Our first view of Hanoi was a pretty stressful one. We arrived at what we thought was our hostel by taxi but soon realised we were at the wrong place. It turns out that a lot of hostels in Hanoi have very similar names. So if you are staying at Vietnam backpackers, central backpackers, Hanoi backpackers, etc. then make sure you are actually going to the right place on a map, learn from our mistakes! Luckily for us we were dropped off only 5 minutes away from where we were supposed to be, so we ventured out onto the streets of Hanoi. One thing you will soon realise about the city is its pavements, or should I say lack of them. There are pavements on most streets, however they are completely covered in parked motorbikes and food stalls, so you have no choice but to walk in the road.
After checking in we went out into the old quarter in search for some food. We were soon following the crowds down busy streets lined with low tables and tiny plastic stools, with staff shoving menus in our faces, shouting at us to sit down for good food. We eventually chose a spot and sat down to decide what to eat from an extensive menu also containing chicken cartilage, pig hearts, dog meat, frog and jellyfish, on a table that was actually in the road with cars and motorbikes flying past us. This first meal was certainly exciting! Bottle caps were flying everywhere as members of staff opened bottles of beer and threw the caps into the middle of the road.
We settled down for an average first taste of Vietnamese food. I decided on the famous pho which is a noodle soup usually with beef, chilli and herbs, and Tom had fried chicken with rice. It was alright as far as street food goes but it certainly didn’t get us excited for a month of Vietnamese food (don’t worry if you are heading to Vietnam, the food is infinitely better than this first meal was).
On our way back to the hostel I made the mistake of asking how much some small doughnut-type things were from a lady selling them on the street. I wasn’t sure what they were but the price she said was very expensive for a tiny piece so I politely said no thank you and walked away. This lady was having none of that and proceeded to chase me down the street shouting OI MADAM, MADAM even though I said no multiple times, she followed me for the entirety of the street.
Here is where you learn from my second mistake, make sure you are very firm with street sellers if you are not interested in buying, otherwise they will follow you (I know they are just trying to make money but when you have just arrived in a city as busy as Hanoi from somewhere as quiet as Luang Prabang in Laos, then it is very stressful!). Do not be rude, just be firm and say no thank you. As a side note I would like to say that I did buy one of those doughnut type things another day and it tasted like a chewy deep-fried tennis ball so buy if you dare.
This first few hours in Hanoi certainly immersed us in what the city is like and just how busy it is in the evenings. It wasn’t the best of first impressions but bear in mind we arrived in the evening, hungry, after a long day of travelling and got dropped into the midst of the city’s chaos! Our next few days in Hanoi were considerably better, but we definitely weren’t in the relaxed city of Luang Prabang any more!
What were your first impressions of Hanoi or other cities across the world? Tell me your stories in the comments!