I am now in the 4th week of my backpacking trip. I also haven’t written anything for quite a few days. To be honest, I started to feel tired of the constant traveling, sightseeing and the heat. I felt exhausted the last several days and felt less incentivized to go see places. Also, I think the noise level in the hostels started to affect me since I haven’t been able to have one full night sleep without being woken up by the noise the last 3 weeks. I’m not sure how the other backpackers can do it for months without getting tired. I surely felt the exhaustion and have decided to treat myself better as a “break” for my 4th week.
This week I made it to Hanoi, Vietnam. Instead of staying at hostels, I used the Hilton points I have accumulated to exchange for free nights. The Hilton hotel service in Asia is so much better than the US. First of all, it took me a lot less points to exchange for a night here in Vietnam. It only took 10,000 points for a king size bedroom compared to normally 30k to 50K for a night in the US. In addition, they upgraded me to a suite and provided me free breakfast since I’m a Diamond member. The breakfast was amazing! It had the typical American breakfast items plus the Asian breakfast food such as congee, stir fried noodles, steam dumplings, etc. and many options of pastry. I was definitely spoiled the last several days with a nice bed, hot tub and some quietness and privacy. That instantly made me feel better.
I spent the last several days in Hanoi mainly walking around the Old Quarter and also trying out different Vietnamese food. I feel like Vietnamese pays much closer attention to culinary and has more styles of food in comparison to Thailand and Laos. In the other two countries, I had street food most of the time and didn’t feel that I had to try certain restaurants, but here in Vietnam I have been getting so many recommendations from friends and online reviews that I had to try certain types of food. So far I’ve tried the best Bahn Mi sandwich shop called Bahn Mi 25, the Obama visited restaurant Bun Cha, this really popular restaurant closed to my hotel called Nha Hang Ngon and a very well known local restaurant Quan An Ngon. The sweet soup desserts here are so yum. I literally had sweet soup every night because they were so delicious.
Hanoi is a very vibrant city. There are always so many people and motorcycles on the street, especially at nights. I love how picturesque the city is, especially the Old Quarter with French influenced colonial houses built compactly close to each other. I also loved the exciting night life here with many people sitting outside of the bars in the little alleyway (called Ta Thien I think) drinking Hanoi beer. I wish I had someone to drink beer with the first night I was there in this alleyway. I definitely made a note of it and hope to return one day with someone special to drink beer with. 🙂
As much as I love the food and the city atmosphere, there are two things I did not like about this city though. One is the insane traffic where cars and motorcycles don’t necessarily follow the traffic light. Even when the light is red and the pedestrian light is on, the cars and motorcycles will run through the light if they see no cars are crossing in front, which then left the pedestrians waiting even longer for all the cars to pass even though the pedestrians are supposed to have the right to cross. As a pedestrian, you have to be so aggressive but also careful when crossing the roads. You basically have to learn how to dodge and act quickly and maybe say a couple of prayers at the mean time hoping that you don’t get hit every time you walk out on to street in Hanoi. I literally feel stressed every time I walk across the road in Hanoi. The traffic intensity here is something that I have never experienced in other countries, not even China!
The other thing I didn’t like was how certain street vendors and even tourist organizations tried so hard to take more money from tourists. It got so bad that I just had a hard time trusting the local vendors after staying here for only a few days. In Thailand and Laos, bargaining is a usual business but in those countries people bargain fairly and honestly, but here in Hanoi the street vendors tell you one thing but you could end up paying a lot more at the end of the service plus a potentially forced “tips”. You should have as much change with you as possible, otherwise, you might end up not getting your change back because people take your extra money and say it’s their tips. It has already happened to me a couple of times. Even in an organized local tour with a travel agency to the Perfume Pagoda, the tour guide literally kept pestering us for tips to the driver, the boat driver, and others. Tipping is not a cultural thing here in Asia, but people here in Hanoi asked for tips because they know some western countries such as America pay tips. The funny thing was the tour group I was with had mostly French and the French don’t have a culture of tipping, so the tour guide really pissed off the French on my tour. At the end of the day, nobody wanted to tip because the tour guide made it to be such a big deal and really ruined everyone’s mood.
Other than these minor incidents, Hanoi was still a great city to visit. My favorite experience was the 2 days 1 night Halong Bay Cruise with the company Swan Cruises that included kayaking, swimming, squid fishing, cooking demonstration, garnishing and Tai Chi activities. I think 2 days 1 night were perfect for visiting Halong Bay. It was especially nice to be on the cruise for the sunset at Halong Bay. I also really enjoyed kayaking and swimming at the Bay for over 2 hours. The scenery at Halong Bay is so unreal that I recommend everyone to do the same cruise if you get a chance!
Tomorrow I’ll leave Hanoi and head to Da Nang for a day just for the seafood before getting to Hoi An. I’m a huge seafood fan and there’s no stopping when it comes to seafood. So goodbye to Hanoi, goodbye to the nice hotel break and hello to the backpacking lifestyle again!