I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to travel as extensively and often as I have.
Travelling is my favourite thing to do and I’m so lucky that my travel experiences have been largely wonderful experiences. I have never felt like a fish out of water, or anxious or anything like it while travelling. But Hanoi was the first time I felt this way.
I was warned about Hanoi. About how busy it was, the hustle and bustle, how difficult it is to cross the street, how loud and noisy it is. But I still wasn’t really prepared for it. I arrived at night after travelling from Singapore. Immediately I was made uneasy by the fact that my hotel room did not have a window. Nothing. No way to look outside. As someone who’s claustrophobic, this was a literal nightmare. I managed to get to sleep, but still woke up the next morning feeling uneasy.
The hotel where I was staying had very inquisitive staff. They meant well, but I found their constant questions about my plans a bit much. After grabbing a quick breakfast in the hotel, I headed out to explore. My aim for that day was to walk around as much as possible, get more comfortable, get a feel for the city. Let me tell you, it’s sensory overload. Motorcycles coming down narrow laneways towards you, people cutting up meat on plastic sheets on the side of the road, incredible stalls of spices, fruits and vegetables, chicken pecking at your feet, incessant honking on horns, smells of food coming out of tiny shops, people busily pushing past you, hundreds of wires over your head. It was manic.
I found the people to be lovely, a little boy came up to me as I was eating lunch asking if he could practice his English with me. He so shy and adorable and kept looking back at his mom for encouragement. Occasionally, people would help me cross the street when they saw how bewildered I looked.
At the end of the day, I decided that I should do a day trip to Halong Bay. I went to Vietnam Backpackers Hostel and booked in for their one day trip the following day, with a lovely 7.45am start. After a quick stop in Năng Cafe for the most incredible egg coffee (trust me, you need to try it), I headed to the hostel. After some confusion which involved another tour having to pick me up and changing to my actual tour bus at the pitstop, we made it to the marina.
Halong Bay is beautiful. I feel my videos and photos don’t do it justice. These incredible mounds of rock in the middle of the sea, covered in green, dotted everywhere. It was surreal sailing through it all. On the boat, we had lunch of stuffed crab, salad, prawns and cold beers while occasionally going out to the deck to see a sight our tour guide pointed out to us.
After sailing for about an hour or so, we arrived at a floating dock, where we all got out of our boat, and into smaller boats that would take us into the caves. I will say that it’s very touristy. Lots and lots of people jostling for the perfect photo, selfie sticks at every turn. But it’s all in good fun!
Afterwards, we sailed to a cave that was only recently discovered by a group of explorers. The cave is huge, and lit up with multicoloured lights that make it look like something out of a Harry Potter film. There are some pretty intense steps at the end of the tour that had everyone a little out of breath. They do say you shouldn’t go into the caves unless you are sure you can complete them, so some older people on our tour stayed behind.
After a lovely day exploring, we hopped on the boat and got back on our bus for the long journey back to Hanoi. We arrived back at about 9pm, and after grabbing a quick dinner to go, I went back to my hotel to discover my room had been unlocked for the entire day.
The hotel I was staying in had keys for the doors instead of key cards, and you had to turn the key three times in the lock to make sure that it was fully locked. For a moment, I thought I had forgotten to lock the door when I left that morning at 7.15. When I got into the room, I saw that my bed was made and realised it had been the cleaning staff who had left it unlocked. I threw my things on the bed and immediately checked that everything was still there. Laptop, visas, GoPro, hard drive, travel documents. I’m so lucky that nothing had been taken. I was so exhausted from the day that I knew going down to talk to the staff would be counter productive, so I decided to sleep and discuss it with them in the morning.
The next morning I told staff about my room and they were very apologetic, but it quickly became apparent that they were only concerned that I was going to leave a bad review on Trip Advisor. The manager asked to speak to me in private, where she proceeded to complain that I hadn’t eaten enough breakfast the first morning, that I didn’t talk to the staff enough, and that I really shouldn’t leave a bad review on Trip Advisor because people would lose their jobs.
I left to go to a coffee shop, totally bewildered and shocked. They were actually monitoring what I ate, they complained because I wasn’t sitting down in the lobby for tea with the staff to talk to them for ages, they were really just concerned about me talking badly about them. I sat in the coffee shop and booked a flight out of Hanoi for the next morning. Not a chance I was staying for the full five nights. I got in touch with Booking.com who were amazing and changed my booking to three nights instead of five. That night I headed to a rooftop bar, overlooking the madness and drank to the fact this leg of my Vietnam trip was over.
The next morning, I left Hanoi and that crappy hotel.
My experience of Hanoi was mostly bad because of my hotel experience. No window, overbearing staff, and my room being left unlocked for a whole day. I was so lucky nothing was stolen. Yes, I found Hanoi overwhelming. But I also adored the food (all will be linked in this Google Map), the egg coffee was to die for, the people I met around the city were so lovely and kind. Would I have enjoyed it had I stayed a few more days? I honestly don’t know. Maybe if I wasn’t alone and had someone else to laugh about the madness with I would have enjoyed it more. Maybe I just got unlucky.
I’ve never written a negative review of any place, because as I said at the beginning, I’ve been very lucky with my experiences. I prefer to see the good, extraordinary, interesting and beautiful in every places I go to. But maybe Hanoi just wasn’t for me.
Would love to hear if any of you have been to Hanoi and what you thought of it?!