VIETNAM: Hanoi – Hanging out in Hanoi

Posted by on Feb 2, 2015 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

I flew into Hanoi with a damaged dental veneer and a host of annoying errands to take care of before I go to cave country in Phong Nha. Fortunately, I found a fantastic dentist and took care of it immediately. There was also plenty of time to see a little of the city and chew my way through the street food in my neighborhood. I’ve been going through a bit of a nightmare trying to get my FedEx medication package through customs. Hopefully, it will be sorted out tomorrow before I leave for Sapa north of Hanoi.


The final resting place of Ho Chi Minh


My Hanoi Dentist – $50 to repair a veneer!


My Hanoi Tailor – One dollar to hem my pants! This wonderful guy hemmed my pants in less than ten minutes and refused to take a penny more.


My Hanoi Chauffeur – Priceless

Throughout Southeast Asia, there are hundreds of thousands of people offering rides and tours on the back of their motorbikes for a small fee. A female doing so is exceptionally rare as was validated by the staff at my hotel. This young lady’s angle was to play the starving student card, say that she just wanted to show you around, and then instead of money ask for shoes to replace the crappy ones she was wearing. Some things never change. Augmenting women’s wardrobes seems to be my lot in life.

In this case, I wrote it off as part of a tour. I decided to offset some of the cost on our next meeting by not falling prey to her scam when we went and sang karaoke in English and Vietnamese. Then we went for lunch to a restaurant that I’m sure had given her a kickback. Afterward, as we left to return to my hotel, as expected she decided she needed a new overcoat. My stomach was feeling poorly, and I said we needed to get back. We got to the hotel, I went inside to break a large bill, and returned with some gas money.

It’s clear that she was convinced that she was going to wheedle the coat money out of me. She tried to bargain with me, but I was having none of it. I told her that she could either accept the gas money or I would take it back to the hotel with me. So ended the most unique bit of Vietnamese exploitation I have experienced thus far.

I have been overcharged by taxis, street food vendors, and others but this was the most entertaining. At least I had a little adventure, took care of a number of errands, and got some interesting material and pictures for the blog.

Vietnam is a country of real variety in terms of people, and their intentions, morality, and ethics as evidenced by my tailor friend and his “Hello Kitty” counterpart. Some people are committed to serving you in the best way possible, and many are out to do you a disservice. It is sometimes hard to reconcile the two when traveling in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. One minute you are under the care and protection of kind hotel staff, and the next prey to unscrupulous touts and scammers on the busy streets.

There are many bloggers including, Nomadic Matt, the number one travel blogger in the world, who has stated unequivocally that he would never return to Vietnam for some of the reasons I’ve stated. The good Vietnamese are truly embarrassed by the behavior of some of their countrymen, but it is certainly harming their tourism efforts by leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many of their guests.

Personally, I have managed to take it in stride even though I admit it can get disorienting and discouraging at times when one second you’re being charged triple for a cab ride, and the next moment you are surrounded by high school kids who want nothing more than to take their picture with you. In Vietnam, you’ll get plenty of lemons. Just try not to miss the sweetness, and enjoy the lemonade. Just avoid the pink lemonade on a motorbike. It has a very sour aftertaste.


 Matching Hello Kitty Helmets – Hello Kitty, Goodbye Dollars



Halong Bay – Feb. 9th. 2015

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Hanoi – Old Quarter 5:00 am – Feb. 7th.

After returning from my trip to Sapa, and being transferred from the train station to my hotel, I waited for a room to be vacated in the wee hours of a Hanoi morning. I decided on a nice walk around Hanoi that can only be experienced in the wee hours. I had dreaded my return to the generic cacophony of sounds that the Old Quarter has to offer, and which I had escaped in the pastoral beauty of Sapa, but five in the morning enabled me to make a welcome transition back into city life. Gone were patrons of food vendors filling the sidewalks with short plastic tables and stools, as was the constant staccato beeping of motorbike buzzers which have been known to leave many a westerner in a state of confused psychotic dysphoria.

Instead, a myriad of unusual muted encounters tends to await with the intermittent crowing of roosters and a few odd, putting scooters to break the silence. I strolled up a familiar street and offered something that was reminiscent of a scene from “Full Metal Jacket” replete with offerings of “boom boom”. The only thing missing was “she love you, long time.” I then sat down at a small street vendor and had a coke light while listening to and observing some embarrassing, drunk American thirty-somethings reviewing their evening’s exploits and acting like fools. I felt I wasn’t missing much in my sober condition. A trip down another side street revealed an outdoor meat market, both sides flanking me with carnage and rib cages galore. On another, women loaded vegetables onto devices that look like giant scales which they carry on their shoulders. Sorry, but I have to ask someone the name of the things. Primitive but eminently practical.

