The friendliness of people from Vietnam is legendary, but nothing prepared us for the welcome we received at the cutest of boutique hotels, Skyline Hotel, in Hanoi. We felt like members of the family as soon as we stepped in the foyer of the small hotel in the centre of the Hanoi Old Quarter. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff and they allowed us to check in very early off the train for nominal $5 which included a cooked breakfast not originally included in our booking. Superb!
Crossing the road is an art form and the trick is to just walk straight out across the sometimes four lanes of road.
Thousands upon thousands of motorbikes drive endlessly around the Hoan Kiem Lake junction forming a never ending carousel of motorbikes that seem impenetrable. The steamy heat mixed with gasoline fumes from the bikes makes a heady mix. Crossing the road is an art form and the trick is to just walk straight out across the sometimes four lanes of road. DO NOT HESITATE. The bikes will drive around you so just stick to the direction of where you want to go. (Only if a driver is texting should you try to avoid a bike – everyone else will avoid you.) If you are overwhelmed by the traffic, we recommend taking a taxi either from Mai Linh Taxis or Hanoi Group Taxi. We found them reliable.
Bartering at one of the thousands of small shops selling everything from massages to designer clothes and bags is usually worth trying; however, Sue and I focused on the food. (We definitely shot up a clothes size in a couple of days!) We made time to stop at the the huge night market which opens from 7 – 10 pm every night for dinner and shopping. This market is like an enormous extension of the shopping with lots of food stalls thrown in. Food in Vietnam is incredible: varied, fresh, healthy, cheap and delicious.
Food in Vietnam is incredible: varied, fresh, healthy, cheap and delicious.
Heading off to do the usual touristy stuff, we took a bicycle rickshaw to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum. The much revered leader’s body is on show to the public most days of the week. The 1000-year-old University Temple of Literature dedicated to Confucius, and, in our opinion, the highlight of Hanoi, was the next stop.
We finished off our last night at the Water Puppet Theatre overlooking the lake. The theatre troupe performs a very traditional old puppet show with beautiful Chinese music and song colourfully acted out three of four times every day to full houses.
Hanoi makes a great jumping off point for regional travel. We returned to the Skyline Hotel after a 2-day trip to Halong, and our lovely hotel staff welcomed us once again like family. They gave us free showers, towels and also looked after our luggage for the two days we spent in Halong. It’s hard to top free showers and towels, but we were due to take an overnight train to Hue on the coast, and the doorman brought us to the train station by taxi – paid for by our hotel!! He insisted on bringing us and our luggage into the carriage of our departing train and ensuring we got the correct bunk, just in case there was a problem… Wow – we really were looked after – WE LOVE VIETNAM!