Hanoi Oi Oi Oi
I took a redeye flight from Osaka, Japan to Hanoi, Vietnam. The flight was interesting... I was a bit larger at the time and I felt as though only one of my cheeks fit in the chair. Tight squeeze on AirAsia to say the least, but the flight was only $79 so I couldn't complain.
Prior to arriving in Hanoi, I purchased my e-visa online and put the wrong entry date. That was a fun hassle to deal with at the airport, but they ended up letting me through with only a $45 stamp fee. I also booked a hostel for my first night in order to have a fall back plan. The hostel offered an airport pick up service for $18 and said there would be a man with a sign and my name on it waiting for me at the bottom of the escalators. I waiting for about 45 minutes walking back and forth, jet lagged and confused. I approached a man who had been sitting near where I was standing and asked to borrow his phone to call the hostel. He kindly obliged, I dialed William's number and he informed me his driver had been in an accident, to take a taxi and he will pay me the difference (in broken English of course).
As soon as I hung up the man who let me borrow his phone offered a taxi, me being the nice American said sure because he let me borrow his phone. I figured I'd cut him some slack. BIG MISTAKE. They took me around the airport to a golf cart and drove to a far away parking lot where they threw my backpack my only possession in the trunk and pushed me in the car. The "phone man" hopped in the passenger side and his friend hopped in the drivers seat. I was outnumbered and absolutely petrified. They were only speaking in Vietnamese and when I would try to show them the address of where I was going they waved their hands in my face. I legitimately thought I was going to be sold into sex slavery or murdered.
About twenty minutes down the road the phone man turns around and in a very agressive tone asks me if I have money. I had changed about $40 to Dong so I kindly said yes. He asked how much and I said enough. He starts to scream and they get off the highway and enter a village. They pull me out of the back of the car and take me to an ATM by my wrist. At this point, I didn't know if they had a gun or a knife and all I could think about was SING from Miss Congeniality, but I knew if I attacked one the other would be close behind. I turned around and asked them to step back. I put in my card stupidly, in hindsight I shouldn't have done that. When I was about to withdrawal money the guy jumps over me and puts in 5,000,000 million dong. I gasped and jumped back over him pushing him out of the way grabbed the money and shoved it at the bottom of my small bag. They dragged me by my arm back to the car and put me in the backseat. All I could think was my livelihood being in the trunk. My backpack was the only thing I had to my name, everything I would have for the next however many months of travel. I needed to get it. I continued to try to tell them the address. They end up stopping me in the middle of this busy street in the middle of Hanoi and ask me to pay. I mean busy as in thousands of motorcycles and locals everywhere!
They wouldn't let me out of the car before I paid, the driver was blocking my exit. I asked for a receipt so I could show the owner of the hostel what the difference was. They end up writing chicken scratch on paper. It was a total of $25, but when I went to reach in my bag the phone man's hand beats me to the punch and Dong was flying everywhere. It was like I was in one of those money cash machines on TV. At this point in time I was clutching my backpack so tight and just screaming take it and give me my backpack. The driver hops out of the car throws my backpack on the sidewalk, quickly jumps back in and drives off. Leaving me trembling on the street with no idea where I was or how much money I was just robbed of, I was just happy to be alive.
I somehow found my hostel by asking around for about thirty minutes and walk in. I immediately asked for the owner and am led into his office. I told him who I was and show him the receipt of the taxi, you'll never guess what his response is, "My driver is waiting for you at the airport right now." ARE YOU KIDDING ME????? I waited for an hour no one was there and I had just endured the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. I never got paid back for the difference of the ride or for the money I was robbed, but at least I survived.
The moral of the story here folks: do not accept taxi rides from stranger who let you borrow their phones. Get in the legitimate taxi line and make sure the man is licensed.
After that ordeal, it could only get better. I met some amazing people in Hanoi and had a blast for the next three nights. Hanoi is a city of absolute chaos. There are about 1 million motorbikes, no traffic laws and it still just seems to work. The city is filled with many hilarious locals who want to get to know you and your story. You can get a beer for 15 cents and a decent meal for less than a dollar. There are women washing their dishes on the sidewalk and locals heckling you constantly to buy things. You can go out all night on pub street and enjoy the city by day. When I visited in September the weather was humid as hell, but it blew my mind being the first third world country I had visited. Below are a few of the places I visited while I was there...
Things to do:
- Visit beer street - At night beer street fills up with locals and travelers of all sorts. You can drink extremely cheap beer that tastes like bad lemon water or you can upgrade for a TIGER Beer which costs you a little less than $2 if you get the large one. You'll find vendors and delicious street food options along this pedestrian street while getting the local feel of Hanoi.
- Visit the night market - Every other night they have a massive night market on the same street as Hanoi Rocks Hostel. You can buy anything here!
- Visit the Vietnam War Remembrance Prison - Great place to learn about the history of the prison. John McCain was actually held captive here!
- Wander around the lake, visit the cathedral and walk around town.
- Take a stroll around the countless stands selling merchandise and the spice street around the town.
- Tom's Bar - This is where the locals and travelers go after beer street shuts down. If you stay past 2AM they end up shutting it all up from the outside so the cops can't get in but, the party still continues inside.
- Visit the massive mall! It even has a movie theater and a waterpark. I have never seen a mall like it before!
- Orchid Cooking Class - Learn how to make Vietnamese cuisine from a professional chef!
Where to stay: As a solo female traveler, I primarily stayed in hostels known for their social aspect! Below are a couple good ones. I recommend booking on hostelworld.com you are more likely to have breakfast included.
- Vietnam Backpackers - $5 per night including breakfast
- Vietnam Central Backpackers - $5 per night including breakfast
- Hanoi Rocks - $4-5 per night breakfast included and free beer for two hours every night. The beer may taste like lemon watery piss, but it does the trick and it's free. GREAT BEDS and air conditioning!
What to eat:
- My New Day Restaurant - Blue shirt ladies! Delicious pho and so incredibly cheap.
- Bahn Mi 25 - Cheap and authentic Vietnamese food.
- The Lantern Lounge - A bit more expensive but a lovely atmosphere for a nice meal.
- Prison Cafe - Used to be a prison in the Vietnam War and is now converted into a coffee shop.
- Cha Cha Thong Long - Great authentic Vietnamese food.
- Banh My P - Sandwich spot. Less than a dollar for a sandwich! Fresh bread, meat, eggs and veggies.
- Puku Cafe and Sports Bar - If you want some western food and sports this is your spot.
- The Hanoi Social Club - Western breakfasts and western feel. This place feels like it shouldn't belong in Hanoi.