This is not something that is offered as a tour and is usually stumbled upon by accident. It is worth the time if you have the opportunity.


Hanoi Hannah – The Patron Saint of Weary Travelers

The Holiday Diamond on 05 Nguyen Sieu Street is the place to stay in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The staff is second to none and the price is just over what you would pay for a hostel. The rooms are nice and the breakfast is good and made to order. Hannah, the young lady shown above made my stay exceptional. She helped sort out a number of annoying issues that required multiple scans and emails. It was like having a personal assistant. I needed glasses, she hooked me up. I needed some pants shortened, and she told me where I could find my one-dollar tailor. When I went to TripAdvisor to submit my glowing review,  I found more of the same. Hannah this and Hannah that. So if you want five-star service for two-star prices. For value, location and experience there is no other place to stay in Hanoi. Frankly, I think Anthony Bourdain would stay here in a New York minute since he’s very fond of the street food of Hanoi, and this place is located in the very heart of PHO Land.


  1. Z
    February 13, 2015

    Good story, thank you for sharing. Be safe.

  2. The Travel Zealot
    February 13, 2015

    Thanks, I am starting to put more time into the blog and finding a voice of sorts. It is very much a work in progress, and will take some time which I have plenty of.

  3. Karen Devers
    February 15, 2015

    What interesting contrasts you describe, John. I doubt that I could find the balanced response you achieved so I’m happy to walk in your shoes via the blog. Actually better than being there!

  4. BigD
    February 21, 2015

    Great story about the lemon lady (“Hello Kitty, Goodbye Dollars” good one!) I was once ripped off by a taxi driver in Granada Spain. It was an eye opener, definitely learned my lesson since then to be very clear about dollar amounts and to count all the change.
    Good to see there are also people there trying to earn an honest buck and that your experienced was made sweeter as a result.
    How’d you chip your veneer?

  5. The Travel Zealot
    February 23, 2015

    The veneer was already damaged and repaired in San Diego. The repair fell off so I went to that great Hanoi dentist who sorted me out in a jiffy. He did a better job than the guy in San Diego for a fifth of the price. The guy in Hanoi was american with a state of the art office.

  6. The Travel Zealot
    February 23, 2015

    I’m glad you feel that way, Karen. It’s a continuous challenge facing a clash of civilizations in a region that is so fraught with our own historic conflict in it’s recent past. That said they are doing their best to protect much of their precious natural resources. Now if they can get everyone on board by putting trash where it belongs, and try to encourage the fair treatment of their tourists which inevitably brings more dollars. It doesn’t help when the number one travel blogger in the world says he would not set foot in Vietnam again because of the constant rip offs and deceit.

  7. Hannah
    February 28, 2015

    I am very glad to know you enjoy your time in Son Doong. Thank you for the nice words about me. I hope to hear more from you during your trip.
    From Hannah-Hanoi Holiday Diamond

  8. The Travel Zealot
    March 6, 2015

    Hi Hannah,
    I just returned from Han Son Doong today, and it was quite an amazing experience. Some very serious trekking through difficult terrain, and am completely worn out. I am now in a nice resort on the beach in Dong Hoi, but I will head south soon. I noticed there is another Holiday Diamond Hotel in Hue, and I will definitely stay there after my experience in Hanoi. The lady who arranged the tours was great too. Give her my thanks as well.

  9. Lynda
    March 13, 2015

    It was sooo nice to hear from you John. Interesting stories too. I’m envious, stay safe.

  10. The Travel Zealot
    March 13, 2015

    I’m taking a couple of Malaysia Airlines flights in Malaysia in April. Keep your fingers crossed. They don’t have the greatest track record lately.

  11. Buell
    March 14, 2015

    Hey, John, been following you! You look and sound great.

  12. The Travel Zealot
    March 15, 2015

    Hey Buell,
    Just living the dream. Hope you’re enjoying the ride.
    I’m making a 12 day pit stop in the States in April.
    Then I’m off to Europe for the Spring and Summer
    where I’ll get my first taste of youth hostels.

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    July 10, 2015

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  14. The Travel Zealot
    July 10, 2015

    Thank you, Mahjong. No need for donations. This is a not for profit fully funded situation. Just traveling for five years for the shear pleasure of it, and trying to chronicle it as I go. Sometimes it’s poignant, sometimes silly, and every now and then a good tongue in cheek rant. Maybe one day it will have a more solid concept, but for now it’s just something to do in between consuming the local cuisine and enjoying the history, art and architecture that each locale has to offer. You are the first non-family/friend to submit a comment so thank you for that.

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