Hong Kong’s work culture is conducive for the need to get away at any possible moment.  All the social dining and networking puts a real strain on down time so long weekends provide the perfect excuse to leave the hustle and bustle of the constant bright lights prevalent in a financial centre to an area of relaxation.  Flights within Asia are cheap out of HK airport playing a central hub and the ability to arbitrage the strong HK dollar to areas with less developed infrastructure.  Vietnam is one area to spend time.  To watch the development of Vietnam is to see a country in a constant state of flux.  Vietnam and Philippines had all the potential to beat China but squandered it only to now stand at odds with its giant neighbor.

Communism in the current model is at odds with its roots when you trace it back.  It’s a model that only works in the very beginning when you rid the past regime and make everyone equals but over time the discrepancy between haves and have-nots widens to such a point that it is poignantly obvious in Vietnam.  Case in point, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Ho Chi Minh’s explicit instructions were to cremate yet by doing so the regime lacks the demi-god for the people to admire which is now prevalent in Communist societies where the founding fathers are perfectly preserved.  Lenin, Mao and Ho.

Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific has flight shares for the route between HK and Hanoi.  Book the Vietnam Airlines ticket to reap the cost savings.  The food is nothing to rave about it.  Vietnam Airlines being one of two national carriers should use the chance to introduce passengers to Vietnamese food.  It must be too much to ask for Vietnam Airlines to force feed their culture down my throat as I was served the following nothing to rave home about airline food.  The flight to Hanoi at less than 2 hours makes it a rival to Taiwan.  Hanoi runs along the same longitude line as HK so expect similar weather.  Ho Chi Minh City is further south so you’ll find Tropical weather.

bad airplane food

bad airplane food

Vietnam now has in place Visa on Arrival (VOA) whereby you have your local Vietnam hotel/guesthouse/website send over a copy of your passport to the government so your Visa is issued at the airport when you land.  This makes the process easier for the consumer and less onerous than inundating their consular office.  The cheapest VOA procedure can be found online for $10-$15, use this as a guide to negotiate with your hotel.  They will do it for the price you dictate as all they do is submit a copy of your passport photo to the office in Vietnam.  The hotel/agent will send you a copy of Visa on Arrival Paperwork. Once you land at the airport, it’s a $45 USD fee for the visa office to process the paperwork.

Once you land in Hanoi (you realize the airport is brand new and a gift from the Japanese government) it’s a gauntlet to get outside.  You will pass through legions of taxi drivers and agents that would love to take you to your hotel for a fee.  Their idea of your hotel is to tell you the hotel is full/closed so they will take you to another hotel.  The smart thing to do is to book the first night at a hotel/guesthouse and have the hotel/agent send a car to grab you, $15-$20USD.  The hotel sent a Toyota Land Cruiser with air conditioning.  Our hotel told us specifically to do everything within the confines of the hotel, if you take a cab then have the taxi driver go into the hotel to settle the bill so it keeps them honest.

$8000 VND per beer.  $10k for a bag of peanuts

$8000 VND per beer. $10k for a bag of peanuts vs. tourist beer garden $15k/beer

Hanoi is full of street food vendors.  My first first meal was the nammer sub –  Banh Mi @$10k.  The guy told me $10k and charged me $20k.  I elected not to fight it.

The majority of the pho at the street food vendors was of the chicken variety which lacks the taste and depth of beef.  Beef Pho tastes better but it’s hard to find and may only be available in the mornings.  If you see something you think you may like to eat, do it.  Do not wait and return later in the day as most street food vendors shut down and close up shop once they sell out.  Beef Pho was easy to find for breakfast but tough to find after lunch.  Chicken Pho is available at any time throughout the day.  Salad rolls and spring rolls are lunch time food.

street food chicken pho

street food chicken pho

noodles without soup

noodles without soup

The best meal in Hanoi:

bbq meats in soup, rice noodles, spring rolls and plate of herbs

bbq meats in soup, rice noodles, spring rolls and plate of herbs

It can be found on 23 Bat Su street in the Old Quarter.

bat su and hang bo street

intersection of bat su and hang bo

One thing I notice is most street food vendors only do one dish and do it well.  There is no menu, you sit down on the plastic stool and they bring the food over.  They don’t ask what you want nor how you want it cooked.  You eat what they put in front of you and that’s it.

Drip Coffee with Milk.

$25k/cup for ice drip coffee with milk

$25k/cup for ice drip coffee with milk

Accommodations.

There’s a large variety when it comes to accommodations from guesthouses to hotels.  Hostels cost $4 USD per night, guesthouses mascarading under airbnb will cost $20 while hotels start at $30.  My first night was at a guesthouse off airbnb for $20/night, Hotel Hibiscus.  Hibiscus is in the Old Quarter by the Cathedral.  The location is right by all the backpacker hotels but not central to the nightmarkets and night life of the Old  Quarter.  Hibiscus has all the amenities to classify itself as a hotel with a bed (water-resistant linens), tv (sony flat screen), mini-bar and shower yet none of which comes together properly for a real hotel experience.  It’s more of a guesthouse with decent furnishings.  There is a complimentary breakfast every morning of the local cuisine.

The tail end of the trip was spent in a legitimate hotel, Spring Flower Hotel.  All the amenities of creature comforts that one comes to expect from hotel.  They even upgraded us to their junior suit.  The location is more central to the overall foot traffic prevalent in the Old Quarter with authentic dining options right outside the door.  It’s a short walk to the nightmarket which takes place from 7pm to late every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

General Observations.

Beware of scams.  Most travel agencies in Hanoi will have some form or another Sinh Cafe in their name.  Sinh Cafe is a travel agency with stellar reviews on trip advisor, their competitors start up shop beside them and on the same street with identical name and colours.  Always ask for the price prior to handing over money and always negotiate.  There are legitimate tourist tshirt shops: Ginko and Papaya, which are made in Vietnam.  The nightmarkets will have similar tshirts (also carrying the made in Vietnam label) but significantly cheaper (kirkland white tshirts are only 30,000VND which is $1.50 USD).

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