Being winter it was around 20-24 degrees in Hanoi and everyone was rugged up like it was the alps. The staff at our hotel could not believe that we were walking around in jeans and a t-shirt. They kept telling us to put a jumper on. The first thing we decided to do on our first day in Vietnam was go and get SIM cards since we were leaving the hotel and it’s wonderful free wifi connection. We walked out of the alleyway and realised the street was full of shopfronts and the people were all sitting around in their shops with their kids and friends. A few of them were cooking on the side of the road and eating. I had never seen anything like it and the further we walked, the more we saw of this. We didn’t have to go too far before we found a shop that sold SIM cards and we bartered them down a little. We walked around for a while, exchanged some money and checked out some shops. I was amazed at the bustling streets and happy laid back culture and could’ve looked in every shop in the whole district.
This lady tried to charge us for this photo and sell us her bananas, she was hilarious.
We kept seeing cyclos everywhere and managed to get a good deal on two of them to drive us to Hoàn Kiếm Lake that we had seen on the area map in the hotel brochure. We walked around and took in the scenery before taking a little stroll across the The Huc Bridge to check out the Ngoc Son Temple. We were acting like total tourists taking photos, selfie stick included. We walked back to the start of the bridge and walked around the park that surrounds the lake for a while. We stopped at a shop where I saw the most beautiful conical hat (a “cooli”) like they wear in the rice fields. I didn’t buy it however, I still wish I had. A lady was selling these beautiful homemade cards that had 3 dimensional pop ups inside when you opened them. There were boats and castles and so many other different intricately designed paper cards and we managed to barter her down a fair bit before buying a couple of them. We walked back through the streets stopping at lots of shops along the way. One of the shops was actually selling the same cards which were the same price we paid and probably could’ve gotten even cheaper so that was a bit of a moment, our first time being ripped off in Vietnam lol…
The shop where I saw the cute Cooli Hat.
After we returned I thought I would look up what we could do in Hanoi and I found a great page on Google to help us plan our day around. http://www.vietnambackpackerhostels.com/city-guide/hanoi/top-5-not-so-touristy-things-to-do/.
We decided to catch a taxi down to Tay Ho Lake and go paddling on the swan boats for half an hour. We tried to race each other across the lake to the beautiful Chùa Trấn Quốc Temple but it was such a workout on the legs we didn’t exactly make it. We did have a lot of fun though and it made for a great laugh so I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you’re in Hanoi. We were getting pretty hungry by this stage so we caught a taxi back to our hotel and walked to a place called Gecko’s for lunch and cocktails. The food was pretty nice and the cocktails were delicious. We really wanted to eat outside, but it was too full. The balcony outside was a level above the street and overlooked a busy street corner. It was the perfect spot for sitting and watching the locals do their thing and I probably would’ve waited for a seat to become available if we weren’t so hungry.
Swan Paddle Boat rides on Tay Ho Lake.
After lunch we decided to give the area called Snake Village a try so we jumped into a taxi and took a long drive through Hanoi before pulling up in an alley behind some buildings. The taxi driver took us into what seemed like his friends building and we really had no idea what we were in for. The man who lived there began to show us his cages with big cobras in them before opening up one cage and pulling one out. This snake looked really angry and kept trying to lunge at us but it was so cool being able to get so close to this crazy snake. David had a 360 camera and managed to get some pretty cool footage of the snake biting the camera, spitting venom all over it. After a while they started trying to ask us something and we had no idea what they were saying at first but suddenly we realised they were asking if we wanted to go inside and eat him now. It turns out we had found ourselves in a snake restaurant! I said that I would try it if someone else did too but no one else was interested in the slightest so we decided to skip the snake meal and gave them some money for their little show. They showed us some creepy looking bottles where they had preserved snakes in rice wine and scorpions as well and I had to have one. I called my sister back home in Australia and asked her opinion on whether I could get a scorpion and snake wine bottle through customs and she said to just get it and declare it as animal product. I bought one where the snakes head was upright holding the scorpion upside down by the tail in its mouth. David got one too while Eddy and Krystal were disgusted by it. We jumped back into the taxi and spent the whole trip back to our hotel wondering what the hell had just happened to us.
