The trip to Hanoi has definitely been my most comfortable trip so far! I booked a ticket online through bookaway.com (which a couple had told me about in Sa Pa, and it’s great for booking bus and train trips in Asia!) and paid $13USD ($17.79AUD) to get a seat on Green Sapa Bus. My bus was leaving from Sa Pa Town at 8am and I was supposed to be there 30 minutes early, so I made an arrangement to take a motorbike taxi with my homestay at 6:45am for 100000 dong ($5.90). One of the brothers took me along the horrible road to Sa Pa after stopping at a little shop on the side of the road, grabbing a big Aquafina water bottle with a greenish liquid, and pouring it in the tank under the seat.
He dropped me off at the Green Bus station, I checked in and got my seat number, and then ordered a coffee. While I was drinking my coffee, some of the local workers were sitting at the table next to me and started playing a card game spelling different words in English.
One of them was considerably better than the rest, so I started making suggestions and they told me to join. I figured it would be unfair if a native English speaker played an English game, but I pulled up a chair anyhow and helped everyone out at the table. It was nice how friendly everyone was, and how easy it was to integrate myself in with them. Someone came in and said that we were going to leave, so we put the game away and I got my stuff to get on the bus. We were required to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag, as well as leave any food that we had at the front of the bus. This bus was the nicest bus I’ve ever seen!
Everyone got a bed to sleep in (if they wanted to sleep), and there were two levels (like bunk beds) with two aisles going between the beds. We made two stops along the way – one quicker one for a toilet break, and one longer one for a lunch break. I ordered some pho for 45000 dong ($2.66) and it was the best one that I’ve had so far! I arrived in Hanoi at around 1:45pm and my hostel was only a 10-minute walk away. I stayed at Nexy Hostel in a 14-bed mixed dorm for $7.34USD ($10.78AUD) per night. It was a really nice hostel, with a bar on the bottom floor, a cafe and pool table/games room on the second level, a TV room on the 6th level, and a rooftop patio on top. Plus they gave free breakfast, which not only included your typical toast and cereal, but also some chicken pho (which not many people other than me seemed to take). I’ve realised that I thought I wasn’t a breakfast person my entire life, but maybe I’m just not a WESTERN breakfast person. I’ve never been a huge fan of breakfast food – hate cereal, not a huge fan of toast, eggs are alright… But give me a big bowl of noodles or soup, and I’m happy! Hanoi is an extremely busy city, however it’s not just a typical busy city, but a city full of LIFE.
I loved it as soon as I arrived, and all I ever wanted to do was sit in a coffee shop and people-watch/traffic-watch. The traffic was absolutely insane and if I want to cross the street, I was told to just walk slowly (and DON’T STOP) because the traffic will be able to figure out where I’ll be at certain times and go around me. I’ve always been overly confident with crossing streets so I didn’t have much of a problem with it, but it really makes me have to put all of my trust in the drivers around me. I walked around the streets for a bit, came back to my hostel, and then went for dinner. I went to Bún Bò Nam Bộ, where I could get bun cha (or a noodle bowl) and a Pepsi for 75000 ($4.43), and it was so good!
It reminded me of the ones at Mi Hong, the Vietnamese restaurant that I worked for in my hometown. The place was so busy, so I basically just had to join people at their table. The person across from me was a local, but then when he left, a lady from Germany came so she gave me some tips on what else to see during my time in Vietnam.
On Friday morning, I decided to do a walking tour. I absolutely loved the walking tours in Europe because it gave me a good amount of information about the country and its history, plus it gave me the opportunity to meet other travellers. However, when I booked this free walking tour with my hostel, I didn’t realise that it would be a private tour (meaning I’d be the only person on it). The tour is “free” – all they ask is that you cover all of the costs of the guide, but seeing as I was the only person there, the prices added up quite quickly so I may have actually been better off paying for a tour. The tour guide ended up coming a half hour late because the original tour guide had some motorbike issues and was unable to come, so Alex replaced him. All of the guides are university students, so they’re giving up their study time to give the tours. The first place we went to was St. Joseph’s Cathedral, so I just took a picture from the outside.
We then walked to the Hoa Lo Prison Memorial, which was a pretty emotional place. The entrance fee was 30000 dong ($1.82) for me and then 15000 dong for Alex. The prison had been used by the French colonists on Vietnamese political prisoners in the early 1900s. The way that the prisoners were treated was extremely sad, and when I saw the guillotine, there were chills that ran through my entire body.
All of the materials used to make the prison were transported from Europe in the late 1800s. The prison was later used during the Vietnam war for the US prisoners of war, but it was kind of interesting how they portrayed this part of the museum because they had pictures of the prisoners enjoying themselves, such as playing basketball or chess. I’m not sure if that part was sugarcoated, or if the prisoners were actually treated well. After going to the prison, we walked to the train tracks, where many people stop to take pictures.
