I realise it's been over half a year since my Asia trip, and there is still one last destination I haven't written anything about. After Koh Lanta, before going back to Thailand for a second and last time, we spent a week in Hanoi, Vietnam. I had wanted to go to Vietnam for a very long time, and it was probably the destination I was waiting for the most. The two main reasons for that were probably that I have quite a few Vietnamese friends and I simply love Vietnamese food. Well, with those two informations, I still didn't have a very clear idea of what Vietnam could be like, but it was definitely very different from what I thought it would be.
Hanoi is in northern Vietnam, and we went there in January, so it was definitely winter time. It was a bit chilly, around 15 degrees Celsius, and a bit rainy. But if you're from Finland, you probably laughed when reading "chilly" and "15 degrees! in the same sentence. So yeah, not a summer destination to escape the Finnish winter, but still quite okay to stroll around.
Hanoi is a huge city, and yet, walking around the central areas around lake Hoan Kiem, it gave the feeling of being in a much, much smaller place. There was clearly an old, historical center, dating from the time of French colonialism, and no big, modern buildings whatosever that would give the feeling of being in a city of millions. What gave out the actual big size of the city was the amount of scooters. Oh my, I have never in my life seen that many scooters. I knew that they're a popular mean of transport in Asian countries, but only when arriving in Hanoi did I understand to what extent. A tourist guide we had told us that the best way to cross a street as a pedestrian is to pray for God, close your eyes and go. That's how crazy the traffic was. And over all, it was only in Hanoi that I really felt in what was for me a stereotypical, Asian city, Motorbikes, a lot of street food and people dining quite literally in restaurants on the street, street vendors, a lot of cables hanging over the street in a mess that could never be sorted. Even if there were all of these elements to some extent also in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Thailand, it seemed quite obvious to me that Vietnam is still clearly in a different stage of development. But this certain... mayhem and chaos, where everything is mixed together, gave Hanoi a certain charisma. I really enjoyed visiting Hanoi, and I definitely would love to see more of Vietnam, because from what I've understood, the differences between cities and countryside or north and south are huge, and Vietnam is a very colourful country to explore.
But back to Hanoi. As we only had a few days, we took a few of them to simply explore around the city. We visited one museum, th Vietnamese Women's Museum, which is definitely worth a detour. We made only one day trip outside of the city, to Ha Long Bay, a Unesco world heritage cite at a few hours' drive from Hanoi. The day wasn't the sunniest, but the fog gave a very mystic feel to the whole day and place. Ha Long Bay is absolutely amazing. It is a bay with thousands of limestone islands, hard to explain how it is but you should see it with your own eyes. We booked a guided day trip there because it seemed to be the only way to visit, and I'm really happy we did. The trip was quite affordable and included transportation from and back to Hanoi, guided tour all day, boat trip around the bay, kayaking (it was my first time ever kayaking and couldn't have been a better spot to!) and lunch and snacks. They had even planned vegetarian food for those of us that didn't eat fish and meat.
In addition to those scooters, what shocked me was the prices. Vietnam was definitely the cheapest place we visited. Thailand wasn't expensive, but in Vietnam you could really travel with a very low budget if you wanted to. If you eat meat and are not afraid of the hygiene, the street food is definitely a cheap option, but since it usually contains meat and the level of English spoken by a regular street food vender is usually not good enough to discuss vegetarian options, we did go mostly to places that we had checked beforehand online or that were advertising vegetarian options. It was great that way, because the places we picked still served vegetarian adaptations of traditional Vietnamese recipes, so we could still enjoy the local tastes. The best place we went to was called Bun Bo Nam Bo, they had a whole vegetarian menu and the prices were very affordable, around 1-3 euros a meal (if that's the price of food in a restaurant, can you imagine the price of street food?!). Another one was this completely vegan place that we stumbled upon and decided to try, Minh Chay. It was clearly more aimed for Western people and tourists, and the prices were also a lot higher, but the food was really good.
Vietnam, I'll be back for you, I know I've not seen nearly all I want to.