The best thing about Hanoi was our hotel room. It boasted two double beds, a large plasma screen TV, a Jacuzzi bath tub and a strong wifi signal (a rare commodity in Vietnamese hotels). We were served with delicious Pho soup and fresh mango juice every morning and the hotel owner, Mr Tung, was incredibly welcoming and helpful.

Outside our sanctuary lay chaos and confusion, which crawled across all corners of central Hanoi. The first thing you notice about Vietnam’s capital city is that there are no rules of the road. The streets swarm with motorbikes, buses, trucks, taxis, bicycles, cycle-rickshaws and the occasional horse-drawn cart, none of them obeying any consistent approach to driving.

Beware of the bikes!

This constant movement is accompanied by the incessant sounding of car, truck, bus and bike horns, which seem to be initiated without abandon and for no good reason in any circumstance on the road.

If a motorbike rider is in traffic he’ll sound his horn, he’ll do the same if he’s passing another vehicle and the same again once he has passed. And it is never one beep but a minimum of two and quite often three or four. When you see how many vehicles occupy each road, street, alley and path at any one time this amounts to a consistent clatter of irritating toots and beeps at all times of day and night.

If you cant beat them...

This would not be so bad if you could keep out of the road. But there are no rules of the pavement either. Most sidewalks are either occupied by street-food stalls, snack-food shops or families of eight cooking and eating their evening meal. Any remaining space is taken up by a parked motorbike, moped or bicycle.

This means that pedestrians are forced into the road and have no choice but to contribute to the mayhem that goes on there by putting fragile bodies in front of speeding machinery.

These streets aren't made for walking.

When crossing the road, you don’t wait for the traffic lights – a red light is a mere suggestion which most Hanoians choose to ignore. No, you wait for the ‘lull’. This is not a gap in the traffic – that would be a luxury. The ‘lull’, as we called it, is when the traffic becomes slightly less dense than the usual wheel-to-wheel procession. At this point you hold hands with your road-crossing partner, walk slowly but purposefully into the swarm and hope that the Hanoians have the good sense not to drive straight into you. Fortunately most of them do, but it doesn’t prevent you from thinking that you are about to be run over at any moment. Basically, walking around Hanoi is bloody (H)annoying.

But once you get over the mayhem, or at least put up with it, there are some fun and interesting things to do in the city. We visited numerous temples and museums, the highlights being an exhibition set in an old prison detailing the struggles of the Vietnamese people against the French colonialists; and the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh where his body still lies on display (a haunting and memorable sight of the man that is quite rightly worshipped across the country).

We also, of course, got to sample some of the great food that Vietnam is famous for. Our favourite meals turned out to be the ones in the cheapest places. Our search for the ultimate Pho led us to a place called Pho Ly Quoc Su, where your bowl of beef noodle soup costs little over a euro and is thrust in front of you within 30 seconds of sitting down as it is one of the few dishes on the menu. This was a long wait compared to our favourite Bo Bun cafe where you are presented with a delicious bowl of stir-fried beef, noodles and vegetables as soon as you take your seat as this is the only dish they serve. In both places there was rubbish strewn across the floor and the hygiene was certainly lacking but the food was cheap and tasty enough to help you ignore your surroundings.

How many cooks does it take to prepare an awesome Pho? Four, apparently

We stayed in Hanoi for six nights in total which is probably two too many but it gave us a chance to chill out in our luxury hotel room – five-star accommodation for less than half the price of a hostel in Sydney – and spend the time preparing and planning for our South East Asia adventure. Manna took a couple of Vietnamese lessons, which would prove to be very useful for our trip (although I was rather disappointed when she emerged admitting that she wouldn’t be adding Vietnamese to the six other languages she speaks fluently).

Despite the chaos, we still enjoyed our stay in Hanoi and it offered a good introduction to the traditions, history and mayhem that we would experience across Vietnam. But we won’t be returning there in a hurry, unlike the many dodgy drivers that surge across the streets of the city on every day of every week.

Breakfast of champions



2 Responses to “Hanoi-ing”

  1. cynthia cutler Says:

    I remember them chaotic roads in vietnam. You have certainly described it accurately. Where are you off too next. Much love xx

  2. Gabrielle Says:

    hahahahaha hannoying

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