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I visited Hanoi in May/June 2003. Weatherwise not the best time, hot and humid. I seem to have a nack of visiting Asia in the 'wrong' season. However 'Wrong-Season' is in the eye of the beholder. The SARS cases scared off all the tourists and I arrived just after the last reported case. As a foreigner I felt as is I practically had the whole city to myself. The lovely cafes and restaurants (still with a bit of French flair) that dot the city where run by attentive staff not beyond taking time explaining, as best as they could, the dishes they served.
It's a fascinating city and luckily it was spared the most destructive bombing visited upown other cities during the Vietnam War. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent there and could have stayed another week without feeling that I have seen all the city has to offer. The city center is ideally suited for walking. Streets are relatively narrow, packed with stored selling an infinite array of colorful and exotic -to my eye- consumer and wholesale goods. Streets within the city cernter (the old part of town) used to be speciallized in only one kind of item for sale but over the years others stored have encrouched on these traditional areas. Now street names do not always corresponde to what is actually sold, though you will certainly find a couple of stores that still those times after which the street has been named. The people, while husstling trying to make a sale, are very friendly. Most speak only a little English but I was able to make myself understood without too much difficulty.
Food: Being a vegetarian in Southeast Asia in general would preculde my trying a mind boggling array of delicious dishes. I therefore now coin myself an 'adventurous vegetarian', not beyond trying new cousine, meat/fish based, even if only once. One restaurant I went to with a group of Vietnamese, served only one dish, that was it. However that one dish proved to be absolutely delicious (name?)
Hotel: given that the Dong is so cheap as is Vietnam in General (though I did encounter exception with London prices!!!) one can get a laurge Suit in a luxury hotel for abot $80.00/night. The one I stayed in was more like a serviced apartment with a full kitchen and washing facilities.
Weekend Trip to Sapa: An overnight train trip followed by a long jeep right brought us up to the mountain 'resort' town of Sapa.
Economics: What surprised me the most given Vietnam's ostensibly 'communist/socialist' background was the seemingly unlimited availability of 'western' merchandise - all at a price. I inquired as to how wealth was being created to the extent for some to be able to afford wide screen plasma televisions. One method is via real estate; while property is ultimately owned by the state, people effectively have long-term leases that they are able to sell to developers at tremendous profit. Hanoi is dotted with ongoing development, a definite sign of booming economic activity.
Cabs: I spent a whole week walking all over the city and sometimes taking a cab. Cabs are amazingly cheap, a typical trip not costing more than US$2.00. They are nice in the heat because they are airconditioned though sometimes you have to insist that the AC be turned on. There are several cab companies, each of which starts out the fare meter at a different minimum. Initially it was confusing however given that the cab fare was so low I did not bother keeping track except for the overall fare, a typical fare being no more than $2.00 (up to 20,000 Dong)
Guides to get:
Note: all Vietnames Dong to US$ conversions have been done at US$1.00 = 15,000 Dong
A good and substantial site for general information (hotels, attractions, maps, restaurants etc.) is [????]
South East Asian Site of the Northern Illinois University: This site is large and apparently is the complete intensive Vietnamese course that the university teaches. It includes images, sound files, dictionaries etc., an exceptional free site, not even the Linguaphone course at US$400 comes close to this.
If you want some tips on the fine art of bargaining try this site: Into Asia
Other picture links:
Get up early, and I mean EARLY, about 5:00 am and have a jog around (name of lake). I got the impression that the Vietnamese are health consicous. You will see kids, teenager, adults and retired people jogging, excercising, Tai-Chi and other forms of Eastern excercise. YOu will see the whole cross section of Hanoi society in a single jog around the lake. Well worth the effort!
Telephone Calls and Internet Cafés
Feel free to send me an email if you have any questions about Hanoi or would like recommendations about a particular venue and I will gladly try to find out what I can. Email me: Websheikh