Due to the amazing hospitality that we found in Hanoi this post is somewhat longer than normal, I wanted to share a few anecdotal stories, stories that demonstrate the friendly nature of the people from Hanoi – Hanoians.
To say that our first night in Hanoi was a bit of a disappointment would be an understatement. We had inadvertently chosen a hotel in a business area rather than in the centre of the city or anywhere within walking distance of anything notable – the atmosphere was far from the Hanoi we had read so much about.
To make things worse we had made our hotel reservation for the wrong night and with it being quite late in the night we had to stay where we were. One last blow was having to pay the rack rate for a hotel that we would otherwise have passed by.
Just when we thought we could settle for the night – with some dreadful last-minute room service at shockingly high prices – we also received email notification that our Ha Long Bay tour was to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Our attempts to contact the tourist booking office to try to re-book were met with no response.
Disappointed by our location and our accommodation booking error it was going to be tough to get Hanoi back on track.
As our time in Hanoi was limited and we really wanted to get out to Ha Long Bay, for at least a day trip, we thought first and foremost we should sort out our tour and all else could be managed around that – including a new hotel to stay in. Applying some Australian logic we endeavoured to find our way down to the tour booking office and try to somehow get ourselves out to Ha Long Bay.
Our Australian logic would not work in Hanoi – the listed address for the tour booking office was not a tour office at all.
We were greeted out the front of the building by a man on a scooter named ‘Curly’. He asked us why we were there – this was clearly not a place for tourists. We explained our situation to him and he advised that this was just the booking company and they did not have an office as such, it was simply a processing office. Nonetheless he still invited us to come upstairs and offered to help us contact the tour company.
We arrived upstairs to find a small back office, the entire staff were sitting down to lunch on the floor surrounding a gas cooker heating up their lunch – a complete banquet of food! Curly invited us to join him and the others for lunch while he contacted the tour company. We were offered all sorts of food to eat and local beer to drink, it was fantastic home cooked meals prepared at earlier to be shared amongst the office workers. Everyone ate the same lunch and ate it together.
We were introduced to foods we had never seen and some we couldn’t recognise. We were encouraged to try everything. Thankfully they were all absolutely understanding of my being a vegetarian – this however just meant my husband had to eat my share of all the food I could not.
Curly arranged for us to get on a one day tour the next day with the tour company and even allowed us to sit at one of the workers computers to check some emails on the internet.
The last kind gesture from Curly was when walking us out he asked where we were staying, we told him we had nothing booked considering our disappointment from the night before. Curly suggested two hotels for us to stay at that were located in the most amazing area of Hanoi. Both were in the old quarter, ideal for me as an architectural photographer. We were about to set out to the suggested hotels when Curly told us to go back upstairs and book on the internet so that we didn’t have to pay rack rate. We got the most amazing price for the most amazing hotel. Thank you Curly!
We did get to experience Ha Long Bay, with an early start the next day. Whilst it was impressive to see the natural beauty and to visit the local floating villages, the constant flow of tourist boats perhaps taking away some of the awe that I was anticipating.
Back to Hanoi for us.
Our hotel positioned us in the perfect location in Hanoi, it had everything we had been looking for.
Confession time. I must shamefully admit that we also found the most amazing Italian restaurant right around the corner from our hotel – just apposite Hanoi’s very own Notre Dame cathedral.
Mediterraneo server up traditional Italian dishes using many imported ingredients from Italy. Fantastic owners passionate about all things Italy as well as Vietnam. Whilst we enjoyed the fresh Vietnamese food immensely, after three weeks of Vietnamese cuisine our Western palate was craving some familiar flavours. As lovers of Italian food at the best of times we sort out our comfort food – I could not bear the thought of eating another bite of intense flavours of coriander or Vietnamese mint.
One final encounter with the amazing Hanoian hospitality was one afternoon on our way back to the hotel from the Italian restaurant (we became regulars at this restaurant throughout our stay). It had started to drizzle, but we were no more than three blocks or so from our hotel so decided to make a quick dash for it.
Poor choice in Hanoi. The rain in Vietnam can come down with such force that wherever the falling rain may have missed will surely get you when it bounces back up from the ground to finish off the job – you will be saturated within seconds. We had barely made it 20 meters down the road and were forced to take shelter in a doorway.
To our surprise the roller door behind us opened up and two young girls gestured for us to come in from the rain. We found ourselves in a small art shop selling wall prints. Whilst the girls could not speak English and my ability to count to five in Vietnamese was getting us nowhere the girls pulled out some plastic stools for us to sit on. They also somehow managed to get me to understand that they were going to wrap my camera bag in a plastic bag to save it from the rain. They wrapped it in such an ingenious way that I was still able to carry my camera bag over my shoulder, safe from the rain within the plastic bag.
We waited out the rain, the girls knowing more about the Vietnamese weather conditions than we did let us know when it was safe to venture back out into the street.
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