I've just returned from a short trip to Hanoi, Vietnam!
Because the trip was so short, there was no time to go to Ha Long Bay or any further north, so we stayed in the city itself, within the Old Quarter.
Nevertheless, it was quite a remarkable experience. The streets are chaotic but, once you get the hang of it, quite navigable. The key, we learned, is to always walk at a constant, not-too-quick pace, and not make sudden dashes or stops. The motorists are well-aware of your presence and will avoid you.
The temperature there was a cool 12 to maybe 18 degrees (Celsius, of course), nothing like the sweltering heat of Singapore. The only issue we faced while there was the constant rain, though it didn't beat down in torrents like it does in Singapore. The rain there was more like snowfall - very small droplets that were easily moved by the wind.
The food was magnificent. With only a few days to try the local cuisine, it didn't feel like there was enough time. To bring back a taste of Hanoi, we attended a cooking class on our second day there, where we learned to make Vietnamese spring rolls and Bun Cha - rice noodles in a sauce with barbecued pork. We learned that the dish itself didn't take long to cook, but the preparation takes quite a bit of time due to the myriad of different ingredients. Definitely can't wait to try it out in Singapore.
On this trip, we learned that there was a price for locals and a price for foreigners (like us). This was alluded to by the host of our homestay, who was very friendly, helpful, and willing to please. The residence was not quite what we expected. Buildings in the Old Quarter were tall, generally about 3 to 4 storeys high, but they were narrow. Perhaps we have become too used to buildings in Singapore and other highly developed nations.
Though it seems rather unfair, the difference in price amounts to a few cents to a couple of dollars. If we had aggressively disputed every price we were given, we would've saved perhaps 25 dollars or so for the four of us combined - not really worth making a bad impression over.
Of course, when the prices were ridiculously high, we had to push them down or walk away, simply because it didn't make sense to deal with an unscrupulous merchant. We were willing to overpay a little, to give the local merchants an easier time, but we weren't suckers.
Hanoi is a beautiful city, charming and eye-opening. I definitely hope to return soon and, if possible, visit the northern reaches of Vietnam.