Vietnam: A Traveler’s Note

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.

After having spent 9 days in Bali, the girl I was traveling with and I were heading to Hanoi, Vietnam. From Bali, we had to endure a grueling 8-hour wait until our next flight to Hanoi — and trust me when I say those waits are horrible! So pack yourselves some Xanex pills to make the time go by. That being said, in Singapore’s international airport there’s a lot to do. Spend some time looking around the airport if you can’t sleep, there are a lot of fun activities that run all-day and well through the night.

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

Once we touched down in Hanoi, after getting through customs, we had to find a mini-bus to go to “BackPackers Hostel”. The term ”mini-bus” is perhaps a little much…it’s a minivan…

Be prepared to be squeezed in, it’s an uncomfortable ride. Also, taking a bus with a bunch of random travelers ain’t so bad; the way it’s organised, you end up taking a tour of Hanoi ’til you reach your destination. Therefore, try your best to sit in front of the van.

[Random piece of advice] Make sure you know the exchange rate, because people in South East Asia will take advantage of you. They may not be the only ones, but they do!

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

After our crazy mini-bus/minivan trip, we got to the hostel “Hanoi BackPackers (downtown)”. For all the hostels out there in Hanoi this one is actually quite expensive, but I have to tell you it’s great fun, they have a crazy nightlife and, although pricey, the food is sensational. If you want to stay there, be mindful to stay in the dorm-rooms.

If you aren’t yet, you really should get used to waking up to new faces around you because….hostels. On the subject of hostels, if you’re having sex in the showers, you probably should make the effort to close the curtain, failing to follow this tidbit makes it awkward for those waiting on the shower… and everyone else.

The first night we were there, I met five Brits from a town called Sheffield – if you guys don’t know where that is, it’s in the north of the England. We spent pretty much our whole trip with them and they were fantastic to be with. We met them casually in the smoking corner of the hostel and we joined them to “Beer Hoi corner” in our first night out in Hanoi. “Beer Hoi corner” is the place to be to go drinking cheap beer with an awesome atmosphere of locals in Hanoi. If there is one palpable generalization with South East Asia, it’s the streets. The streets are so busy and as loud! However, in some weird way, it’s actually quiet relaxing to be in that crazy setting. In ”Beer Hio corner”, you’re drinking beer from kegs that are kept cool with the same preservative they use to keep dead people. And when you get a bunch of English lads together, and you start singing Tenacious D songs and downing beers which are 15,000 dong (roughly 0.50 CND), you can be sure your night has the loom of greatness.

Waking up with a massive hangover in your room and not knowing what happened the night before in a maze-like foreign city, is a big cross-off the bucket-list. When you go out in Hanoi, you have a guide in your group, who knows his way around a map, make him your Gandalf because if you’re alone in Hanoi at night you are going to have to find your own way back to your hostel and it’s a bitch. Be careful of the crazy ladies trying to grab your genitals, trust me they pick pocket your shit.

After dealing with the morning hangover, the girl I was travelling with and I went to go sightseeing, you need to keep account after the heavy drinking that you done the night before, you’ll be extremely dehydrated so drink a lot of water and stay away from the soft drinks, they are not good and are pure sugar. Be careful on that street that the hostel is on, there are two women with pineapples, and they go to tourists and give you a tray of pineapples. They will tell you to pose and take a picture, and after forcing to take a handful of pineapples and making you pay for it.

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

Being in Hanoi for 4 days, we really wanted to change the setting of the place so we joined one of the Backpacker Hostel prestigious trips, it was “Cast away”. It’s a 3 day trip around “Halong Bay”, which my friend Jordan said was the best place of all the places in south East Asia and maybe the world to drink a beer, to be precise your drinking 333 a local brew that you get in Vietnam, there’s also Hanoi beer which is really good. Everything is included the trip food and bed, but not the booze, we suggest and strongly, bring at least two bottles of rum if you want to feel like jack sparrow or whiskey, because booze on the trip is quiet expensive plus you could you use some of that extra strong stuff. The first day on the boat you go kayaking in this crazy spot where you go through cave after cave you don’t think you can go through them, but you manage by tilting your head as well as putting your body in the most uncomfortable positions, so I hope your good yoga or Pilatus. Once you get out of that last cave with your body straight again, you look up and you’re surrounded by the most surreal natural environment you would have ever seen, I have to leave a cliff hanger here, because when I saw it my jaw dropped and I can say the same for all the people who were there.

