We had seven more hours before our flight back to Manila but still, we’re neatly stationed on our favorite low-stool beer place on Ta Hien. Approaching on our third bottle of Bia Hanoi, we were engaged on people-watching in this incredible 5-meter crossroad jammed with cars, motorbikes, peddlers and whatnots. It was all too crazy but at the same time we're amused, weird, I know.
After four hours of sleep at the airport and an hour of rain since we arrived in downtown Hanoi, we still have 41 hours to explore this fascinating city where as they say, East meets West. I dunno what urged us to proceed with this trip thinking that it could’ve been a part of our annual summer backpacking trip in which we could’ve stayed longer, just like how we usually do, which would probably save us loads on airfares and such. But I digress.
The thrill of exploring a new city always fascinates me, especially as I’m lazy when it comes to researching prior a trip. I always think of Hanoi as an old city with great Western architecture from the past era and the charm from Eastern culture, which actually what I was thinking of what Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam would look like when we visited it two years ago. Hanoi didn’t fail as it exceeded my expectations.
We arrived at Noi Bai International Airport at two in the morning and instead of hailing a cab (which will set us back at around 300,000 VND), we slept at the airport until around six in the morning and waited for the local bus that would go directly to the city center.
|Bus#86 - Express bus from Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi City Center (30,000 VND)|
We took Bus#86 (30,000 VND each) right outside Terminal 2 which actually was a relatively new line that had fewer stops compared to the local bus lines (Bus#17 or Bus#7).
The scenic one-hour ride was smooth and I enjoyed watching dozens of motorbikes joining the morning rush along the freeway up until we reached our bus stop (we specifically asked the driver to drop us off on the bus stop near our hotel).
It was seven in the morning as we walked towards our grandiose home in Hanoi, Sofitel Legend Metropole. It was way too early for checking in but still, they managed to process our booking and let us leave our luggage for storage.
We went out for a quick bite on a roadside stall that sells banh mi and coffee (I will dedicate a separate post on our food trippin’) and strolled for a while.
|It took us a day to learn how to cross the street with hundreds of motorbikes rushing|
As always, we didn’t have a fixed itinerary and just followed our instincts on where to go and what to do.
We ended up walking towards the direction of Hoan Kiem Lake where early morning joggers and locals encircled the park. The wind blew harder and then suddenly, heavy rain poured and we’re stuck under an arch.
|Hoan Kiem Lake|
Drenched in flood water, my flip flops almost gave up as we stroll along the road looking for refuge from the incessant rain. I ran like a kid under the heavy downpour thinking if I should or not stop in the middle of the road when thousands of motorbikes come my way. We found the perfect spot to waste time on a café cum beer place and spent the morning chugging Hanoi Beer.
|Rainy day = Beer aftie|
It was noontime when the drizzle started to dissipate. We took the chance to go back to the hotel and freshen up a bit before our planned afternoon stroll.
Five in the afternoon and we’re still trapped inside our room waiting for the rain to stop. It was good though, as Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi had a Path of History tour exclusively for its in-house guests, and so we joined the tour that afternoon.
At six in the evening, the rain finally decided to have a break. Me and my buddy went out and had dinner on a roadside shack (we love local eats) and enjoyed the early evening stroll at the Old Quarter afterwards.
Our wandering led us to the backpacker’s district where shops and restaurants lined the street. This great discovery pointed us in the direction of our future happy place, the crossing of Ta Hien (heart of the party district) and Luong Ngoc Quyen (if you just arrived and still don't know what to do in Hanoi just go straight to this area).
Five different Old Quarter narrow streets converged into this crazy party road where everyone seemed to be having a great time. Apparently, this was also the place where the famous Bia Hoi (traditional freshly brewed beer | 5,000 VND each glass) can be found. Too bad it wasn’t offered at that time as it’s usually served in the afternoon.
We looked for a perfect spot to have Bia Hanoi (15,000 VND) on low plastic table and stools along the pavement. After a few minutes, we witnessed how crazy the bustles were on this side of the town. The 5-meter convergence was filled with motorbikes, cars, peddlers, tourists and all you could think of; locals and tourists simultaneously enjoying their own little affairs.
|The crazy crossroad of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen|
The sights and sounds were too strange and amusing all at the same time. It was touristy yet local-friendly. We were passive spectators and yet at that moment, on that little spot, it all seemed clear how accurate the term “East meets West” was.
Beer is incredibly cheap here so we almost emptied our wallets as the greatest show in Hanoi unfolded right before our eyes. Going back to the hotel that night was easy as taxis were everywhere and they’re quite cheap.
|Extremely cheap at 15,000 VND each bottle/can|
The sky almost cleared up the next morning that totally invalidated the all-day rain forecast the previous day. With no time to spare, we started our adventure to the Hanoi Opera House then headed towards Hoan Kiem Lake and then followed the way towards St. Joseph's Cathedral. I loved the part where we almost got lost along the narrow alleys going to the cathedral which felt like our getting lost moments in Macau.
|Hanoi Opera House|
|St. Joseph's Cathedral|
In Ly Quoc Su, just outside the cathedral, bars that sell teas and sunflower seeds lined the street. We joined the crowd but got beers instead while seated on low plastic stools. Watching tourists on cyclos and locals stopping by for their quick tea break amused us. I wanted to grab another can but realized that we only have few hours left so we continued with the stroll.
We ended up on the shopping area of Hang Dau and the nearby areas. And I must say that Hanoi is a shopping haven! Haggling is the way to go here as merchants will definitely give an extremely higher price for a certain item especially for tourists.
I bought a couple of dried fruit packs and Vietnamese coffee while my buddy scored a great deal with trek pants (when I say that Hanoi is a shopping district, it really is the perfect place to find anything and everything you’d ever think of).
With few hours left and thinking of what else to do in Hanoi, we traced our steps back to Ta Hien, settled on the same spot as last night, ordered cold beers and enjoyed the late afternoon scene on this crazy crossroad of great chaos. At that point, we weren’t rushing as people around did that for us. We’re way too occupied on observing and laughing and drinking that it felt like the time stood still in spite the madness around us.
|We've already perfected the art of doing nothing... but drink local beer :)|
It was short but sweet. A great preview on what we will be doing on our next visit. And we will be back, that’s for sure. Spending a week in Hanoi next year, perhaps?
Check here for discounted hotels in Hanoi
Check here for discounted hotels in Hanoi