“After two months in China…”

It’s true. After two months in China we were pretty much down for anything that could be classified as “change”. Still, we had pretty low expectations for Vietnam. The fact of the matter is many other bloggers we’ve talked to didn’t really enjoy Vietnam. It was mostly for the same reasons too.

Scammers. Unfriendly people. Lackluster food.

So in a sense, we weren’t exactly looking forward to Vietnam, and when I got off the train in Hanoi only to find the cab drivers attempting to charge me double (I knew the correct price, having talked with the hotel beforehand) I could see it coming.

This was going to be everything people said it would be.

But, like that time you were expecting a snow day only to wake up to a light dusting, our expectations concerning Vietnam were wrong. The weathermen were wrong. The food was delicious, the people were friendly, and as far as I’m aware – we never got scammed.

Hanoi city streets

In fact, we really enjoyed Hanoi (and the rest of Vietnam).

One of the beautiful things you notice about Hanoi is the fusion of European and Asian cultures. I realize this comes from years of French imperialism, which frankly was not the best time for Vietnamese people, but be that as it may, the French influence is somewhat charming. Imagine an Asian city with legitimate patisseries. I love a good bakery – it’s my kind of breakfast (and lunch, and dessert).

We liked the style of buildings too. Previously, China and Korea a bit as well had a very “Soviet” feel. Large, seemingly uninhabited grey buildings. Imposing? Yes. Charming? No. In Vietnam, the yellow awnings, narrow streets, and pastels all come together to create a unique architectural style. It was homey in a way.

The best part, of course, is the food. I’m not that familiar with Vietnamese food since it isn’t too popular in the states, but I was won over from meal one. The fruits and veggies taste…fresh. They aren’t drenched in oil (unlike you know who’s food). They use a lot of peanuts, which I like. I could go on and on but perhaps I’ll save a few thousand words with some pictures:

Beef Pho


Bun bo nam

Then there was the street side dining establishments.

The ones with chairs and stools sized for infants but holding grown men and women. We weren’t used to eating with the table below knee level but have quickly figured out that this is in fact the norm around here.

Baby Stools and Chairs

When we enter a new country we always try to look for a few things that we haven’t seen anywhere else. Something about which you can say “Did you know in Vietnam they…”

…Use the city sidewalks as motorbike parking instead of pedestrian walkways?

Motorbikes parking on sidewalks

Yes you actually need to weave around both the moving motorbikes cluttering the city streets and the ones parked right on the sidewalks. Essentially you end up walking in zigzags all over the city. This we needed to get used to. The Vietnamese, on the other hand, are so use to it they often use their motorbike as a hammock.

As for crossing the street? Don’t even think about waiting for the motorbikes to stop and yield the way to pedestrians. You’ll be waiting forever.

Yep, this city literally has hundreds of thousands of motorbikes, which makes crossing the street a tactical game of Frogger. But it’s worse than that, actually. Since the sidewalks are particularly narrow and everyone parks their bikes on them, you’re forced to walk in the streets. Later on when we went to Ho Chi Minh, we saw that the sidewalks weren’t as narrow so there was plenty of room for pedestrians.

Still, at the end of the day I never felt like they wanted to hit me, and people tend to drive slowly.

After Hanoi, we couldn’t wait to see what else Vietnam had to offer.

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14 Responses to How Hanoi Stole Our Hearts

  1. Glad you guys enjoyed it! I fondly remember dodging the traffic and the parked motorbikes. Look out for when someone is backing their parked motorbike into the street. They do not know or care that you are there. 🙂

    Josh | Traveling 9 to 5 January 6, 2013 at 11:50 AM Reply
  2. I always like visiting the Asian cities with European influence too. Check out The Philippines. Everyone has a Spanish name and there are legitimate whole colonial towns and city centers with 400 year old cathedrals that look, more from Mexico than somewhere smack dab in the middle of Asia!

    Jeremy January 7, 2013 at 7:52 AM Reply
    • Thanks Jeremy, we’re heading there in a few months hopefully!

      Dave and Vicky January 7, 2013 at 7:53 AM Reply
  3. Ah yes. I had the exact same sentiments going from China to Vietnam. And I too had low expectations for Vietnam based on other traveler’s experiences. But Vietnam really surprised me in such an amazing way. There was so much see, the food was delicious, and getting around the country was actually hassle free. Hanoi was my favourite city and I would definitely make a return trip to the country!

    Arienne January 7, 2013 at 10:03 PM Reply
  4. I’ve also heard bad stories about Vietnam but it’s always been on our travel itinerary because it looks like such a beautiful place and we’re really interested in its history. Good to hear that you had a great experience there, I’m looking forward to it even more now!

    Amy January 9, 2013 at 7:30 AM Reply
    • As you should Amy, as you should.

      Vicky January 9, 2013 at 7:31 AM Reply
  5. Felix and I are always disappointed by the lack of good Vietnamese places. The closest ones to us are in Chinatown, which is actually pretty close, but even there there are only a few. I am sure the stuff you are getting there beats our selection though!
    Felix and Kim

    Kim January 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM Reply
    • Yeah they’re really underrepresented in the US. Congrats on the baby!

      Dave and Vicky January 9, 2013 at 10:31 AM Reply
  6. I have only been to to HCMC and the Mekong Delta. I didn’t like HCMC at all as people were plain rude and they tried to rip us off a lot. 3 times in one day! Loved the Mekong Delta though. People were very different there. I would like to explore the other parts of Vietnam as I heard that people there are much nicer than in HCMC.

    TammyOnTheMove January 10, 2013 at 12:16 AM Reply
    • For the most part I tend to agree. I think that most travelers tend to start with South Vietnam and as a result it’s more of an opportunity for people to rip tourists off (since they don’t know the prices). We’d been traveling for a few weeks so we knew what was up, but overall I think we were hassled SIGNIFICANTLY more in HCMC as opposed to Hanoi.

      Dave and Vicky January 10, 2013 at 6:29 AM Reply
  7. Dear, guys. Actually people in the South of Vietnam are supposed to be nicer than those of the North. But don’t worry, you would almost always get ripped off all over the country. Best way to get a friendly tour is to get help from student fellows. Join couchsurfing community in big local cities. Watch out for pickpockets and thieves, especially in HCM city. Hope I was helping.

    one vietnamese guy April 10, 2013 at 8:32 PM Reply
    • Thanks this is good advice for anyone heading to Vietnam

      Dave and Vicky April 11, 2013 at 3:34 AM Reply

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