Let’s face it, not every travel destination is Shangri-la.
And for sure: different strokes for different folks.
But we did NOT love Hanoi.
Now, maybe we didn’t give it a fair shake: we stayed for 3 nights in the Old Quarter.
Maybe that’s a bit like staying 3 nights on Times Square in New York or the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and deciding you don’t like either of those cities: a shallow impression based on a caricature of what the city is.
Then again, maybe not.
Strike One: Beep Beep!
Before I go to Hanoi again I am going to invent a handheld device that sounds as loud and obnoxious as a scooter horn. Then I am going to press the button to blast it within inches of every single scooter that passes me in Hanoi as I walk in the street. You know, to return the favor: BEEP BEEP YOURSELF, SCOOTER!
Yeah, yeah, I get it. Like in India and Sri Lanka and other countries, Hanoites (I just made that word up) use their horns for a variety of reasons: to alert pedestrians walking in the streets and other drivers to their presence, to signal a change in lanes, direction or…as seems to most often be the case…just because there is no impediment or change ahead – a random honk in celebration of life and driving!
This creates…a LOT of honking. Sooo much honking. 24/7 honking. Eating dinner? Honking. Taking a stroll? Honking. Seeing the sites? Honking. 3am trying to sleep? Honking.
Hey, Hanoi, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!
Strike 2: Hanoi is Not Really Walkable – At Least Everywhere We Walked
Lisa and I walk. A LOT. We love to explore a city by foot. It gives you an appreciation for distances, it provides a street-eye perspective and you gain a real appreciation for the vibe of a city.
Hanoi is just not walkable.
Ok it IS walkable. It’s not like you CAN’T walk around Hanoi. We did! We walked over 12 miles in Hanoi. It’s just aggravating and stressful to do so.
I’m sure at one point Hanoi was extremely walkable. The city’s wide sidewalks recall its French colonial past (more on that in a minute).
But today every square inch of Hanoi’s sidewalks are dedicated to parking the infinity scooters whose dual purposes, transportation and honking, find new meaning in their ability to force pedestrians to walk in the streets.
And did I mention that Hanoites LOVE to honk at pedestrians walking in the streets as they pass them? It’s the circle…the circle of scooter honk!
Strike 3: Touring In Hanoi is Depressing
Vietnamese history is presented in Hanoi as one long reign of oppression by foreign powers.
Seeing the sites in the Hanoi you can’t escape the weight of that perception.
Hỏa Lò Prison
We went to Hỏa Lò Prison thinking it would be all about the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’
Nope! It’s all about what French did to Vietnamese prisoners during the colonial period:
Well, ok, the exhibits do acknowledge the fact that American POWs were later kept in the same prison complex.
We didn’t expect Hỏa Lò Prison to be Harry Potterverse at Universal Studios but we nevertheless left more depressed than we had expected.
Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum
If there is one thing more depressing than a prison it has GOT to be a grave, right?
So next we went to a grave!
A museum and mausoleum make up the Ho Chi Minh complex. The museum was pretty ho-hum.
The mausoleum appears somewhat to have been modeled after the Lincoln Memorial. Apparently a CNN travel writer named the mausoleum the 6th ugliest building in the world. Decide for yourself:
And the Mausoleum is fronted by a parade ground:
In the end, the most interesting thing about the Complex was the display of cars Ho Chi Minh used:
Vietnam Museum of Revolution
To be honest this museum was such a bust that we were in and out in about 15 minutes. I DID re-purpose a gun into a purse-holder for Lisa though!
Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake borders the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. It’s meant to be a place to get away from the noise of the city. It fails.
The lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda on a small island in the lake.
On top of everything else, the weather in Hanoi was dreary the whole time we were there. Cold, foggy and overcast. On the bright side we did have some great meals in Hanoi including one overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple:
But after three days in Hanoi we were more than ready to move on to Da Nang on our $32 Vietnam Airlines flight.
At some point we intend to pass through Hanoi again to visit Ha Long Bay (we were in Hanoi the wrong time of year to visit this time…the fog we experienced in the city is much thicker on the bay), but other than that I’d say we are done with Hanoi.
That said, there are plenty of other things to do and see in Vietnam. Here are 50 of them!
Our time in Hanoi did end on a happy note, however, when we discovered a Priority Pass Lounge in the domestic terminal at Hanoi airport!