South by Southeast: Hit and run Hanoi

You don’t just visit Hanoi. Hanoi visits you. Take a walk down any street of this fast-paced Vietnamese capital of commerce and communism and prepare to be overwhelmed by sensory delights (and annoyances). Motorbikes buzz around intersections like nests of angry hornets. Your feet trip over small plastic stools at street-side noodle shops. Vendors chase you down the street like used car salesmen, endlessly peddling a mish-mash of boat trips, tropical fruits and Lonely Planet guidebooks. It’s enough to make a Southeast Asian traveler go mad. But beneath this cacophony of life and movement lies an emerging must-see destination of achingly beautiful architecture, vibrant street life and cutting-edge culture. Get out of the way – we’re taking a “hit and run” tour of Hanoi.

For many years, getting to Hanoi was more of a roadblock than a green light. Situated in Vietnam’s furthest northern reaches, it was a capital both hard to get to and literally hard to enter. Veiled behind a curtain of communism and painful memories from decades of war, it was a destination most American travelers couldn’t and didn’t visit. But with the normalization of relations in 1994 and Vietnam’s admission to the WTO in 2007, tourism has been on the move. Nowhere is the “new Vietnam” more evident than in rapidly changing Hanoi. Where infamous prisons once stood, there are now luxury high rises. And in place of guns and grenades, you’ll find fashion boutiques and trendy coffee shops.

Ready to take another look at this on-the-move Vietnamese capital? Keep reading below for the ins and outs of a proper Hanoi visit.Getting In
Getting to the furthest northern reaches of Vietnam has never been easier or more inexpensive. Thanks to cheap budget airlines like Air Asia and Jetstar, flying into Hanoi from other Southeast Asia capitals is a snap. If you’re coming direct from the U.S., consider United Airlines and Delta, both of which now fly to Vietnam (with a layover in Asia) from the United States. For those arriving from points south in Vietnam, the country’s competent rail system offers sleeper trains for around $30-40 depending on the point of origin.

What to See
Hanoi is a city with a rich history. Anyone interested in the history of the Cold War will find lots to explore at the city’s many war monuments and museums, covering Vietnam’s struggle for independence as well as the conflict between North and South. In addition, Hanoi is increasingly home to a thriving arts, food and nightlife scene.

  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – The body of “Uncle Ho,” architect of modern Vietnam, is entombed at this vast complex. There’s no more surreal (and creepy) sight in Hanoi than paying a visit to Ho’s preserved body. Surrounding the mausoleum visitors can investigate a large museum and complex of buildings where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked.
  • Old Quarter – To see where old and new Hanoi collide, head to the city’s Old Quarter. Just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, the area is home to a growing collection of trendy art galleries, bohemian coffee shops and happening bars. These businesses mix effortlessly with the area’s chaotic array of merchants, selling everything from textiles to fruit shakes to motorbike parts.
  • Beer, Ahoy! – Hanoi’s street food is legendary. Stumble down any street and you’re likely to find delicious local specialties like Bun Cha and savory bowls of Pho noodle soup all accompanied by Vietnam’s infamous brew, Bia Hoi (draught beer). And for 25 cents a glass, you can afford to buy a few rounds for your pals.
  • Temple of Literature – Take a trip back in time to ancient Vietnam at this well-preserved monument to the teachings of Confucius and Vietnamese scholarly works. The Temple of Literature represents an oasis of serene Chinese-style pagodas in the city’s chaotic traffic-choked center.

Where to Stay
A stay in Hanoi is incredibly friendly on the wallet. Considering the range of amenities like free WiFi and satellite TV available at most hotels and guest houses, a budget traveler will find themselves spoiled for choice starting at around $15 per night. Great options include the Especen Hotel situated just west of Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. Shoestring travelers should check out Hanoi Backpackers, which attracts a happening crowd for its daily happy hours and is a great bargain at $7.50/night for a dorm bed. High rollers frequent the Sofitel Metropole, a grand dame of Asian colonial elegance, with rooms starting at just over $200/night.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Steal Boingo wireless by clearing your cookies

If you’ve got time to kill at the airport, wireless can be a life saver. In most terminals, however, wireless isn’t free, and three out of four of the available providers charge an arm and a leg for service. So what’s a cheapskate to do to access his Facebook account without paying through the nose?

