Hot Hanoi Nights 10 things to do in Vietnam’s Capital
Have you ever written about a destination in just a few paragraphs? It’s hard to capture just the feeling of it in a few words.
Do you get any sense of the place from this ?
The lights were dim as we arrived in the terminal, like there were fluorescent bulbs missing. In hindsight I think it was the grime of age and probably cigarettes. It felt a little creepy for a capital city airport and I noticed the indifferent faces on the uniformed security. Sometimes it’s hard to work out what time of the day or night it was in the place you left and that feeling of sleep deprivation just makes things surreal.
When the terminal doors parted the air outside was thick with the smell of Asia. I love that smell, and the heat and noise. After hours of travel and air conditioned nothing, I felt excitement as I always do arriving anywhere. Here, the assault of noise and chaos hit me with a smack. The heat and the thick wet air wrapped around my lungs, and it took a minute before I could breathe again.
Every face beyond the air-conditioned terminal was talking at me, yelling, and gesturing towards a taxi or van and sometimes a laughably small bicycle with a double passenger seat. I was with Quang, and happy about it. Some hotels offer a taxi service, and I realized this pre-organized $20 luxury was probably one of my finest organisational milestones. He swept the chaos aside with a few words. The door to the minivan slid open and cool air curled onto the pavement before we set off into the traffic and beeping horns.
The road into the city was dark but all along the way there were pockets of light offering fascinating glimpses into shops and tall apartment buildings with washing fluttering, set beside small shacks where people were sitting cross legged or standing looking out. Dogs and children and micro roadside restaurants flashed past and the driver jabbed at the brakes and sounded his horn flipping from one lane to the next around other cars and vans and bicycles.
The drive didn’t alter my state of mind, I needed sleep if I was going to relax and rid myself of the uneasy suspicion I felt towards my new surroundings. That first night I had to get used to the all night sound of horns blaring and motor bikes passing relentlessly in the darkness because this, I would learn, is Vietnam.
In the morning I swung the large shutters open and looked down from my second floor room. The Old Town was like a movie set. Below where the night before had been an empty street, there was now people slurping Pho perched on stools. A lady rang a bike bell as she picked her way across the traffic selling Pomelo from the back of her bike and on the corner, a couple of women doing a back alley deal with fresh fruit. Little shops had sprung up lined neatly along the walkway. A woman saw me looking down and held up a package of rice and curry wrapped in a leaf.
“ You want. Lady ?”
I was sold, in awe and love. The never ending bikes, the endless food and the smell, yes even the smell.
Hanoi is 13 hours flying time from Sydney. It’s chaotic but a good place to begin re-learning everything you have ever known about crossing the road. It’s good practise for Ho Chi Min City!. It’s also cooler here in the North so you can ease your way into the tropical weather. Find a deal on Trip Advisor for a hotel and stay in the old town.