Back in 2015, I went to Southeast Asia (which is documented on this blog) and the country we had to leave out of that trip was Vietnam. We told ourselves that one day we’d dedicate an entire vacation to explore the whole country. I didn’t think it would be a short 2 years later.
Of all the Southeast Asian countries I’ve visited so far in my life, Vietnam is now at the top of the list. It’s in the perfect middle ground of development where the cities aren’t so urbanized that you have all the seedy things like prostitution everywhere, but it’s developed enough that the water is relatively clean (don’t drink it, but brushing is okay), there’s Wifi everywhere, and the people are still very friendly (and not in the they’re trying to sell you something kind of way).
And it’s still really, really cheap. $1 = 22,600 Dong (VND).
Now that all the “dong” jokes are out of the way (trust me, I made my fair share)…
Aside from some tailored suits that I bought in Hoi An, which I’ll cover later, $124/a person (U.S.) lasted the entire 2 week trip. Seriously, it covered pretty much all the food and museums. You can easily get by on eating 3 meals a day for $5 and drinking 25 cent beer the entire time since bottles of water are given to you by the hotels. The museums cost somewhere between 50 cents to $5 in most cases (if you have a student ID, that’s gold for discounts). And souvenirs? You almost feel bad paying as little as you do for gifts. So has much as you’ll cringe throwing down inevitably four figures to get to and stay in Vietnam, all the expenses while in country will be minimal.
The food in Vietnam is also easily the best of all the Southeast Asian countries. Before my trip, I kept hearing about how good the food in Singapore was, but in my opinion the food I had in Vietnam was FAR better. Although there were some culinary gems in Laos that are tough to beat, on the whole the food in Vietnam was superior because it just tasted fresher and you got more for the money. Even the chicken in our $1 noodle soup bowls (Phở) on the street tasted better than any gourmet chicken I’ve had at a U.S. restaurant. I’m guessing it’s because everything in Vietnam is as organic/free range/whatever else roaming animals do to be tasty as it gets. And my companions went absolutely fruit juice crazy with every possible fresh squeezed juice available for them to drink at a fraction of the Whole Foods price. (“Where to Eat” will be posted next.)
Hanoi itself is quite intimidating when you first get in. It’s communist government is on full display during customs check at the airport. And once you get into Hanoi proper, it’s like walking into a frenzy of Evel Knievel wannabes. Remember my mantra when going to countries such as this: Elbows in! And that certainly applies here with all the scooters, cars, and people zig zagging each and every way. It’ll take you a day or two to acclimate to the streets and get to that point where you become calm enough to be a what I call a “precision walker” and just walk across the street with no fear as traffic flies around you (you will literally have scooters and cars come within inches of you).
The cab from the airport to a hotel in the Old Quarter, which is where you’ll want to stay while in Hanoi, should be about $20 or 450,000 VND (it really will take you a while to get used to paying for things in the thousands).
Essence Hanoi Hotel & Spa
22A Tạ Hiện, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm
Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam
Located perfectly in the Old Quarter, a quick walk from Hoàn Kiếm Lake, most of what you’ll want to see in Hanoi is within walking distance or a short cab ride away from Essence. Like a lot of Southeast Asian countries, the hotel hospitality is top notch. As you check-in you’re offered tea and a hot towel. But unlike the hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the staff here isn’t overbearing in their want to please you; they’ll give you the space you need after a long trip to get there. The rooms are not the biggest in the world, but they’re clean, and each has a laptop for guest use. The hotel also has a spa that, when we were there, has a two for one massage deal. Ultimately, two of us would each get a massage for $15.