Tag Archives: hanoi

How to Cross the Street in Hanoi (and Other Asian Cities)

HANOI
Hanoi is renowned for its busy streets and seemingly unfriendly roads for pedestrians. Lots of visitors have stories about being stuck on one side of the street for minutes, as they’re too timid to cross given the endless stream of motorbikes and cars.

But really, crossing the street in Hanoi is simple: just don’t look. Step into the road and start walking, and the traffic will flow around you. If you look, you’re liable to get scared and hesitate, and that’s much more dangerous than maintaining a steady pace.

There’s one caveat, though, which is buses. While everything else will flow around you, buses are the one thing which will NOT necessarily drive around you. Watch out for buses, lest you end up like Regina George.

I want to make fetch happen…

PENANG
Penang is awesome, but crossing the street in Georgetown can be a bit intimidating. The street lights can be verrrry long (like you’ll be standing there for 2 minutes to wait for the light), which is annoying when it’s 90+ degrees out and the sun is bearing down on you. Even worse, there are busy intersections without crosswalk lights, so you just have to figure out when you need to go yourself.

The main strategy is thus extremely aggressive jaywalking. Cars won’t intentionally hit you if you’re in the road, but it’s not like Hanoi where pedestrians are expected to just walk into the street, so you need to be vigilant about openings and seize them aggressively. I also observed some brave souls just walk out into traffic with their hand out toward the oncoming traffic, but I’m not sure I’m that brave.

BEIJING
Crossing the road in Beijing terrifies me because it’s one of the few places where I felt like cars would actually hit me if I didn’t scurry out of the way quickly enough. In most Asian cities, cars and motorbikes honk at you to let you know that they’re there; in Beijing, cars honk to let you know that you need to get the eff out of the way before they hit you. Even if you think you should have the right of way, you need to watch out for cars.

Granted, I’ve (thankfully) never been hit by a car, but I dread crossing the street in China much more than any other Asian country I’ve been to. Your strategy? Get across as quickly as possible and don’t assume that the cars driving toward you will stop.

FINAL TIP
If you don’t know how to cross the road, just wait until some old person needs to cross and stick to them like glue. No one wants to hit an old person crossing the road.

SEA 2014: Early Morning Exercising in Hanoi

People in Hanoi are perhaps the most active I’ve seen in any city. Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake on an early morning, I saw people doing all sorts of activities for exercise, as well as using all sorts of fixtures for exercises. Like the guy who used a bench to do ab exercises by hooking his legs around the back of the bench, or the multiple people using unused fences as parallel bars.

One place that I particularly liked was Ly Thai To Park. Within a single block, there were people engaged in a laughter exercise class, aerobics, something like Zumba, badminton, dancing, and a hackey-sack game that reminded me of sepak takraw.

Ly Thai To Square

Ly Thai To Square

Laughing for exercise

Laughing for exercise

Not quite sure what they're doing here...

Not quite sure what they’re doing here…

All of these women could easily be my mother

Any of these women could easily be my mother

Not a zombie class, but aerobics

Not a zombie class, but aerobics

Zumba (or something like it)

Zumba (or something like it)

It's hard to tell, but they're kicking something

It’s hard to tell, but they’re kicking something across the net

Badminton

Badminton

You can also be a baller like this guy

Or you can just be a baller like this guy

If you’re interested in checking this out, go early in the morning, as I think I was there at 6:30am. Perfect if you’re jetlagged and up early anyway!

SEA 2014: Golden Time Hostel 2 Hanoi, Vietnam

I normally wouldn’t write up a review of a hostel stay, but I feel like the Golden Time Hostel 2 in Hanoi deserves a special mention.

It’s not fancy by any means (but it’s a step up from a normal hostel since all of the rooms are private rooms), but the service was incredible. The front desk was staffed by some of the most service-oriented and friendly people that I’ve ever encountered at a place of lodging. Ann in particular always remembers who you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing, details about what you like, and she’s always willing to help out with anything that you need. She could work at any 5-star hotel and teach them about hospitality.

DSC05507 DSC05508 DSC05509Again, the facilities aren’t fancy, but it’s clean and comfortable. The beds and pillows might be a little hard, and the first day that we stayed there the electricity occasionally cut out (which was annoying mostly because it meant that the air conditioning would need to be turned back on), but the location is fantastic (super close to Hoan Kiem Lake and tons of good food around), and it’s very affordable (right now, starting at $20 per room per night). They also serve breakfast, but you should be exploring the streets of Hanoi instead for all of your meals.

