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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hanoi, Vietnam

I realize that it’s been over two months since I returned from my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia and I have posted next to nothing about the experience on here. Sorry, life got in the way! But I really do want to record all the things that I felt and learned on the trip, so I’m writing it now! I’ve actually written a couple of entries over these last couple of months, but I’ve just never felt like posting them for a couple of reasons. So, I am going to break these entries into their respective cities/locations and hope for the best!

The first city that I visited was Hanoi, the northern capital of Vietnam. When I landed in the city it was well into the night and I took a prearranged taxi from the airport to the hostel I was staying at in the Old Quarter. Most of the ride was dark and uninspiring. I’d spent the better part of the day sitting in airports wishing layovers weren’t a real thing and direct flights were affordable, so by the time I had reached Hanoi with my friend I was completely Out Of It.

The more into the city we got, though, the more I began to notice that this place wasn’t like any city I have ever been in. The buildings were the first thing that really caught my eye, there are no big department stores like in Japan, no sprawling megacenters like America, just cramped, multi-story, thin things that looked as if they were pieced together by a child trying to make her own image of a city. The darkness held many of the details from me but I knew that this would be a place to explore. And I was excited!

We got to the hostel and had rooms on the first floor, something I will try to desperately avoid in the future as it’s so noisy. The hostel itself would prove to have its own “quirks” as the days rolled on and I can’t say I will ever recommend anyone to step foot near the place in the future. Let’s just say running water was a luxury in the building, and it wasn’t a Hanoi issue, but a “this hostel sucks” issue. Not to mention the random vomiting dorm mate sleeping above me. So relaxing!

Our first actual day of Hanoi was an early one, as would be a trend for most of the trip. We headed out to the Temple of Literature and then walked towards the One Pillar Pagoda, running into Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum along the way. I had no intention of really seeing that last one, but it was definitely like being in some weird movie with all of the flags of Communism everywhere. We also spent some time walking around the area that our hostel was in, the Old Quarter, which is just north of the main lake in town, Hoan Kiem. It was a mass of people and moving vehicles. I have never felt more alive and in danger of sudden death in my life. It was truly awesome.

Traffic rules aren’t really a thing in most of Indochina, it seems. While there were street lights telling cars when they should go and stop, most didn’t seem to even been turned on, and the rest weren’t followed. What we were left to contend with was a never ending stream of motorbikes and cars. The former outnumbering the later 20:1, easily. Once you got the hang of how things worked, walking around the tiny, narrow streets wasn’t nearly as dangerous as you would think just by stepping outside and seeing the swerving, honking death traps driving by.

The traffic actually doesn’t move that fast in the city, I don’t think most cars or motorbikes were going over 35 mph, and I would say most were well under that. The bikes would actually pay you some mind, going in front of you until you reach the halfway mark of the crosswalk and then going behind you. Basically, you just gotta walk like you own the place and everyone else will follow what you do. Running across the street isn’t very wise, as it’s more difficult for the bikes to predict where you’ll be, and randomly stopping will surely get you injured. Just walk at a normal pace, pretending you are not currently walking across an intersection that has dozens of moving vehicles coming at you full speed.

Most of our days were spent in a similar fashion, going to see various sites and eating local food. The weather wasn’t the best, as late March is the start of their rainy season, but compared to the heat we felt in the southern cities we went to, I would gladly take the overcast drizzle.

The city was just amazing to walk around. I feel like I could spend my entire like there and never see everything. There are so many stores, so many places to eat, so many people. It’s as if someone took an entire city and just squished it in their hands so that it was a fraction of the size it was before. Buildings have no space between them, sidewalks are covered in plastic tables and chairs that are designed for American children, and there is no such thing as silence due to the never-ending chorus of car horns.

There was just so much life and character to the city. It really felt like no city I had ever been before. It had its own personality and while I don’t think I could ever live there, I can definitely see myself going back. I would say the nightlife in Hanoi is great, but I never got to experience it, so that’s what I would like to do. It’s just hard to go out drinking with locals when you gotta share a bedroom with strangers and wake up at 6am to sit in a van for four hours one way on the way to one of your Bucket List destinations.

But probably the best thing I did in Hanoi was actually the thing I didn’t plan on doing, a food tour. When I booked my day trip to Ha Long Bay the woman suggested that we do this food tour as well, so I got it. It was awesome. I ate so many things I never would have dreamed to eat and I felt like I truly got to experience the real Hanoi. My host was great and if you’re ever in the city I really, really think you should go on one of them! I didn’t even have a hint at an upset stomach. For $22 I got to eat enough food to last me a week, and it was all amazing. The only thing I wish is that I would have done it for lunch instead of for dinner, because I definitely wasn’t hungry enough for all of the food!

Hanoi was the city I was most hesitant to visit, and the main reason I went there was because it was so close to Ha Long Bay, but I am so glad I did. It was the first stop of the trip, and my favorite city that we visited. I cannot recommend it enough!

All pictures were taken by me on the trip. I hold all of the rights and please do not use any of them without first asking me and giving me credit. Thanks!

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