I flew from Hong Kong to Vietnam almost two weeks ago! Money was a big, unexpected, and comical adjustment from China to Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Dong (VND) to USD exchange rate is 22,000 to 1. My math skills are not quick so adding three zeros to every conversion was good mental gymnastics for about the first four days here.
To further complicate, people do not say, “this water costs fifteen thousand dong.” People instead say, “this water costs 15.” The thousands place is dropped in oral language. Most travelers I have met, and me too, have a story about getting confused and overpaying because of this language convention.
Now I can quickly understand prices. I can also identify the varoius colors and sizes of the different bills. While learning, two clerks at my hostel in Hanoi had to explain the money to me and so did the woman who exchanged my HK dollars for VND at the airport. Shopkeepers also helped by pointing at the bills I was holding.
There are no coins in VND. A lighter purse is great.
VND! I have two ATM cards, a primary and a backup. When I enter a new country I rely on the ATM for cash.
In Hanoi I enjoyed wandering the streets in the Old Quarter. Street names in this part of the city originate from the craft that was made and sold on that block. Like a department store with sections for different types of merchandise, I walked streets with pots, glassware, fabric and other goods.
It is a good thing I had an introduction to crossing streets in China and that I got tips from Elizabeth! With more motorbikes in Hanoi than other areas I visited, street crossing here was like a more advanced version of a game I was already playing. The Long Bien Bridge is over 100 years old (and it felt like it!). This bridge survived heavy bombing during the Vietnam War.
A visit to the Temple of Literature was a peaceful respite from the buzzing city.
I throughly enjoyed my visit to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum (Wikipedia) in Hanoi. The museum has rich displays describing the role of women in Vietnamese history and daily life.
On the list of Hanoi tourist attractions is Hoan Kiem Lake. On Friday and Saturday nights the streets surrounding the lake become pedestrian only zones. On my first night in the city I wandered around the lake with another visitor. We listened to musical bands, watched families playing games, and saw all kinds of people enjoying themselves.
From two travelers on the tour to Sapa (tomorrow’s post), I learned about Hanoi Free Walking Tours. With a day’s notice this service paired me with an awesome University student, Van. The chance to connect 1×1 with a young woman in Hanoi was fabulous. Plus, I learned about Vietnam’s history. I will be looking for more free city walking tours as I continue my travels.
I selected the Vietnamese history tour for my Hanoi Free Walking Tour. Van met me at my hostel and then traveled with me to the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, and the Ho Chi Minh museum. It was excellent to learn about the independance of this country and the respect of Vietnamese for President Ho Chi Minh from a local person.
The Hoa Lo Prison held prisoners during the French occupation and U.S. POWs during the Vietnam War. Most notably for U.S. history, John McCain was imprisoned here.