Leon is visiting Vietnam courtesy of Webjet Exclusives and was able to spend a day on his own exploring Hanoi and hanging out with the locals in the old town.
Being a first-time visitor to Vietnam, I have no idea what to expect. Truthfully, my knowledge of Vietnam is not great, with most of my impressions of the country coming from movies and war history. Oh, and the food.
Stepping off the plane, one stereotype is immediately stricken from the record – it is cold. Not the sauna was expecting.
So, I’ve only been here for an hour and I’m stepping out on the recommendation of our guide, Hieu, who tells me Hoan Kiem Lake is the place to be on the weekend. The streets shut down from Friday night through Sunday, and instead of cars, they’re packed with happy people laughing, singing, dancing and enjoying the community.
Here are my first impressions of Hanoi.
What I do today is not part of the tour, but I will keep you all appraised of what I do with Webjet this week and hope it inspires you to get on the big bird and fly over here.
I leave my hotel and walk along bustling streets. Hanoi is horny. And by that, I mean, they really love their horns. It takes me a while to realise that they are not doing it out of frustration, but more as a courtesy: I am here, please don’t hit me.
I make my way past the Opera House which today is being used as a backdrop for students taking photos for their yearbook.
A quick turn towards the old town and I’m greeted by hundreds of kids riding around in tiny electric cars. They’re the only cars allowed on the street from Friday night to Monday morning.
The streets around the lake are all closed. It is part of program the government here began a couple of years ago. It’s meant to bring the people together, to give them a chance to experience their city without the threat of being run over, which, if you’ve been here, seems very real although unfounded.
There seems no rhyme or reason to the madness but I’ve not seen one accident – against all odds.
There is live music, dancing, singing, vendors, big bunches of balloons, flowers, people cooking meat over coals in tiny tin boxes, students posing, weddings, kids kicking a feathered implement (rather skilfully) and thousands of revellers enjoying their city.
It is amazing. The energy is palpable. I love it.
You’ll love it too when you come here. Just make sure you hit up Hanoi on the weekend.
Here are a few other reasons you should visit Vietnam:
- everything is cheap – I mean seriously cheap
- the people are friendly and just amazing
- it’s another world, nothing like Australia, or the US or the UK, although there are subtle influences of all these cultures combined
- it’s scrappy, rugged and strangely beautiful – raw
- I reiterate point one: everything is insanely cheap.
Anyway, here’s to a week of discovery and busting myths. This is just day one, stay tuned for more updates!