In the night, after your kayaking experience and jumping off a three-story boat. The “Cast away” crew have drinking games for you after dinner and other amusing things that you can do. Nevertheless; you have awesome time with bunch of strangers from all over the world you just met on the bus a couple of hours ago. In the end of the night you end up dancing on the roof of a boat, and some of us were doing a sort of push up and pull up competition with the boat crew.

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

Getting on the last day and night there, you end up on a beach which is paradise on earth, a perfect Utopia. It’s a magnificent sight to see the formation of rocks around you with little beaches everywhere that you can visit with a kayak. There are a lot of fun things to do on the “Cast away” beach too, for example you can go rock climbing, swimming and they have speed boats, which you can do different water-sports in. I was really fond of that last night we were in “Halong Bay” on the beach we were staying, because there were questionable things that happened that night, two of the guys woke up naked in random places. That wasn’t all that made it great, it was the atmosphere of people and the old school music we had, like dancing in the moonlight, when the moon was up ironically. Something that was fascinating as well, and I have only seen this in Hong Kong was the bioluminescence light you got at night. These are microscopic jellyfish that glow in the water when you swim in the sea or throw sand in the water, it’s amazing to go in when you’re skinny dipping. I might add and this strong advice from me, honestly do not sleep in the rooms, it’s boiling hot, humid and uncomfortable, be little bit adventurous sleep on the beach.

Getting back from Halong Bay to Hanoi was sad, because you just spent three days and 2 nights with people who you’ll never forget, so you the have the normal exchange Facebook names and hugs, while everyone is already leaving to different places in Vietnam. We found out there was an alternative way to have the same fun in Backpackers Hostel and stay somewhere for way cheaper and nicer, and the glorious place was called the “Sports Hotel”. We stayed there on our last night’s in Hanoi.

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

One thing which is particular of South East Asia is the food from Indonesian to Thai and Vietnamese they are completely different. But if you want to eat cheap and have some of the best delicacies in world, I swear it’s the place to be, to eat like a King or Queen. Therefore; try everything when you go to Vietnam, honestly you won’t regret it. The Backpacker Hostel has a map with all things to see and places to go eat, so make a list check and it off, you can spend the whole day eating. Although; most restaurants in Hanoi look sketchy, don’t be shy, go inside you’ll have an amazing time. what you have to try are the soups Pho Ba or Ga. Pho Ba is raw beef in a boiling soup it’s the same for Ga which is raw chicken, Pho has rice noodles and spring onions inside. It’s one of the best things you can eat in the world, honestly it’s a party in your mouth. Another thing you have to try is Bon Cha which also a soup with beef paddy, but you can add things to it. Pigeon is a must try in Hanoi as well as the deep-fried Frog legs. For drunk time food, the best thing Hanoi is the Kebab which is a 2 min walk from the Hanoi Backpacker, and this kebab stand puts Turks and Greek to shame, literally.

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

A cool and crazy thing about South East Asia are the night markets In Phuket Thailand, the night market there sells house pets like hedgehogs or little parrots, in Chiang Mai the night market there sells mostly fake movies and t-shirts that have non sense on them. What they all share in common especially in Hanoi, is that they have crazy good food and cheap accessories. For as the food goes, try the waffles with chocolate and whipped cream that stuff will make you cry like the little girl in spirited away when she eats the rice that Hako gives her. Although for the accessories, I hope you have enough space in your luggage if you go there, because you’ll buying a lot useless, memorable and beautiful things that you’ll keep on your shelf and always laugh about because you have no idea what came through your mind when you bought it , then you realize it was that cheap there. One thing that’s enjoyable and challenging is hassling over prices with the people who sell products to you, because some of them are tough and won’t back down their prices, so get ready for a battle with a little Asian lady, you’ll be able to check that off your list, if you had that on.

