25 Oct - 08 Nov 2012 Hanoi

Southeast Asia
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Scamcity Hanoi
Old Quarter 
Hoan Kiem District
8/50 Dao Duy Tu Lane
Camel City Hotel +84439352024 info@camelcityhotel.com
Clean and spacious a/c standard double room with private bathroom and wifi for VND 330,000.- or US$ 12.- per night. Friendly staff, excellent service.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Camel City Hotel in Hanoi, which we would highly recommend, and for directions: 
N 21° 02.12' E 105° 51.15'


Bracing for the category-3 typhoon Son-Tinh which strikes Vietnam’s coast at about 09:00 GMT on 28 October 2012 with 1-minute maximum sustained winds of around 100 knots or 180 km/h, with considerably higher gusts plus torrential downpours (data supplied by the US Navy and Air Force Joint Typhoon Warning Center suggested that the point of landfall would be near N 20° E 106°, only 100 km southeast of Hanoi), learning that it quite suddenly changes its course towards the northeast thus missing Hanoi only by a whisker and thereafter celebrating our survival with pint after pint of ice-cold bia hơi (fresh draft beer, VND 5,000.- or US$ 0.25 per glass) in our favourite informal beer garden located at the southeast corner of Phố Tạ Hiện and Phố Lương Ngọc Quyến, aka “Bia Hơi Corner”.

Pitching camp and delving into the maze-like lanes of the Old Quarter, Hanoi’s historic heart (“...steeped in history, pulsating with life, bubbling with commerce, buzzing with motorbikes and rich in exotic scents...”), exploring the chaotic Đồng Xuân Market aka Chợ Đồng Xuân where we discovered the best Vietnamese coffee ever (VND 15,000.- or US$ 0.70 per large cup, free wifi) at Cafe Pho +84438284070, a very friendly and relaxed island in a stormy sea of used and new clothes, natural and synthetic cosmetics, fake and genuine sunglasses, luxury and cat food, acoustic and electronic musical instruments, quality and junk plumbing supplies, religious offerings and communist propaganda posters, and so on and so forth - you name it!

Feasting repeatedly on Vietnamese/Hanoian (pescetarian and vegetarian) traditional cuisine at our favourite food joint in the Old Quarter, the simply brilliant New Day Restaurant +84438280315 and washing it down with bottles of excellent Vietnamese red wine from Dalat (the headache-free Vang Dankia Dalat  with 15 % alc./vol., for VND 50,000.- or US$ 2.40 per regular bottle from any of the Old Quarter’s mercenary bottle stores).

Meeting Uncle Ho’s perky and not-so communist great granddaughters-turned-models, clad in their beautiful, traditional áo dài, in the vicinity of the surreal Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum, the holiest of the holies for both the hard-liners and many of their subjects, and having loads of fun during an extended photo shoot with these enthusiastic beauties.

Exploring the shores of Hanoi’s overrated West Lake aka Tây Hồ, the city’s largest lake, and thereafter staring into the indefinable gaze of hundreds of white Bodhisattvas at the atmospheric Trấn Quốc Pagoda, one of the oldest Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam.

Chasing after god and photo models at Hanoi’s religio-touristy places of interest, thus (i) studying the Confucian compulsion for order, symmetry and harmony between heaven and earth in the peaceful Temple of Literature (admission: VND 20,000.- or US$ 0.95 per person) where Vietnam’s first university was established in 1076 CE, (ii) climbing the delicate 1049 CE One Pillar Pagoda, built of wood on a single stone pillar and designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow, and (iii) eyeballing the ramshackle Turtle Tower aka Tháp Rùa which is falling into ruin on an islet near the southern end of the scenic Sword Lake aka Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

Matt: Throwing Konni’s caution to the wind and buying from our hotel’s travel desk one of those infamous bus/boat package tours (2days/1night, all-inclusive for a fair US$ 45.- per person, excluding drinks) to Hạ Long Bay, both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a profitable traffic bottleneck on Southeast Asia’s Banana Pancake Trail, thus enjoying tremendously (i) the stimulating company and great camaraderie of international backpackers from far and wide (hi there, Miriam, Tina and Alex), (ii) the breathtaking beauty of 2,000 plus karst islets rising amidst hundreds of tourist boats from the polluted waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and (iii) my unscathed survival, once a soldier always a soldier, as an innocent bystander of an ugly fist-and-knife fight between some very ambitious crew members and their paying French paying guests - don’t say nobody warned you!

"We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
'Cause girl, there's a better life
For me and you...

Foraging for history among the crumbling leftovers of the once-great Imperial Citadel of Hanoi, the former residence of Vietnamese monarchs dating back to Đại Việt, when the city was known as Thăng Long, and enjoying many enchanting encounters with Vietnam’s enthusiastic future professionals.

Laundering our dirty linen for VND 20,000.- or US$ 0.95 per kg, washed and dried, at one of the many convenient no-name neighbourhood laundries and learning that Vietnam’s GDP per capita is only US$ 3,400.- per annum (rank no. 166 in the world, at least according to the pointy-heads of the CIA).

Purchasing tourist visas for Red China and Thailand and being rendered speechless by the polite and professional work flow (neither wait nor bribe) at both (i) the Chinese Embassy +84438453736 (single-entry 30-day tourist-and-family-visit visa [L-visa], processed within four working days, requirements: one passport photo, confirmed hotel reservation, return ticket and US$ 30.- per person in cash) and (ii) the Royal Thai Embassy +84438235095 (single-entry 60-day tourist visa [TR-visa], processed within 36 hours, requirements: one passport photo, return ticket and US$ 40.- per person in cash).

Taking the northbound LC 3 train of the hundred-year-old Kunming-Haiphong Railway from Hanoi’s Trần Quý Cáp Station (situated on the west side of the Ga Hà Nội, Hanoi's main railway station) along the murky Red River to the border town of Lào Cai (c. 380 km, 10 ¾ hours, VND 111,000.- or US$ 5.30 per person for “hard seat non a/c”), a non-descript but bustling spot situated in the Tonkinese Alps aka Hoang Liên Sơn Mountains, fuelled by growing cross-border trade with archenemy Red China.


Click here for more blog posts about North Vietnam
09 Nov - 14 Nov 2012 Bac Ha
08 Nov - 09 Nov 2012 Lao Cai

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
Recommended books – click below for your Amazon order from the United Kingdom:
For Amazon schnaeppchens from Germany, please click here
For Amazon bargains from the United States, please click here
For Amazon bargains from Canada, please click here