Motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, pedestrians, motorcycles, buses, pedestrians, and more motorcycles. Colors and characters flash by you instantaneously: old men smoking cigarettes on plastic stools; women in straw hats carrying a four-by-four, balancing a scale of pineapples and durians; bags, kitsch, shoes, Buddhas, green “Good Morning, Vietnam” t-shirts; lakeside Catholic churches and harbor-side pagodas; little kids playing on their scooters and oversized bikes; Chihuahuas barking out of art studio storefronts; tourists by the busload chattering and gulping down 50 cent Tiger beers; neon signs for seven dollar massages; “Pizza, Pasta, Steak” restaurants on every street corner; cockroaches, geckos and rats scuttling by, underneath your feet, above your head, seeking the next dark hiding place. It seems that the busy life in Hanoi can be too much for even the most steadfast of creatures.
Though Vietnam had been on my radar for years, my decision to come to this beautifully chaotic city was a very last-minute one. Some other travelers in Thailand (where I was living temporarily) had told me to skip Hanoi, that it wasn’t worth the bother. I knew nothing about the place except that it very close to Halong Bay- a place I’d discovered only months beforehand while working on a copywriting job. I debated shortly and bought my ticket.
Sometimes I plan where I’ll stay before I leave, and other times I just wing it, end up meeting other travelers, and share a cab to whichever place is of the most interest. This time, I had decided to book ahead. After taking a night bus from Trat, Thailand, to Bangkok, Thailand, enduring a 5am flight from Bangkok to Hanoi, then drooling, eyes shut, on the minibus from the airport to the Old Quarters, I ended up in the frantic middle-of-everywhere. It was just my backpack(s) and me, groggy as hell at an ungodly hour in the morning. I hopped on a motor-taxi (a taxi motorcycle), showed the driver where I wanted to go, and clung to his waist as we wove in and out of traffic. I tell you, this is a much more powerful (and exhilarating) way to wake up than any cup of Joe.
The taxi driver wanted to take me somewhere else, but I insisted that he took me to the place I’d booked: Hanoi Tony’s Hotel, aka Hanoi Titanic Hotel. I still don’t know why it has two names, but that’s ok with me. Located in the middle of the tourist area of Hanoi, the motto for the hostel is “Your Family in Vietnam”. A lot of hostels and hotels say that and it’s just not true. This hostel, however, was different, and that’s why I feel compelled to tell you, dear reader, about this place.
I planned on staying in Hanoi for about three days, then moseying my way down the country with an open bus ticket. I was in Hanoi for two days, left to Halong Bay for two days (which the hostel booked for me at an affordable $65 USD), and came back with plans of staying another night or two. Guess what? That didn’t happen. I was there for a week and a half. I got to know several different waiters and waitresses in more than a handful of restaurants, cafes, and bars. The hostel staff jokingly (but maybe seriously?) offered me a job. Was it that I was absolutely in love with the city of Hanoi? It was beautiful, raw, chaotic, and vibrant. I admit I enjoyed the thrill of crossing the street and doubting whether or not I’d make it to the other side with all of my vital organs intact.
The answer is: I think I stayed so long because of a unique mixture of circumstances that only an advanced alchemist could determine. However, I have a pretty strong feeling that the hostel played a big role as well. If I feel uncomfortable somewhere, give me one night of creepy vibes and I’ll bolt out the door before the sun rises. If I do feel comfortable, however, to the extent that I was here, you may very well have to kick my ass out.
Here are 10 reasons why Hanoi Tony’s Hotel was my favorite hostel in Vietnam, and possibly even the whole of Southeast Asia:
1. It’s centrally located. The temple of literature, Sword Lake, and even the Ho Chi Minh Museum are within walking distance (if you enjoy a long stroll). The area is littered with excellent cafes, restaurants, and convenience stores. If you want to grab a drink, many of the restaurants offer 16 to 18 ounces of bottled beer for only 10 Dong (50 cents in the US).
2. The staff is awesome. If you have any questions, requests, problems, anything- they’ll help you out. I became friends with the owner, Tony, his wife, the other Tony, and Ching- all staff- after a day or two of my stay. They are down-to-earth, upfront, speak very good English, and are down to arm wrestle if you’re so inclined.
