A POSTCARD FROM - Hanoi, Vietnam
In October I spent 3 weeks in Vietnam and used Hanoi as my base in which to explore (and relax and draw and paint and drink coffee). It was my first time in Vietnam and I LOVED it. I saw so much of the city and have some great tips that I'll be sharing over a few posts. This post is general, about where I stayed and what museums I went to, but soon I'll follow on with some specific guides for fashion & textile lovers, and one for vegetarians too.
How did I get to Hanoi?
I flew with the brilliant Qatar Airways, from London to Bangkok, via Doha. If you are passing through Doha and have some time between flights, then head for a massage in the Airport Spa (around £50) and you'll get access to the pool and jacuzzi (totally epic and relaxing!). On the way I stayed in Doha City for a few days, read about it here.
I then flew Thai Airways from Bangkok to Hanoi. My hotel (details below) organised my pick up for $19 and I'm pleased they did, Hanoi is a maze and I arrived in the dark.
How did I get around?
Although most tourists seemed to be obsessed with the Uber-like motorbike app Grab (cheap and reliable, apparently), I was happy to walk everywhere. Everyone talks about how hard it is to cross the road, but I think years of visiting Delhi have trained me - I didn't get run over AT ALL! On a few occasions I got a taxi, and usually I asked the hotel to call one for me, as then they helped to explain where I wanted to go. As a result of walking a lot, I got to spend time in quiet streets and stumbled across some interesting scenes which I then spent a few minutes capturing in my sketchbook. The one below is of the rows of motorbikes that line each pavement in the Old Town.
What is the currency?
The currency is Vietnamese Dong, but you can also pay in dollars. Many quote prices in dollars and you pay in dong. At that point of writing, $100 US (around £75) equals over 2 million dong. I never got used to the notes, count your money out slowly! ATMs are easy to find so no need to convert money before reaching Vietnam.
Where did I stay?
MAISON D'ORIENT HOTEL
I've backpacked in the past but it's not for me anymore. Nowadays I tent to hunt out clean and simple places, with good light and a nice breakfast. My research led me to Maison D'Orient Hotel.
As you'll see from the above photo, the reception area is beautiful. A tiled floor and plants and just off a quiet alleyway too, which in Hanoi is quite the luxury (it's a noisy place, especially in the Old Town). I stayed in 3 different rooms during my stay and they really varied. The best was 303, which had a lovely corner balcony, lots of light and a big desk ($47 per night). The next was 203 ($47 per night) which had a small balcony, not so much light and some areas of damp (very common in Hanoi) and then 102 which was their emergency room for when they get really busy. It's a room without a window, it's near the reception so it's quite noisy, but for $25 including breakfast it suited me just fine.
The best things about this hotel are the helpful staff (especially Michael, who helped me book my trip to HaLong Bay), and the fantastic breakfast. Brown toast, freshly made eggs, local fruits and the most delicious coffee. I savoured every mouthful and never needed to eat lunch.
My tip? Book this hotel in advance, otherwise you'll be like me, hopping from room to room (and on occasions having to stay elsewhere).
Maison D’Orient, 26 Ngo Huyen, Hanoi www.maison-orient.com
What tourist destinations did I visit?
VIETNAMESE WOMEN'S MUSEUM
This museum was fascinating. If you go I would recommend taking the audio tour as it gave so much insight that wasn't available in the printed descriptions. My favourite floors were at the top, where I learnt about some of the women (in most cases, very young ones) who were involved in the Vietnam War. There's a great collection of propaganda posters, beautiful examples of ethnic clothing and some really interesting artefacts. As someone fascinated by fashion, textiles and feminism it was really inspiring.
Vietnamese Women's Museum, 36 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi, Viet Nam www.womensmuseum.org.vn
HOAN KIEM LAKE
This lake is lovely to walk around during the day. There are so many benches, so take a book and buy a coffee and have a relaxing mooch about. During the weekends the surrounding roads are closed to everyone but pedestrians, so it's a great time to visit. The vibe changes, but it's still as captivating. You'll see groups of dancers, people selling balloons, street food vendors and lots of live music. It reminded me a little of Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.
Ngoc Son Temple is in the middle of the lake across a bridge. I personally didn't find it all that thrilling but that could have been to do with the hundreds of hyper tourists with selfie sticks fighting for a photo with Buddha.
Close to the lake is a small massage place, run by Flower, the wife of my Ha Long Bay tour guide. It's no frills and the room is down an alley within a small hotel, but the massage was really good and the staff were lovely. It's tough starting a new business nowadays when us tourists seem to rely SO heavily on Trip Advisor reviews, so head here if you can to help these elovely people to get their business flying. Look out for the Hanoi Flower Spa sign outside 64 Can Go.
TEMPLE OF LITERATURE
I visited the Temple of Literature on the day of graduation. So it wasn't the peaceful wander around gardens and temple that I had hoped for. There were hundreds of students posing for photos in every direction and it was super loud! The temple was nice, but I wouldn't say it's a must-see. If you 're in Hanoi and fancy some greenery and some time away from the traffic then go along, but check there won't be people throwing mortar boards at you, unless that's the kind of thing that floats your boat. A man insisted that I had my photo taken by him in front of the vista above, so I joined in with the photo madness and I'm pleased I did. A great photo of my Asos White dress, alongside my lovely fan (that in hindsight looks a bit like a giant sanitary towel).
What can I buy as gifts to take home?
I'm not a big buyer of tat and am not interested in traditional souvenirs (many of which are made in China anyway). Instead, I bought back beautiful hand-painted ceramics from Celender, some illustrated postcards from Hanoia and a tea towel from Collective Memory. All three of those shops are a must-see when in the Old Town.
Hanoia, 38 Hang Dao, Hanoi
Collective Memory, 20 Nha Chung St, Hanoi
Cerender, 11A Trang Thi Street, Hanoi
What didn't I get to see and why?
I didn't find the time to watch the Water Puppet Show but I heard from lots of people that it was fun and worth a visit. I couldn't visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum as it was closed when I was there, but I'm not entirely sure it would have been my thing anyway. I'm gutted I didn't make it to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, I hear it's brilliant so do go if you get chance.
I was just so happy wandering the streets looking for hidden treasures, vintage ethnic clothing and drinking great coffee - what a city! My posts about shopping and eating in Hanoi are coming soon.
Thanks for reading, I hope this has been useful. Do let me know.