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Flying from Hong Kong to Hanoi, the largest northern city in Vietnam, you leave one of the world’s most luxurious, expensive cities and descend into one of the cheapest international cities on earth. If you’re up for living on the lowest budget, you can eat for less than £1/€1/$1 meal, take in the sights by foot and sleep for £10/€10/$10 a night.
It’s the beginning of October now. It’s 30 degrees centigrade every day and the rainy season is doing its best to come to an end in Hanoi. When it rains, it pours for a few hours. It's rained more at night than during the day. And, it's quite refreshing when it does rain.
Currency in Vietnam
On 6 October 2017 £1 = 29,790 Vietnamese Dong VND. That's right, twenty nine thousand. When I first arrived I mistakenly handed a woman 3,000,000VND rather than 300,000VND and she got the shock of her life.
I found you just get a feel for it after a few hours of being here. The national dish Pho Bo (a large noodle soup with beef) is about 25,000VND and a great deal at 85p. One beer for 20,000VND is also awesome. Getting a taxi for 1 hour through the mountains for 200,000VND is about £6.70. I brought 3,000,000VND - 3 million! - and it's about £335. I expect this to go very, very far here.
My travel gear: secure hand luggage
- secure backwards laptop backpack - in expanded mode as my main luggage with a waist strap to help carry the load. Tucked inside is my RiutBag Crush
, a secure backwards super light daypack. Between these two, I have all my travel needs covered for 30 days.
Internet in Vietnam
Wifi is standard in Hanoi. There's good wifi in many cafes. Hanoi is definitely a good spot for digital nomads. Crucially, the internet is basically open. Google is usable as is Facebook, Twitter and other sites that are banned in neighbouring China, for example.
For mobile data, as soon as you arrive at Hanoi airport, go to Vinamobile - one of the main mobile phone providers. Get a 8GB data sim card for your phone. It costs 300,000 VND for 30 days - that’s about £10. You’ll have good 3G throughout the country and a few minutes to call your next hotel/homestay.
What does it feel like in Hanoi? Is it safe?
As a solo female traveller, I’ve spent a lot of time travelling alone for work or just fun. I know what it’s like to feel on edge in a city. This place isn’t like that. Hanoi is relaxed, busy, warm and casual. I’m wearing sandals, shorts and t-shirt the whole time. The streets are filled with women and men, old and young, running restaurants, eating together, riding on motorbikes. I can’t see anything in the culture here that would cause any problems for you.
Where to stay in Hanoi
These days, my first port of call is always Airbnb. I opted for a whole flat to myself. Why? Because I travel with my whole office: laptop, external hard drives. When I leave the flat for a day of exploring the city, I like to lock up a forget about my valuables. I also feel comfortable looking after myself. I would opt for access to washing machine over someone making my bed any day.
I stayed here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18411588
I absolutely recommend this place. The host An and her son met us, set up the wifi and made sure we knew what was going on with keys and local restaurants. It's quiet at night, has a washing machine and kitchen. It’s a dark, super simple, non-luxurious studio flat with excellent wifi. Very happy.
Price for 3 nights: £39.60 ( £9.91 per night + cleaning fee £4.57 + Airbnb fee £5.30)
Location: 5 minute walk from Hanoi station, 20 minute walk from the old quarter, 2 minute walk from about 50 restaurants for food at anytime of day. Bus 86 from the airport takes about 1 hour to get to Hanoi station and costs less than £1.
What to eat in Hanoi
I only learnt one phrase before I arrived here. Mot pho bo. One beef noodle soup. Here’s how to pronounce it: (http://www.lovingpho.com/pho-opinion-editorial/how-to-pronounce-pho/
) This meal is eaten especially for breakfast but is available all day and night in this city. I’m finding it difficult not to order it, it’s so tasty. The place round the corner from my Airbnb has a wonderful Pho Bo for 25,000VND. That’s £0.82.
On every street you’ll see what the food options are. If you can't say the names, just go over to the kitchen and point at the things you want. Rice and meet, rice and fish, noodles and soup, dumplings and soup, rice wrapped in leaves with meat inside. And, for those you fancy a change to something more European, there are baguettes available on every street. Hanoi is an international city. If you want to pay more of course you can! But the simplest food of Hanoi is tasty, cheap and filling too.
What to do in Hanoi
Coming from a medium sized town in England and living in Berlin, I can tell you, just spending a day walking through Hanoi is an incredible experience in itself without ticking off any top 10 list. Hot, noisy, brimming with life, movement and a different way of living.
I’ve got 30 days of Vietnam ahead of me and I’d like to enjoy my time here. For me, that means, grab some breakfast, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, stop in a cafe, read about what’s in the area, maybe visit them, or just walk and relax. Look at what’s going on a around. Learn to cross the streets weaving neatly between motorbikes and cars, sit on your own and do nothing in a park. Within 10 minutes groups of young people come up to me wanting to practice their English.
Choose a random place and try to get there. Stop for dinner on the way. Find your way into the old quarter, think about colonialism and why the Colonists always think that the countries they colonise need a new “better” culture. Realise you’re lost and grab a motorbike taxi to your destination. Think about where you’re going next and how to get there.
When was my RiutBag most useful in Hanoi?
I tried the local beer, had the famed egg coffee, and then was set up for an amazing night of bar hopping, weaving through the city and a death defying dash across the highway to a part of Hanoi filled with karaoke bars and clubs. Having a backpack where nothing can fall out, where money isn’t obviously hanging out and where you know all your belongings are safe lets lets you switch off and feel at home on the other side of the world. You think nothing of squeezing through the crowds on the busy streets and disappearing into dark clubs. I could see the other tourists with their backpacks on their fronts, looking irritated at people so close to other people. I’m on holiday and I want to relax. My simple, light and secure RiutBag Crush made my night :)
Next stop: a very different place. 6 hours north west of Hanoi up in the green mountains is Sapa. I’ve booked three days at a homestay where you can live with a family in a traditional setting pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Rice fields, mountains, rivers, ethnic minorities living a way of life that may not be around much longer.
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