Yes, I use kitten to draw your attention to this post. I assure you it's a Vietnamese one
The last two weeks have gone by in a flurry of emotions, pho and motorbikes! Oh and lots of bubble baths because hotels here are proper hotels with bathtubs (though sometimes the hot water only is enough for half a bathtub).
After having heard and read so many dreadful things from people who had been to Vietnam, I was expecting a war scenario, an Asian Sodom & Gomorrah (yes, I know it's ridiculous that they place that I had these thoughts in was... Bangkok... it's a bit like contemplating if you will get more drunk in South Korea or Russia). I expected to be cheated every minute, run over by motorbikes, followed by touts and have my bag snatched while sleeping in bedbug-infested rooms with no hot water and eating from dirty dishes, I freaked out so much I bought the entire stash of Imodium at Boots the Chemist at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Then I arrived at Hanoi... Visa on Arrival was a breeze, as was getting a taxi. Yes, the taxi driver tried to drive me to three other hotels and of course he didn't have any change to I ended up paying 40% on top of the 'official airport taxi' fare, but that was to be expected. Every guide and website talking about Hanoi mentions this. I had resigned to my fate from the beginning.
I was greeted by wonderful staff, the sweetest and most attentive I've ever met in any hotel/hostel, shown a great room and recommended a lovely restaurant down the road – that was my first, late night in Hanoi.
The next morning I set out to explore the city and instantly fell in love. The motorbikes, street hawkers, French colonial buildings and wide boulevards reminded me a lot of Morocco, but this is an Asian version of it, a more upbeat, modern version, a place that's mostly run by people in their 20s who study hard, work hard and play hard. It's probably the most vibrant, fast-faced place I have ever been, yet it feels so well live in and has all those amazing old buildings and very few malls or skyscrapers. There are tourists, but nothing to compared with Thailand! Vietnam is not a place you go to in order to get pissed.
And the people, guess what – nobody tried to rip me off. I have only been met with real, honest friendliness and curiosity. There is a big cultural difference and most Vietnamese people have never left the country – so staring at you, poking at you or making weird gestures at you is de rigeur for the Vietnamese, but it's all done in good humor. After the taxi incident, every driver got me where I wanted to, and there have never been any issues haggling for a price or incidents of tampered taxi meters.
Yes, traffic is horrific, but nowhere as bad as it sounds.
Yes, the food standards can't be compared to the West and you should be pretty careful if you have a week stomach.
Yes, there are a lot of ramshackle buildings, but you will not see nearly as many beggars or homeless people as in other countries in SE Asia. I saw none of the street kids that Vietnam is supposed to be famous for – this country has changed massively even within the last 2-3 years, if I compare it to reports from then.
Yes, it's a lot more expensive for tourists than other places in SE Asia (I feel prices are about the same as Taiwan).
But in general, it's an amazing place and I think I dare even say the most amazing place outside the rich industrialised bubble I've been to so far! In Vietnam, you have no other choice but to feel alive.