Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a very busy city. The central part of it is really big, noisy, crowded and full of commerce - from tiny coffee places to hardly walkable day-and-night market streets. The streets are colorful, bright, full of food smells and people chattering. 

In the middle of the old city there is oasis of calmness though - pond with a temple on an island, surrounding park is a great place for watching people doing group aerobics, young couples posing for wedding photos and old men playing chess. One more nice thing to do in Hanoi is to go to water puppet show - an ancient tradition of entertainment for farmers. In ancient times flooded rice paddies served as an excellent stage for such shows. 

Pho is born here, in the North, and in Hanoi you will see probably the highest concentration of Pho places in entire Vietnam. It seems like every eatery in Hanoi must have Pho, fried rice and Banh Mi (sandwiches, most often with pate and veggies) Fresh spring rolls and Do-it-yourself rolls are popular too. One of the best meals we had in Hanoi was in Hue cuisine restaurant - their rolls are piece of art.

Hanoi has its own famous Hanoi beer - the cheapest draft beer in the world, you can have it for about $0.20 a glass in the street bars and eateries. It's amazing to watch how these street bars fill up with locals from the very morning and sometimes it seems that all Hanoi's men do is spend their days in those street bars drinking Hanoi beer (while women trade, maintain household, cook and take care of the kids)

Generally, accommodation and clothes are much more expensive than in Saigon. You'll pay minimum $15-20 for a pretty shitty room, and things like pants, shorts, jackets, shoes will cost not less than $10-15. We also noticed that the choice of clothes is very different from Saigon - it's mostly the same stuff everywhere and kind of old school and conservative.

The city is not very traveller friendly, most tourist offices will try very hard to rip you off and it's not easy to organize anything yourself. Taxis will try to rip you off constantly as well, people on the street might not be very nice to you. Often local people do not make you feel very welcome in Hanoi, they sort of "tolerate" you. In Hanoi, in comparison to Saigon, communism is in the air. After visiting Hanoi you can literally see how different were Saigon's democratic and Hanoi's communist paths. Hanoi is worth a visit though, it's big enough for everyone to be able to enjoy all sorts of activities, sighseeing and Northern Vietnamese food.