During my stay in Hanoi, I visited a couple of different places. But first I’d like to talk a little bit about what kind of traveler I am so that it’s clear why I make certain choices while I travel.
First of all, I really enjoy traveling solo. I usually travel with a backpack. I like the freedom of not having to take others into consideration and do things as cheaply, as expensively, as slowly or as quickly as I want. If I want to take a day off and just chill at the hostel – I can. Or if I want to skip one attraction, or skip dinner and have some snacks from a store instead, I also can do it. This is not to say that I hate traveling with friends or I don’t do it – I enjoy it too, but traveling alone is definitely my default mode, especially as it’s not always possible to find someone who would want to travel to the same place at the same time. On the road, I will sometimes hang out with people I just met and then go to a place together; then, we part our ways.
However, traveling alone comes with certain challenges; for example, if you want to go somewhere by car/boat/tuk-tuk, it’s always easier if you’re in a group and you’re splitting the cost between a few people. You can also negotiate more as a group. When you’re alone you can either find people on the road to do some activities together, as I mentioned, or just avoid going by private cars and try to find public transportation. The same goes for food – when you’re in a group, you can try different dishes and split the cost; on your own, it’s easier to just buy a dish fit for solo eating (like a bowl of noodles or a rice dish).
Secondly, I try to travel on a budget; especially, as you may know, I previously worked in China – although I earned a decent salary in China as an English teacher, it also means that it’s not so super amazingly cheap for me in Southeast Asia, or anywhere else for that matter. CNY simply is not as expensive as USD/Euro so when I hear someone say, or when I read blogs on which someone mentions something costing 100 USD as being cheap, well, for me it’s not cheap, at all simply because I operate in a different currency. At the same time, I do want to travel for a long time and see as much as I can, so I try to stretch my budget.
That said, my budget is not that small; sometimes I want to be alone and I will stay in a hotel instead of a hostel. Also, all kinds of insects and spiders freak me out so I only choose places that look clean and have high scores on booking apps (if there’s just one review mentioning a cockroach – I’m not gonna go to that place). So, just to be clear – I don’t always go for the cheapest option available; I try to keep the cost low, but sometimes I also want more comfort. And even though I try to eat cheaply, sometimes I will treat myself to a medium-level cost food. In order to keep the spending down, I mostly stick to street food and cheap things, but not all the time. Also, I walk a lot and try to take public transportation, for example, buses, as much as possible; on the one hand, it saves a lot of money, on the other hand, I think taking public transportation also kind of gives you the feel of a place.
When I travel, I usually want to see attractions connected to the history/culture of the place to better understand it; apart from that, what I love the most is nature. Even though each city has some unique flavor to it, and for sure has some unique spots, at the end of the day, to me, the most beautiful scenery is nature. Sometimes I might also skip a “major tourist attraction” if I think it’s too expensive or if I don’t feel that interested in it.
I’m not sure why, but I’m completely allergic to organized trips and sightseeing; I will usually avoid guided trips and choose to hang out in a place alone. Sometimes, there’s merit in joining a group, for example taking part in a free city tour organized by a hostel or joining an organized trip for a few days to a specific place, but for me it’s a minor part of what I do; I guess I might miss out on a few things, but I like the feeling and freedom of being by myself, and sometimes organized tours are also very costly (especially if you book them online in advance). So I try to keep a balance between the two.
And lastly – I’m not really into buying souvenirs. I bought some when I was younger, then I switched to collecting flat things (such as tickets, postcards and other things that don’t take up much space and you could put in a scrapbook, for example). But now I just keep photographs of the places I visited and I also take pictures of tickets and other things if I want to preserve them. I don’t want to carry all this stuff around and frankly, I just don’t have much use for such things (I found I didn’t look at collected tickets/postcards that often anyway, and not flat items just collected dust). So I don’t even consider buying souvenirs when I see them; I can admire them and appreciate them if they’re beautiful but I’m not tempted to buy them anymore.
So, back to Hanoi – there are a few places that are landmarks of the city. One of them is the Hanoi Cathedral, also known as the Saint Joseph Catedral. It was built during the French colonial rule and open in 1886; it was to resemble Notre Dame in Paris. Located very close to Hoan Kiem Lake (on its western side) so if you’re staying in a hostel/hotel in the Old Quarter, it is within a walking distance.
The cathedral is usually closed; apart from 5:30 AM and 6:15 PM on weekdays, Saturday 6 PM, and 5:00 AM, 7:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 4:00 PM, 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM on Sundays, according to hanoifreelocaltours.com.
After that, I went to check out one of the major historical places in Hanoi – Hanoi Citadel (Citadel of Thang Long). First built in 1010, it served as a capital and living quarters for the king up until 1810 (when the capital was moved to Hue). In the 19thcentury, the Nguyen court added a citadel inside the complex (one part of it is the Flag Tower, which served as an observation post). The majority of the imperial complex was destroyed during the French rule and then during the Japanese occupation. The ruins are still being excavated to this day. Currently, in the citadel, one can see the Flag Tower, South Gate, North Gate, Ladies’ Pavilion, foundations of Kinh Then Palace, and gates of the dwelling palace of the Nguyen Dynasty.
The admission fee is only 30000 VND (1.30 USD). I think the citadel is a place in which you can admire some of the traditional Vietnamese architecture and on top of that, there are some additional exhibitions within the complex (such as an exhibition about previous dynasties that had their seat in Thang Long, or an exhibition showing some Vietnamese art).
Later, I took a walk back to my hotel and moved from the Old Quarter to a place outside of it; for me, the Old Quarter was just a bit too hectic and loud, with too many people and motorbikes on the street. If you want to have a room to yourself, you can find something in Hanoi for around 14 USD per night (probably less if you don’t mind a little less comfortable conditions).
That’s all for today – see you next time!