Hanoi Hopes, Dashed

Some places feel like home as soon as you get there. Hanoi wasn’t one of them. It’s too bad because we wanted to get into an apartment and live there for at least three months. After just three days both of us knew we weren’t going to be happy. That was after we gave it a solid chance and looked at half a dozen apartments.

Looking at apartments was bizarre. One landlord showed us several suites in his building. All the suites were supposed to be ready in a matter of days but none of them had furniture, a kitchen–or four walls. The building was being renovated and it didn’t have an outside wall. He showed us three suites, I think they were four, five and six stories up. None had the wall, and none had furniture or a kitchen installed either. The landlord–who was very kind–said he’d give us sheets for the bed and any other “nuts and bolts” we might need. Oh really? What was even funnier was the way Josh was pretending to be interested, asking all these other questions but avoiding talk about the wall.

I digress. We found Hanoi to be so radically different from what we had read and heard about that it felt like we were in the wrong place, or in a parallel universe Hanoi. People whose opinions we trusted raved about the city. Guidebooks heralded it as “one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful cities.” It is so not.

Nevertheless, we made the best out of our 12 nights in the city. During our apartment hunting and especially brewpub touring, we saw neighborhoods that most tourists don’t go to. None of them were that nice, it was just fun being stared at by wide-eyed children and smiled at, instead of accosted by vendors.

It’s too bad we didn’t like Hanoi, because there is so much beer to drink. One of the best things to do in Hanoi is drink coffee or beer on the street. There are some good spots to sit on the sidewalk and watch the world go by. The dozen or so brewpubs are fun to have around.

One of the things we really didn’t like was the total lack of nightlife. There is nothing to do at night! All the bars and bia hoi stalls shut down by 11PM and unless you have a private party to go to, you’re out of luck.

Another disappointment was street food. It’s monotonous and often of mediocre quality. It took a lot of work to figure out where to go to get what. We did get some food tips so I wrote a whole Hanoi food/drink post about the highlights.

Sometimes eating can be surreal. Once a soup vendor dumped my leftover broth into another patron’s bowl after I picked all the good stuff out of it. Waste prevention, I guess. Oh, and street markets can be freakish and unappetizing unless your name is Andrew Zimmern. Maggots, entrails, hooves, that sort of thing. Surprisingly few veggies.

In general Hanoi combines some of the terrible aspects of small town life with the worst of big city life. It has the noise and traffic of the city but without its buzzing nightlife, and it has a compact urban core that’s a drag to walk in. There isn’t much green space to savor, and architecture is poorly maintained, under-appreciated, and hidden. Hanoi must have been nice ten, twenty years ago. Now it’s just another loud obnoxious mercenary Asian city. If we return it will probably be on our way to somewhere else. Sorry! Hanoi is overrated. Hanoi is…

ready for it?


Hue we like. I think Oakes will take that on in the next blog post.

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