Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam deserves its title as capital, due to the sheer size of the place. Spend a day walking around the city, meandering through the tiny streets and dodging human rickshaws, whilst dining on pho (this gorgeous warm broth like mixture with noodles, meat and vegetables floating within and giving off a delicious aroma) all the while whilst dining on this delicious concoction and sitting on small plastic chairs made for kindergarten children on street corners, or enjoying an ice cream around the large lake that centers the bustling city of Hanoi.
Check out the Water Puppet Show, a show that links puppet style dancing, traditional music and special effects with water puppets. The artists who deliver this daily show, have magnificent skills in creating a mirage of puppets and no masters. As an audience member, one only sees the jerky movements of the puppet in unison with the Vietnamese music that floats past the speakers, making this performance like no other. Another popular sight to see is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, as many flock to this sight, out of love, duty, respect or curiosity, to see their old leader. Arriving at 9am is a bad idea as many locals come from all over the country to pay their respects, so I recommend visiting earlier.
I also went to a Snake Farm tour organized by ‘Hanoi Backpackers’. On this tour, you dine on seven courses of snake; snake spring rolls snake bones, snake meat and even snake tail- I am sure a meal you would not expect to eat whilst away. Not forgetting shots of snake blood and bile which was… disgusting, although an experience in itself. Some people chose to do shots of the snake heart (they thought if Gordon Ramsay could, they could) but I couldn’t stand the thought of killing an animal to have the opportunity to swallow its heart for three seconds. Each course is washed down with a shot of burning locally made rice wine, both before and after. At the time, I was told that is was a tradition that was kept up in the countryside of Vietnam. However, because this tourist entertainment has increased over the years, the influx of tourists demanding this has meant instead of farmed snakes being used, they are now turning to protective species. When visiting Hanoi, decide for yourself if that story or photo opp, really is worth affecting the local wildlife.
Drinking in Hanoi when I was there, most of the time ended badly. As Hanoi is still a communist capital, some nights the police would unexpectedly turn up around midnight making sure bars were shut. A popular haunt is Bucket Bar, which knocks up powerfully strong buckets to wipe out all who fare to try it. I found Hanoi one of the most unsafe cities I have been to in Asia, with many people I know getting severely injured for their pin code number or robbed whilst walking alone at night. So my tip for you is to always stay in a group, stay away from gangs of motorcyclists, and just gangs in general and never take out valuables or large amounts of money out with you.
The best hostel I have ever stayed in Asia has to be the new “Hanoi Backpackers” in Hanoi. Its modern, it has numerous floors with many toilets and showers, and also you can get air conditioning at a reasonable price! As well as having two floors of free internet, a terrace, a TV room with numerous DVDs and pool tables- not forgetting the restaurant that serves all types of food for a reasonable price. Although honestly, this hostel is a party hostel as it has competitions and events such as live bands and beer pong tournaments on every night of the week, so I would recommend it to party people.
Also when you are in Hanoi, organise a trip to Halong Bay. Halong Bay is one of the Natural Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Sight, and seeing such a tremendous sight, you can see why. Floating along on a wooden ship, you gaze out to the vast horizon, where large majestic limestone islands are planted in a large ocean, with its beautiful boulder tips filled with rainforest and gaping holes in the stone which houses thousands of swooping birds and bats. The landscape looks as if an almighty force sprinkled a fine set of gems all over the bay, creating glimmering mirages of nature. There are a number of competitors fighting to take you on various trips here. However, I booked with my hostel a two night trip. This meant we spent one night floating on a large wooden boat dancing in thunderstorms (by chance) and watching the stars twinkle at us at night. The second night we spent alone on our own private island, allowing us complete and utter privacy to swim, sunbathe and share stories over a camp fire. It was an incredible experience and I urge you all to follow suit.