Arrival in Hanoi
I arrived in the afternoon to Noi Bai International Airport, which is located 45 km away from the center of the city. Hanoi is located in the north part of Vietnam and it is one of the most visited cities in the country. It’s the second biggest city after Ho Chi Minh. The capital can offer you beautiful French colonial architecture, a rich culture, diverse food and millennial history (in 2010 Hanoi celebrated 1000 years since it was founded). The first thing I did was get a Vietnamese visa issued. The tax for one-time entry into the country with the right to stay for 30 days was $25.
A cheap and easy way to get a VOA for Vietnam
- Invitational website – fill out your personal data, choose the kind of visa you would like and pay. In 1-2 days you will receive an email from Immigration services. You have to print it and take it with you to the airport in Vietnam, where they would take it from you. There you would get your passport stamped for an additional fee.
- 1 passport size photo
How to get to the city
There are three ways: by taxi, minibus or public transport bus. I immediately took the bus, where a few travellers had already occupied their seats. The first thing that surprised me was the low price of the ticket – 5,000 VND (0.3 USD), and the second was the fact that there was Wi-Fi. The trip took more than usual because of the horrible traffic in Hanoi, but even though I was tired from the long flight and the bus trip, I was excited about what Vietnam had to offer.
Saint Joseph’s Cathedral
The first goal of my trip was to get to the famous Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, which serves as a landmark in the old part of town, where a big portion of the hostels and hotels are located. This is the oldest church in Hanoi – it was inaugurated on the 24 th of December 1886, and the design resembles the architecture of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
This is the heart and soul of the city. It is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake and it is a main shopping district in Hanoi. In the past the sought-after cotton, jewelry, spices and silk were offered here, which have now been replaced with different modern goods and services.
After wandering around the small streets I finally managed to find the hostel and get accommodated. My hostel turned out to be the oldest hostel in Hanoi. Originally it was an old house that belonged to a French diplomat; later on it was converted into the first of its kind hostel, where the story of the VBH (Vietnam Backpacker Hostels-Original) started. The price was only $5 per night in a mixed room, which included breakfast, and from 19.00 to 20.00 there was “happy hour” with free beer. Later came the first encounter with Vietnamese cuisine. The locals tipped me that I would find the freshest food on the sidewalk. From my personal experience I know that it’s important to eat where the locals eat and they were sitting on small plastic chairs everywhere on the sidewalks. I chose a place and I immediately ordered a local specialty called Bún chả. It’s a soup with baked pork, served with a ball of rice, noodles and fresh herbs. The noodles and herbs are added to the soup and you can optionally add different spices. After dinner I walked around the Hoan Kiem Lake, where the locals like to go in the evening to get away from the noise of the big city.
There is a small island in the middle of the lake, in the center of which there is a pagoda of the Ngoc Son Temple. This is the most visited temple in Hanoi which is connected to the land by a beautiful red bridge, built in Vietnamese style. The temple is dedicated to the military leader Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the thirteenth century.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The first famous building that I wanted to see was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The mausoleum was inspired by the Lenin mausoleum in Moscow, but it includes different Vietnamese architectural elements. It’s located on Ba Đình Square, where on the 2 nd of September 1945 Ho Chi Minh read the declaration of independence, which marked the beginning of the communist and independent history of the country.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 in honor of the great Confucius. The first university in Vietnam was located at the temple, where ceremonies, study sessions and exams took place.
Hanoi Opera House
The opera house is one of the most beautiful buildings in Hanoi. It was built by the French colonial administration between 1901 and 1911 and it was modeled on the Parisian Palais Garnier. After the departure of the French the opera house was stage to a few political events, and later is was used for Vietnamese plays and musicals.
Architecture – most of the buildings are old and there are almost no tall and modern buildings. The houses looked very weird – they are 2-3 floors high, but very narrow. As far as I understood this is done, to avoid high taxes. The city is famous with its French colonial architecture as well. It has contributed immensely to Hanoi’s unique magnetic charming style.
The people – friendly, sweet, smiling, natural and happy in their poverty. The Vietnamese people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners. More and more young people are studying English and are trying to practice it.
The traffic – unimaginable. The streets are absolute chaos, but the locals seem completely oblivious and somehow manage to avoid accidents. Hundreds, thousands of motorbikes and mopeds noisily passed through the streets. It’s interesting that you can see 3-4 people on a motorbike, very often along with babies and small children. It’s very hard to cross everywhere, some places even impossible. Nobody stops in front of crosswalks, even the exact opposite – you cross and you hear an unstoppable sound of horns. There were even motorbikes passing through the sidewalks. The sidewalks themselves are occupied by parked motorbikes, places to eat and people trying to sell you something.