The first moment I set foot in Hanoi Backpackers, I fell in love. I have been to quite a few backpacker hostels in Southeast Asia before, but this one just seemed to have a special ambience to it.
Maybe it was because I just had a near death experience in the cab ride from the airport moments before (It involved an underage cabdriver swerving in front of an oncoming truck) or maybe it was the fact that everyone greeted me in such a friendly manner upon entry, either way I just knew that the coming 4 days in Hanoi was going to be awesome.
There are more than one backpacker hostels of the same “franchise” in Hanoi. They refer to the first or older one as “The Original Hanoi Backpackers” and the newer one, where I was staying at, “Downtown Hanoi Backpackers”.
Downtown Hanoi Backpackers is situated on a very busy street in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The building is in close proximity to many bars, nightclubs and restaurants but it is also a stone’s throw away from the old city walls that dates back to the 13th century. I really enjoyed the fact that most of the restaurants around the hostel were real traditional Vietnamese restaurants with the most incredible food on their menus. I tried my hand at a couple of dishes like the popular Pho (Rice Noodle Soup) and Nem Ran (Vietnamese Spring Rolls). There are also hundreds of street restaurants with people sitting on the pavement drinking beer or ice tea whilst snacking on a bowl of sunflower seeds.
Each of the surrounding ancient streets are known for a specific product/merchandise, exactly how it was hundreds of years ago. Back then, specialised trade guilds were responsible for each street and this also resulted in the street names, most still in use today. For example, there’s a street close to the Backpackers called Cancer Street, here you will find hundreds of shops all specialising in selling cigarettes and cigars. Other streets close by include: Hang Bac (Silver), Hang Ca (Fish) Hang Dao (Silk), Hang Dieu (Bongs and pipes) and Hang Hom (Coffins). I guess this makes it really easy to find exactly what you are looking for.
Ok back to the Backpackers. This hostel had the full package, and the fact that it was situated in a great area was a bonus. The rooms and bathrooms were really clean and the staff were unbelievably friendly. On the ground floor you’ll find the reception area that doubles up as a bar/restaurant. The food on the menu ranged from Vietnamese favourites to proper Western food for the homesick travelers. The fourth floor is a lounge area complete with computers, flatscreen TV and a couple of sofas and beanbags.
Every night there is some sort of event happening at the bar with “happy hour” drink specials. I must say I really enjoyed the Beer Pong and Trivia nights. Every now and again the bar bell would sound ant this usually means some sort of freebie in the form of shots or beers are being passed out. After the bar closes the staff work really hard to round everyone up to go to some pub or bar close by. You immediately feel like one big family even if it is your first night there.
There are quite a few options available when it comes to booking a room. You can choose between a Mixed Dorm Double Bed, Mixed Dorm Single Bed, Female Dorm Double Bed, Female Single Dorm Bed, Twin Boudoir or Double Boudoir, depending on your traveling style. All rooms are secured with an electronic key card.
Hanoi Backpackers hostel also offers various day trips and excursions which can be viewed here. I only had time to go on one of the trips (Halong Bay) but I was told that the Sapa Valley Home Stay trips were amazing. The trips are well organised and I would recommend you go on at least one of them to experience the true Vietnam. Every day there is also a complimentary City Tour which covers most of the surrounding areas and ends at the famous Haon Kiem Lake in the middle of the city. According to the tour guide there is a 100 year old water turtle residing in the lake and if you see it come up to take a breath of air you would have good fortune and luck for the rest of your life.
Before I knew it my time in Hanoi was over, but the people I met and the memories I made will be remembered forever. I never realised that a city this crazy and busy would creep so deep into my heart. Hanoi will definitely see me again.