3. Breakfast is included with the stay. You can choose a baguette with butter and jam, or with eggs, cucumber, and tomato, as well as fruit and coffee or tea. And it’s plentiful. I made sure to wake up at least by 9:30 every morning so I wouldn’t miss breakfast in the mornings. More than a handful of times, I woke up, ate, only to go back to nap (eh-hem, I mean read).
4. Guests are just as cool. I ended up speaking more Spanish in Hanoi, Vietnam, than I have in years. There were people from Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, not to mention Germany, China, Korea, Holland, Canada, and so on. I easily made friends without having to take a step out of the hostel, and then proceeded to explore the city with good company.
5. You can book your tours directly through the hostel. And the companies will pick you up from the front door. Want to see Halong Bay? Your ticket is booked. Yearning to explore the mountain ranges of Sapa? Done. Don’t know what the hell to do while in Vietnam? You’ve got an itinerary. Certainly, tour prices may vary from place to place, but Tony’s Hostel offers some competitive prices, and saves you a whole lot of hassle.
6. No curfew is imposed. While you may have to knock on the door for (the other) Tony to open the door, you can come and go as you please. If you’re a night owl like me, there’s nothing more annoying (except no wifi!) than having to be back by a certain time. I love nightlife, not to mention wandering the streets and writing at random hours when hardly anyone else is awake, so this suited me perfectly.
7. They bought me a birthday cake! A group of us at the hostel went to the nearby snake village, La Met, to celebrate my 32nd birthday. (And this is a completely different story entirely!) After playing with snakes and eating a lovely meal, they brought out a yummy cake with “Happy Birthday, Cristina!” written on it. My name was even spelled right. And I got to make a wish and blow out the candles. Did I mention that Tony and his staff are completely awesome?
8. Their prices are very low. Some of the lowest in the area, actually. For a four-bed, female-only dorm room, I spent only $5 USD (105,000 Dong) per night. There are also eight-bed mixed dorms for a bit cheaper. Most of what I found around the area was either really run-down or cost $6-7+ USD for the same type of room. Their private accommodations range from a one-person single room for $13.26 to ten people for only $4.50 per person. These rooms generally have their own mini-fridge in them, as well as a desk and armoire. Also- very important in Vietnam- each room has air conditioning!
9. It’s clean. Sometimes, well, a lot of times, in Southeast Asia, you have to worry about things like bugs in your bed, ants in your coffee, and cockroaches in your shoes. At the time I visited, the main area and the rooms were all very well kempt. There are a couple of ladies that I saw everyday going up and down the four flights of stairs with fresh sheets and sanitizers in hand. You never have to worry about sleeping in someone’s last-night-sheets. They even provide toilet paper, miniature shampoo and soap, not to mention disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste. Hey, it’s the small things that count.
10. I had a blast. When it comes down to it, you want to enjoy yourself, don’t you? Well, maybe not everyone does, but I surely do. This is a relatively quiet hostel, but they still manage to make it a lot of fun. Every week or two, they host a laid-back party. It’s super chill in that everyone just lounges around chatting, drinking vodka and red bull (or whatever the concoction of the night is), getting to know each other better, and having a good laugh. In fact, in addition to speaking Spanish so much, I also had quite a few good belly-laughs in Hanoi. Would I have had this much fun at another hostel? I don’t know. It’s possible, but not probable; I wouldn’t chance it. There’s something about this place.
So, in a nutshell, those are ten reasons that contributed to my staying a week and a half in Hanoi. And they are ten very good reasons! If you get the chance to visit Hanoi, Vietnam, and are anything like me, I highly recommend staying at Hanoi Tony’s (Titanic) Hotel. If I get the chance to visit Hanoi again, you can bet that I’ll be back at Tony’s.
If you have any questions are have an upcoming trip to Hanoi planned, feel free email the staff, call them up, or visit their website. Hanoi Tony’s Hotel will be more than happy to help make your stay in northern Vietnam unforgettable!
Hanoi Tony’s Hotel is located at:
56 Ngo Huyen Street
Hoan Kiem District
If you’d like to learn more about Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, check out Karolina and Patrick’s experience on a cruise here!