After Halong bay, we spent 3 fantastic nights with guys we were with from the UK. We celebrated Jordan’s, who has given the details on how to rent a bike in Vietnam, had his birthday at the time there. So we all booked ourselves in a swanky nice hotel and had a night out, we went to the Rooftop bar in Hanoi, which is good fun, do not try the bloody marry though its worst thing after Justin Bieber. That night was an amazing delight, with cigars and whiskey, but no cocaine, prostitutes or caviare unfortunately.

The things you have to go and see are essentially the water puppet show, the war-time museum, the cathedral and this bar which it’s made out of a B-52 bomber plane that crashed over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
Going out to a club Vietnam is something to see, it’s actually a lot of fun. They have a curfew there and they shut down clubs after 3 o clock, but like Montreal there are clubs that stay open later, for example the light house bar. A bizarre thing that we did when, we were there was going to a Vietnamese casino, but this is only for rich fat Chinese man who sit on machine and gamble all day, it’s a great way to get free cigarettes for any smokers out there.

The vast majority of travellers who visit Vietnam will go from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, or vice versa, and make an attempt to see everything in between. While the bus is certainly the cheapest way and gives you somewhere to sleep, it cannot be seen in the same light as travelling 1000 miles on a motorbike. Coastal and mountain roads, the sense of freedom, and exploring towns and villages you would have never seen are just 3 reasons why every traveller should buy a motorbike to see Vietnam on.

Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer - PirateMTL member.
Photo by: Lukas Knecht Boyer – PirateMTL member.

When in Hanoi, you need to find “Hanoi Motorbikes” or “Ho Chi Minh Motorbikes”. The guys and girls who make this place tick do a great job of sorting you out with exactly what you want and make sure that you are fully capable of riding a working motorbike before you leave. There are two main models which are available all over Vietnam making them easy to repair; the Honda Wave and Honda Win. The Wave is a semi-automatic scooter with the Win being a fully manual motorbike. Don’t worry if you have never ridden or used a geared motorbike before, the guys are good enough to take you out to a quiet area and give you a lesson. I paid around £300 (560 CAD) (9,600,000 Dong) for a Honda Win. This got me the bike, a paint job, a speaker, the lesson, a short maintenance lesson, spark plug, map, poncho (best poncho I’ve ever had), bike lock, and waterproof covers and ropes to tie the bag up. I’ve saved the 2 most important things till the end. Also included is a 24 hour help-line number and a “blue card”. The phone number is a live saver. If you ever break down you can ring the number and you will get to speak to the guys at the shop, they will help you as much as you can by talking to the mechanic who might be repairing your bike. This lets you know what is broken, how long the repair will take, and stops you getting ripped off. The “blue card” is your official document which you need to keep safe. Lose it and selling your bike will become a nightmare.

Once you get down to Ho Chi Minh, or up to Hanoi, you have the option of selling your bike back to the store. They are partners so bikes often go to and from each shop. They will buy your bike off of you for a price which depends upon what condition it is in. I sold mine for around £115 (215 CAD) (3,500,000 Dong). I may have been to sell it to a fellow traveller for more but the bike was looking tired and needed some work.
So we were leaving to go back Hong Kong, and the guys that we were travelling with in Hanoi as well as Halong Bay continued their trip all way the way down to Hoh Chi Minh. During our journey, we or I might say I have never met so many fascinating people who I had the pleasure to share beer and laughs with. From Bali to Vietnam, it was truly inspirational trip.

Written by Lukas Knecht Boyer and Jordan Turner

pictures by Frederique Lasnier and Jordan turner