It finally happened. But we’ve known for a while it was only a matter of time. We love our guesthouses, hostels, and homestays, but with an infant and toddler, we thought it might be time to expand our lodging options.
And being that it was our first major travel foray with two little ones and a very budget-friendly destination, Hanoi seemed just the place to do some treading into the unknown.
Yep, that’s right! We tried out our very first Airbnb…in Hanoi!
And, all in all, it was a very positive experience!
So…what made us venture into the strange new world of the informal accommodation economy, you ask?
Well, after perusing Hanoi’s endless number of centrally-located budget guesthouse options around US$35/night, I began to wonder if we could do better for about the same price.
When Lori and I visit new places, we often like to try to imagine ourselves living there — I’d like to say this practice purely stems from the desire to more fully understand a new place, and yes there’s a lot of that.
Whether or not we like to admit it, however, we’re always trialing a new place in our heads for some possible relocation in the future.
Anywhere we go, we like to try and maximize our time in one place rather than trying to jump around and see everything. If we are fortunate to be able to stay a week or more, having a place to stay where we can get into some sort of daily routine akin to living there is a big plus.
Obviously, this is easier to achieve staying in an apartment/flat. But until very recently that option was complicated and time-consuming, particularly for stays under a month.
Fortunately, the explosion of Airbnb properties across the globe in the last couple of years has made it ridiculously easy to go native!
Finally, Airbnb rentals in Hanoi offered the opportunity for getting more space (and maybe even an extra room!) for about the same we’d pay for a small room in a guesthouse — a huge bonus with a toddler and infant.
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All About Our Hanoi Airbnb
In late February, I shortlisted a half dozen Airbnb properties in central Hanoi — along with a half dozen of my top guesthouse picks — and handed them over to Lori for review.
It was no contest, the AirBNBs properties dominated her list. Who can’t resist a kitchen and extra room in a great location for a great price?
In the end, we chose Wind Chimes Studio 2, a recently updated fifth-floor walkup in a Soviet-style Nhà Tập Thể (Community House). Our French Quarter flat set us back a nightly average of US$35 (including fees).
Initially, five stories seemed a bit much to negotiate on a daily basis with two little ones, but the benefits outweighed the downsides. And really, in the end, it wasn’t that bad, even when things got excessively humid later in the week.
Plus, being so high up helped shield us from the traffic noise at street level.
Community Houses are distinguished by many unique features, but the bike ramp running up the center of the central stairwell might be one of the more striking.
These flats date from the 1960s and are quickly vanishing, being replaced by soulless steel, concrete and glass apartment blocks that can be found just about anywhere.
Community Houses were originally occupied by Hanoi’s well-to-do, such as government, military, or influential families. Living in such luxury 50 years ago was a sign of privilege. Today, Hanoi’s privileged elite look elsewhere, a sign of how much Vietnamese society has transformed in a matter of decades.
Say what you will about the austere design or aging exterior, these apartment blocks are living history, offering a rare glimpse into a rapidly vanishing Hanoi.
With the Wind Chimes 2 Studio, we got the best of both worlds: The history of the Community House and vibrant old-school neighborhood, with all the amenities we’d hope to have from a well-appointed guesthouse, and then some!
The flat exceeded our expectations, and the host was awesome in every way — polite, responsive, flexible, and hands-off.
Suffice it to say, we weren’t looking for a mega-awesome-super-host-guide, for which Airbnb is famous, to chat us up, take us under their wing and show us around town.
With two kids, living in Southeast Asia, and being hyper-independent types who look forward to getting hopelessly lost and figuring out things for ourselves, that didn’t sound like much of a vacation to us. It was even a significant misgiving I had about staying in an Airbnb.
Fortunately, our hosts were low key and hands-off (but available if we needed them), which we really appreciated. And more importantly, the place was spotless and better than advertised.
The “studio” wasn’t actually a studio at all, but a one-bedroom flat with an additional sleeping section partitioned off of the main living area.
Upon entry, you have the bathroom to the right, then the small efficiency kitchen (complete with washing machine!), a cozy living room, sectioned-off sleeping area, and…
Now, who do you think got his own bedroom?
It was an easy decision. Either we were in the bedroom with the baby, leaving Noe to have the run of the kitchen and bathroom while we slept, or…he was confined to his own little bachelor pad (which he’s pretty accustomed to since moving into our new house). We obviously chose the latter.
Hanoi AirBNB Streetlife & Homelife
Getting more than what you expected AND a great host was appreciated, but the neighborhood was really the icing on the cake for us.
Lively and local, this corner of Hanoi had everything we were hoping for, and then some — offering a real sense of place that a large international hotel chain can’t possibly match.
Right outside the main entrance to our building (which shared a portico with a hair salon) two women set up shop every morning selling fresh veggies and, you guessed it, raw meat!
Raw-meat-lady took a particular liking to Noe. For days, she apparently wanted to know whether Noe was a he or a she, but as we did not share more than a word or two of a common language, we didn’t know this is what she was asking.
Finally, midweek, she took matters into her own hands and found out for herself. Poor Noe. I won’t go into details, but we’ll just say that the #MeToo movement has not exactly reached this block of Hanoi.
The street out front bustled with activity all the way up until nightfall when it transformed into a virtual ghost town (the polar opposite of neighborhoods in Vientiane). Not great for buying water and diapers at the end of a long day, but very good for sleep!
Noe loved having his fruit so accessible. Back in Laos, we have to work a little harder for our fruit, and it never seems this verdant or diverse.
• • •
On a typical day, we’d leave the flat between 8-9am, grab breakfast at the cafe-of-the-day that Lori had chosen, then see what we could see before nap time. Riley still runs off of two naps, so he’d usually take his morning nap on one of us in the carrier, while both boys would take their afternoon nap at the same time. That was the plan at least, though it didn’t always work out that way, of course.
I know that a lot of parents choose to skip naps while traveling, but we’ve learned our lesson with Noe. Every kid is different, but Noe NEEDS his afternoon nap, lest he turn into a monster. The kid even knows this and reminds us if we forget — “Mommy-Daddy, Noe want to sleep now.”
The contrast in Noe’s behavior and general outlook on life is night and day between days he gets a good nap and days he doesn’t. So, instead of trying to push the envelope and cram more sightseeing in, we made the effort to get both boys back to the flat between the hours of noon and 3pm. This also gave Lori and me a chance to rest our backs and cool down on the hot days.
By 3 or 4pm, if all went well, we’d be ready to hit the town again for another 4-5 hours.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of time for the boys to play at the flat as well.
Noe loves being the first to greet his little bro when he wakes up (and help him with his sleep sack).
All in all, a very positive first experience in our Hanoi Airbnb!