Hai Phong may not seem all that on first arrival. I mean coming from the vibrant, bustling city of Hanoi that never really sleeps, it might seem that the ‘Phong’ doesn’t really compare. However, after living here for over 4 months now, I can assure you that Hai Phong has a certain gripping charm and still has secrets and surprises that were still uncovering week on week.
Hai Phong is slightly more appealing to me due to the reduced overall size of the city. It’s still a busy city, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as crazy and loud as Hanoi. Tourists are plentiful in the countries capital, however, it’s rare to see a westerner in Hai Phong. With this in mind, I think you get a more local and cultural feel of Vietnam this way. With people stopping you on the street to practice their English, shake your hand or pose for a selfie with you – you really feel like a celebrity sometimes.
There are so many funky coffee shops knocking around, it seems we discover more and more each week, from Memory café which sits on the edge of a lake and has a big swing you can relax on to Universal café which is 18 stories high and allows you to take in the buzz of the city from an elevated distance; there really is a café for everyone. And with that in mind, we have recently discovered a cat café with 15 local fluffy residents for all you feline lovers. We do enjoy our movies too, so there are a fair few movies theatres dotted around which show all of the latest blockbuster films and some of which have bowling alleys below if you don’t want your evening to come to an end. The food also is second to none with many street food pop-ups a stone throw away from the DTLC campus, these are very cheap, very tasty and very large portions. There are also many authentic Vietnamese restaurants on pretty much every street and a fair few western food joints too if you do need a taste of home from time to time.
On days off we have travelled on our bikes to various locations to explore what Hai Phong’s nearest districts have to offer. Closest to home and a teacher favourite would have to be the rooftop hotel pool atop a ten story high hotel on Lach Tray Street, for 100,000 dong, equivalent to 4 pounds of the queens finest, you can relax on sunbeds and take in sights of the heart of the city and take a cool down if need be by jumping in the pool. Next, we have two popular destinations that are around 30 minutes away each. First, we have Do Son beach, that is a straight drive from the DTLC campus and perfect for a hot summer beach day. The second is Elephant mountain, a 45-minute trek to the top allows a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and rice paddies. A little further and you can find many temples, lakes and waterfalls depending on how much torture you want to put your bottoms under. During holidays, weekends and long weekends off we travel around a lot. Particularly enjoyable destinations include Cat Ba Island, Ninh Binh, Halong Bay and Mai Chao.
If you’re quite sporty and active like myself then fear not, there are so many gyms you can join for varying prices too, dependent on what you’re looking for. Football is very popular over here and pitches are cheap and easy to rent out if you fancy a kickabout or a cheeky game of one bounce. Personally preferring to play volleyball or basketball I discovered that you could pay 3000 dong, equivalent to 12 pence, you can park your bike at the university sports park and the students are more than happy to let you join in which I have loved doing once or twice a week.
So here is a brief of summary of what goes on in Hai Phong and an idea of how you can spend your free time. I have loved my time here and I urge you to try some of the suggestions and get out in the city and explore yourself, you’ll be amazed at what you find!
Written by: Ryan Williams