When I go back to Hanoi, I’d be happy to stay here again, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who doesn’t need fancy accommodations but wants to experience great hospitality.

 

SEA 2014: Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi

This hotel is one of the few cheap Hilton redemptions after Hilton’s devaluation a couple of years ago. Since it’s a category 2 hotel, it’s only 10k Hilton points per night. In terms of Western hotels in Hanoi attainable using points, there’s also a category 2 Sheraton, a couple of IHG properties, a category 4 Marriott, and the Hilton Hanoi Opera, which is a category 5 (meaning 30k-40k Hilton points per night). While I haven’t stayed at any of the other hotels, I’d happily return to the Hilton Garden Inn as it was a solid choice, particularly with free breakfast via Hilton Gold status.

If you’re taking a taxi to the hotel, make sure that the driver understand that you’re going to the Hilton Garden Inn and NOT the Hilton Hanoi Opera. The latter is significantly more well known, so I was glad to have printed out a map that I could give to the driver for directions.

I unfortunately don’t have many photos of the hotel itself, so you’ll have to use your imagination. The hotel is pretty new, so things are generally nicely furnished, but it’s also not a full-service hotel, so keep that in mind. The lobby was nice and the staff was friendly, even in the face of rude hotel guests (one guy was very angry that there weren’t any bellhops to help him with his bags). The elevators weren’t air-conditioned, which I have found to be a relatively common complaint that I have in Asia.

Breakfast was surprisingly good for a not-full-service hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed the food–it wasn’t fancy or as extensive as Asian hotel breakfasts can be, but the food was solid and the pho was tasty. The service at breakfast could honestly rival first class on airlines and Michelin-starred restaurants. The servers were incredibly gracious, they were willing to fetch whatever you asked for, and they did that ninja thing that they do on Singapore such that your plates got cleared immediately upon you getting up without you noticing. It perhaps helped that I was there very early, so it wasn’t very crowded, but they were very eager to please and provide good service.

Breakfast spread

Breakfast spread

More breakfast and made-to-order station

More breakfast and made-to-order station

Typical breakfast for me

Typical breakfast for me

The room was perfectly comfortable and serviceable. My only small gripes were the design of the bathtub and the light switches. Essentially, because of the design of the bathroom, you’re going to get water on the floor when you shower. We thought that there was a leak in the tub, but when we called to get someone to come take a look, they acknowledged that the tub was poorly designed. And with the light switches, there was one light switch hidden behind a pillow that took us 15 minutes to find.

Overall, I’d happily stay at this hotel again. No, it’s not a Park Hyatt, but it’s a solid hotel with great service and tasty breakfast. And it’s one of the few affordable points redemptions left for Hilton.

SEA 2014: Arriving in Hanoi

For US passport holders, we need a visa to enter Vietnam. I had pre-arranged a visa on arrival, which meant that I had sent my passport, travel information, and a nominal fee ($9 per person) to a somewhat sketchy visa agent recommended to me by a friend (Vietnam Visa Pro, if you’re wondering). In return, I got a letter of approval.

After arriving at the Hanoi airport, I needed to get the actual visa prior to clearing immigration. This means that I needed to find the visa booth and hand over my passport, letter of approval, a completed entry and exit form, and a passport photo. After handing over my documents, I then went to the other side of the booth to wait for my visa to be processed. Once my name was called, I gave them $45 USD and got my passport with visa. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you have sufficient cash for the visa.

While I’ve heard that processing times at Ho Chi Minh (SGN) airport can be long, the whole process was done quite quickly at Hanoi airport. Granted, we were the only flight arriving at that time of night, so that perhaps helped mitigate delays. But I would readily do visa on arrival again.

I had tried to prebook a taxi from the airport through an online service, but no one was waiting for us when we exited immigration, so we went outside to haggle for a taxi. The first guy wanted $25 USD (~530,000 VND), which was way too much. The second guy wanted to use the meter initially, but it’s a very long ride (about an hour to Hanoi), and I didn’t want to give him any reason to take us for a ride, so I bargained for a fixed price of 350,000 VND (~$16 USD), which is what I had read was a fair flat rate to the city.

As for taking taxis in Hanoi, the advice that I heard was that Taxigroup and Mai Linh were the ONLY taxi operators that you should trust. This came directly from Vietnamese people. And to make sure that you generally don’t get ripped off on taxi rides from the airport, do your research BEFORE you land to understand what fair rates are. I personally use Wikitravel, but TripAdvisor, Flyertalk, and lots of other sites can be good sources of information.