Good morning [from] Vietnam! We spent several days in Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, where everyone and their mom owns a motorbike. There are literally millions of them! Similar to Shanghai, Hanoi traffic horns seem to be everyone's second language: drivers honk their horns, not in rage, but as a continuous communication tool ("Let me in," or "I'm passing on your left...on the sidewalk.")
We were a little apprehensive about Vietnam because many travelers complain about Westerners being scammed or overcharged by taxis, guides, markets, etc. Several of our tour guides told us that we will get charged higher amounts because we're Westerners (and by implication, can afford it). Also, we had read about tourists' fears of crossing streets, and adapted by mimicking the locals: commit to crossing, don't change your pace and never retreat!
We toured the Old Quarter and saw temples, old and new houses, restaurants and bars, and lots of markets. Many streets are named after the products sold there (i.e., silver street, silk street, fish street). We also tried several Vietnamese foods, including pho, banh mi, and egg coffee. Vietnam is renowned for its coffee, including weasel coffee, which is very expensive coffee "mined" from weasel excrement, we shit-you-not.
Similar to China, it seems that people in Vietnam are more spiritual than religious. Most places of business had small shrines with offerings to ancestors' spirits to bring good luck and prosperity to the owner. People left money and fruit at the shrine, but also beer, Coca-cola, Choco-pies and cigarettes! These offerings were later consumed by the owner, which might explain the choice of offerings...
Because we love Asian food, we took a cooking class and learned how to cook pho, spring rolls, papaya salad, bun cha (pork meatballs), and egg coffee.
We also visited a spa for massages and mani/pedis. Vietnamese massages are not the gentle kneading we were used to: our therapists walked all over us, literally!
We also visited Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its limestone islets, caves, and green waters. Besides our main cruise, we took a side trip on a bamboo boat to travel under a grotto. Some Chinese tourists in another boat were singing at the top of their lungs in the cave, taking advantage of the acoustics - it was hilarious!
We also walked inside the "Surprising Cave," a huge cave with 3 main caverns and stalactites and stalagmites named after their shapes. One of the shapes resembled "man's best friend", and draws admiration and giggles from tourists.
Overall Hanoi was very interesting, with great food, friendly people, but lots of pollution, smokers, and traffic. Despite what we heard, we didn't feel like we were taken advantage of.
Now we're off to Malaysia for the last leg of our trip.