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Monday, 25 April 2011

Hanoi Backpackers Hostel

Written by Alex McCullough
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Hanoi, Vietnam is a city that has no equal. Not because it’s superlatively lavish. Nor is it due to any specific tourist attraction – as Hanoi is best as a base to see things an hour or two from the city. Hanoi just happens to be one of the most unique cities in all of Southeast Asia.

The streets of Hanoi are so crowded with motorbikes it makes Bangkok feel like a calm day in Central Park. Crossing even the smallest street is an exercise in faith in your fellow humans that your camp counselors could never have prepared you for no matter how many trust falls you’ve done. But amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, a certain calm permeates the people. Unlike most Asian countries, no one is really thrilled to see white people. You regain a certain sense of anonymity in the city, as well as most other places in Vietnam.

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Walking into a city like this can be intimidating, especially if you’ve spent the rest of your time in the friendly safe havens like Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. But I encourage you to visit if you have the chance. It will change your view on the region in general and provide a little diversity to your trip.

When there, it’s always nice to have an escape, where you can get back to the familiar backpacker community. The Hanoi Backpackers Hostel is perfect for this. Situated on a tiny back road – think Khao San Road in Bangkok boiled down to a handful of hostels and one convenience store – the hostel has 2 buildings and plenty of beds for $7 a night, or private rooms for a bit more. Call ahead as they do fill up pretty quickly.

The staff is friendly and the kitchen provides free breakfast. There’s a movie room called the Annex with couches and bean bag chairs for when you’re wiped out from a day of walking and museum hopping. You can also set up trips to any of the nearby destinations. Although the trips are a bit more expensive than going to an independent office, you will have a guide from the hostel with you in addition to a Vietnamese guide. You’re also guaranteed to have a group of fellow backpackers with you. Booking through an independent company leaves you with a random group that may not turn out well. I tried both, and although I am usually as frugal as possible while traveling, I advise every traveler headed to Hanoi to stick with the hostel’s trips.

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IMG 1011The trip to Halong Bay is not to be missed. You will spend the first night on a boat in a beautifully isolated area. You will be led on a kayaking trip by your guides weaving in an out of the islands, and there will be plenty of time to spend jumping off the 15 foot tall boat into some of the prettiest waters you have ever seen.

IMG 1013The hostel is affiliated with a small, private beach, where you will spend the second day and night. No one has access to it except those who book their Halong Bay trip through the hostel. The island is completely private – 500 foot+ cliffs surround the beach on all sides, and it is fully equipped with kayaks, a beach volleyball court, ping pong tables and a stereo system. Feel free to take your pick of sports as well, including a range of water sports, or even rock climbing for the colder days.

And if a good, down-to-Earth hostel with friendly staff who help you plan your time in Hanoi and throughout Vietnam is not enough, rest assured that there is a bar downstairs (only open until 9pm), and that it is the best place in town to find friends to experience the Hanoi nightlife with. And believe me, Hanoi is very unique and not easy to navigate. Having some hostel buddies will make your stay that much nicer.

©Alex McCullough

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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