Steal wireless, of course. Most people know that if they stand with the proximity of an airline lounge, many of the clubs have unsecured wireless networks. Other open signals can proliferate through the terminal as well, and its not uncommon to see people wandering around the empty halls, holding up notebooks to the sky.

Another way that one can score free wireless comes by using a loophole in the Boingo “sponsored ad” service. Many (not all) Boingo hotspots offer a few minutes free for those willing to jump through a hoop or watch an ad or try out a free service. In JFK’s terminal 8, one can get 20 minutes of free service by trying out Microsoft’s substandard search engine, Bing.

Boingo and your web browser calculate this time using what’s called a cookie, a small thread of data that’s stored on your computer. And cookies, like all security tidbits, are removable. All that you have to do is clear your cookies, reload the Boingo page a few times and reclick the free service ad. In Firefox, it goes like this:

  • Connect to the Boingo hotspot.
  • If you don’t immediately see an ad for sponsored service, reload the page or navigate around a bit on the Boingo website. It’s possible that this market doesn’t have a sponsor, so don’t be disappointed if nothing pops up.
  • Jump through the hoops for free service.
  • Update your Facebook status, Tweet what underpants you’re wearing and stalk your new love interest online.
  • When you run out of time, click Edit|Preferences|Privacy|Show Cookies
  • Ignoring all of your embarassing stored cookies, navigate down to “” or anything with boingo in it.
  • Click “Remove Cookies”
  • Reload the Boingo connection page. If necessary, disconnect from the wifi network and reconnect.
  • Repeat

Easy as pie, and before you know it, it’ll be boarding time. Happy browsing!

Free WiFi access in US Airways club lounges

This is a nice move from US Airways – this morning, they announced that WiFi access in their clubs will be free from now on.

The service is powered by T-Mobile, and used to require a T-Mobile hotspot subscription or a pricey day pass.

Access is free as of today in their lounges in Buffalo, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., Greensboro, N.C., Hartford/Springfield, Conn., Los Angeles, New York La Guardia, Philadelphia, Raleigh Durham, N.C., Tampa, Fla. and Washington Reagan. All other US Airways lounges will switch to free access during the summer.

To get online, you’ll need a US Airways Dividend Miles account (free) or an access code card from the staff in the club.

Of course, this also means that you’ll have a good chance of getting a signal if you are standing outside the club doors, in the unfortunate event that you are not elite enough to get access to the club lounge, but don’t tell US Airways I told you that. Just be sure to signup for their mileage program so you can log in to the hotspot.

Want WiFi in your car?

Imagine being to work or surf the internet from the passenger seat on a road trip. Imagine driving to some remote destination and being able to and blog about it, or check your scores, or Skype your girlfriend, or whatever you do just by being in or near your car! Welcome to the future, readers. Autonet Mobile has arrived.

This April 10 — April 18 at the New York Auto Show, the Cadillac CTS Sports Sedan will debut with full roaming internet access. Holy rolling hotspot!

Autonet Mobile is already available as a dealer-installed option for all new and used Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles across the US, but this new partnership with Cadillac includes the company’s latest generation mobile router, a new smaller unit that allows consumers to easily transfer it from car to car via a new docking station.

Cadillac WiFi by will be available nationwide starting in April, and subscription plans start at $29 per month.

Early Christmas gift for iPhone and Blackberry users – free AT&T Wi-Fi access

If you are an iPhone or Blackberry Bold customer with AT&T, then as of today you’ll finally be able to access any AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot for free.

The 17,000 AT&T Hotspot locations are primairily found at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble.

There are no additional steps required to access the hotspots, you can simply select the hotspot name like any other wireless access point and login using your mobile phone number.

Being able to access Wi-Fi only really makes sense if you don’t have the 3G iPhone or if you desperately need access to something faster than the existing 3G signal.

Of course, it could also help a lot if you find yourself outside the 3G coverage area, or if you need to access something not possible over 3G (like accessing the iTunes music store).

Wi-Fi access to the AT&T network normally runs $19.95 a month, so this freebie certainly adds some more value to the monthly plan. Of course, AT&T is not the first to offer free hotspot access with their phones, T-Mobile offers a similar perk for Blackberry and G1 users with select data plans.

Via: Engadget.