The train tracks are still in use, but only a few times per day so shops and cafes are set up right next to the tracks. We stopped at a cafe to get some drinks, and I tried a coconut coffee, which is a coffee with coconut ice cream added – it was so good! Our two drinks were 60000 dong ($3.54). After that, we walked to the Citadel, which is where the king used to live. The entrance for the two of us again cost 45000 dong ($2.66). It was around lunch time, so we were hoping it would be quiet, but unfortunately there seemed to be an entire school there on a field trip, and none of the kids seemed interested in the citadel so they were running around and playing games. We tried to keep our distance as much as we could, explored the citadel (which at this season, the entrance was beautifully covered in sunflowers), and then took a Grab back towards the hostel, which cost 35000 dong ($2.07).
We stopped for lunch, where I got a Banh Mi (basically Asian subway). I remembered to ask for no cilantro, but didn’t think to ask about onion, so when they brought me my sandwich, about half of it was filled with onions.
Anyway, I paid for lunch for me and the tour guide, which cost 140000 dong ($8.26) and then at the end, I wasn’t sure if I should tip as well, but I gave 100000 ($5.90), so the entire tour ended up costing quite a bit. I went back to the hostel to relax for a bit and then decided to go for coffee. I went to Đinh Cafe, which is owned by the daughter of a man who invented egg coffee. The cafe is almost hidden away, so I actually walked past it the first time i was trying to find it. However, I walked in, up some stairs, and found an open table (which in Vietnam, are like kids’ tables – the chairs are tiny so you feel like a giant!). This location was a lot less crowded than the original (which I checked out the next day), and it was actually cheaper (and better in my opinion). I ordered an egg coffee for 20000 dong ($1.18) and it was so good – it tasted like an egg nog latte, with foamy, sweet egg mixture floating on top and an extremely strong coffee in the bottom.
I walked around the streets for awhile and took in all of the sights and smells, and then went back to the hostel to relax.
That evening, I went to Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van to try the Banh cuon, which is a steamed rice pancake wrapped around minced pork. I ordered a set with a Pepsi for 60000 dong ($3.54), but the service was pretty bad at this place and the food didn’t have much flavour (even though it’s rated quite high). I walked down the night market for a bit and then headed back to the hostel.
On Saturday, I decided to do some exploring on my own. It was a rainy day so I had to balance my walking with escaping indoors every once in awhile. My first stop was Cafe Giang, which is the original egg coffee place. It was a lot more crowded but I came just as some others were leaving, so I got a table and ordered an egg coffee for 25000 dong ($1.48).
I spent some more time walking around and then I wanted to try the best Banh Mi restaurant, so I went to Banh Mi 25 and got a Banh Mi and Fanta for 35000 dong ($2.07). I really liked mine, but a lot of people who I talked to said that they didn’t think the restaurant was that good. I then walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which is the resting place of Ho Chi Minh, and his body has been preserved there. I had to go through security before getting onto the grounds. The guy behind me had cigarettes and they said that he had to leave them there and could come and get them afterwards. The mausoleum was just a building that everyone was getting pictures with (apparently you can go inside and see the body at some parts of the day), so I continued walking into the park area, where there was a Ho Chi Minh museum.
However, it was closed between 12 and 2pm and it was 1, so I came at the wrong time. I wasn’t too keen on waiting outside in the rain, so I decided to walk to the Temple of Literature, which gives the teachings of Confucius. I paid 30000 dong ($1.77) and went through all of the buildings. It was a really beautiful area, although the rain kind of made it difficult to enjoy.
However, I still spent about an hour there and then found a nearby coffee shop to enjoy an iced cocoa, which was delicious! I then slowly walked back towards the hostel, where I relaxed and dried off. Then I went out for dinner, and I was determined to try Banh cuon again. This time, I went to a restaurant called Bánh Cuốn Bà Hanh and the server was so friendly! He was a university student and his English was really good. He let me sit in front of the lady making my food so I could watch it being done, and he said that I could try to roll them, but I was happy with just watching.
These rolls were a lot better, and the friendly service was a nice plus. I paid 60000 dong ($3.54) and then made my way back to the hostel. There, I met Mathijs, a Dutch guy who had JUST arrived from Europe and only had two weeks to spend in Asia. He was planning to go to Sa Pa the next day, but when I said I was planning to go to Cat Ba, he booked a ticket there as well. So I had a travel partner for the next destination! Which I’ll save for another post (and hopefully I’ll write it faster than I wrote this one!). Love always