One of the less-scary snakes.
When we got back we went walking around the shops again as we couldn’t get enough of it. When we were done we sat in our rooms deciding what to do for the night. David and Krystal wanted to go get a massage and had the staff at the hotel organise one at a nearby parlour. Eddy and I went for a trip to Royal City’s Vin Com Towers shopping centre to check out the largest underground water park in the world. The shopping centre itself was absolutely massive and was accessed by escalators on street level travelling down underground. When we got there we were excited to find that entry to VinPearl Land Water Park was half price since it was winter not that we figured that should affect an indoor park. We went and changed and put our things in lockers before walking out into the massive and completely deserted water park. There was literally maybe a dozen people max in the whole park which consisted of about half a dozen massive slides, a big wave pool, a surf simulator, a kid’s play gym maze and an Olympic sized lap pool. We started on the massive slides of course and since there was no one there we had unlimited access to them all. They were so much fun, we had to use inflatable donuts but we still managed to hurt our butts going too fast on the slightly dodgy slides. Totally worth it! The coolest slide unfortunately was under maintenance when we were there but it sounded insane and I was so sad to miss out. You stand on a platform with water rushing at your feet and all of a sudden the platform drops away and you free fall a couple metres before going through some loops and stuff!! We thought we would have a go at the wave pool after figuring out we were too big for the kiddy gym and getting dunked by the dunk tank on top of it. The wave pool wasn’t the best though, more relaxing if anything as the waves were long and slow and it wasn’t very deep but we still had fun.
Returning from Snake Village.
The time came when they finally started up the surf simulator and we tried our chance with the body board and helmet. Turns out it’s really hard and I can’t speak about all surf simulators but this one was quite dangerous, again totally worth it though. Everyone waited around in no specific line but all managed to share and take turns fairly which was quite nice since there wasn’t any staff member standing around. When you try to walk down into the wave to jump on the body board all of a sudden it goes from grippy to slippery and the water pressure is so hard I managed to completely go flying backwards into the wall a couple of times before finally catching a wave. The grip scratches you as you go flying back over it when the force of the wave finally takes you and I managed to somehow cut my toe open and had to go to the first aid room which is just typical of me. That ride was definitely not something I was expecting to find and experience when I booked my trip to Vietnam. We were ready for dinner after that so we tried a hot pot restaurant inside the shopping centre where you order a hot pot with Tom Yum soup in it and then you pick your meats and vegetables that you cook yourself right there on your table. It was pretty fun but we looked so out of place in the fancy restaurant, all wet from the water park.
VinCom Mega Mall entrance.
Getting home from Royal City was an absolute nightmare. We got in a taxi with a driver that seemed to know where we were going after showing him the address. After driving for half an hour, we realised we were well and truly screwed. Suddenly we were not on the main road anymore we were travelling through really dark quiet backstreets and the taxi driver started pulling up and speaking to random pedestrians. We tried to explain to him where we were going but the language barrier was too difficult and he just seemed more confused. He then got on his phone and started talking to someone and said it was his boss. He asked us to get on the phone and give the address which we did and then gave the phone back to him. After speaking to the lady he handed the phone back to us and the lady basically said that they had no idea where we were going and the driver would drop us back near the main road to get another taxi. This time the driver knew where to go and when we got close and the busy streets got tighter we decided to jump out and walk the rest of the way. When we got back to the hotel we realised we had left our bag of wet belongings in the second cab which was pretty annoying as most of the clothes in it were brand new and the towel was my favourite! We decided to go to bed since it was late and we had to get up early the next morning. We had booked a trip to Ha Long Bay to stay on a junk boat overnight and see the beautiful sights of the UNESCO heritage area.
It’s super hard to get a clear photo on a moving cyclo.
– Kels xo.