Starting out in Hanoi we spend a couple of nights in a delightful little hotel called Jasmine (www.thejasminehotel.com) in the heart of the Old Quarter where the staff bend over backwards to help you – real ambassadors for the hospitality industry. Due to the high cost of cars the city is a melee of motorcycles each going where it wants regardless of the thousands of others. Crossing the road is a challenge but you get used to it pretty quickly, just go slow and don’t stop, the bikes will avoid you!
Hanoi’s Old Quarter really feels like Asia and the Chinese influence is strong, each street is famous for its own product, be it shoes, coffee, flowers, toys, fruit & veg, silk, pottery, art, clothing etc. Conversely to Thailand there are no dogs, very few SUVs, no 7-Elevens, no skyscrapers, no shopping malls and no Western fast food outlets; each tiny shop is a small family affair. Due to high land taxes the buildings are all very narrow and several storeys high, some of the hotels only have two rooms per floor!
Eating out in restaurants is about the same cost as in Thailand, the local food is very similar and there are Pho Bo stalls and shops everywhere, this is Vietnamese noodle soup. Needless to say after one over-priced burger fix for the kids we’ve stuck to street food which is very filling. Beer is ridiculously cheap here and a tin of Bia Ha Noi costs just 9,000 Dong ($0.43) in a shop and around 20,000 ($1) for a large bottle in a bar or restaurant. The locals are drinkers and you see them everywhere sitting on tiny blue street stalls drinking freshly brewed Bia Hoi (which is less than $0.25 a glass).
The Old Quarter is very touristy and vendors are constantly trying to sell you stuff at hugely inflated prices, you get used to it pretty quickly though, I get the feeling that prices will drop even further when we get out of the tourist zone. I’m trying to learn the numbers as they’ll say a price for something in Vietnamese then once they realize that my mrs is a foreigner it jumps considerably.