Due to a combination of bad weather and laziness, I ended up skipping Ha Long Bay and heading south, to the small city I talk about in this post. I know what you're thinking: "How could he skip a beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage site?" Well folks, I'm sure I'll come back to Vietnam again. There's nothing stopping me from seeing it some other time.
I like small cities. I've noticed that they tend to be friendlier, cheaper, and easier to navigate than big cities. While I had a good time in Hanoi, it was kind of a relief to leave. Prices were expensive, touts were everywhere, and the risk of getting run over by a motorbike was high. Right now, I'm writing from a hotel room in Ninh Bin, a small city in northern Vietnam. While it's only a two hour drive from Hanoi, the differences are striking: My room (a private for $5 per night) and dinner (noodle dish + smoothie for $3) cost half of what It would have cost me in Hanoi, and I'm half as likely to be run over by a vehicle. It's amazing what contrast 100 kilometers makes!
The problem with big cities lies in supply and demand. For example, Hanoi has way more motorbike drivers than tourists, hence the constant bouts of motorbike touts. Property also tends to be more desirable/expensive in capital cities, so shops and restaurants must charge higher prices to support themselves. Don't get me wrong, big cities do have a lot to offer in terms of variety. Want to eat street food one day, but fine dine the next? Or stay in a hostel dorm one night, but a 5-star hotel the next? Bingo. Some of my favorite cities are metropolises (New York, Bangkok, etc). However, for a relaxing experience, you usually can't beat the quieter, lesser frequented outskirts.
Another factor is privacy. In big cities, I tend to stay in shared dorms because it's cheaper, and there are more travelers to meet. However, once I get to a quiet place, I like to stay in private rooms. They are cheap, and offer a much needed retreat from the cacophonies and excesses of the city.
After a week and a half of running around to get my Indian visa (SUCCESS!!!), drinking 25 cent beers, and wandering aimlessly through the streets of Vietnam's capital city, it's nice to finally chill out. No more noise, no more exhaust fumes, and no more bed bugs. Oh yes, bed bugs. Did I mention the hostels in Hanoi were full of them? After three and a half months of furtively avoiding them, BAM! Although I still haven't actually seen any bugs, my bite-ridden torso tells the ugly truth. Here's to never seeing those itchy bastards again!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.