Vietnam, how excited I’ve been for you! The only country where you have to do some preparation to obtain a Visa before arrival. We knew it was going to be difficult to get in, but we had all the paperwork and pictures we needed to scoot by. Our 1 hour flight from Laos into Hanoi (Northern Capital) was full of retired rambunctious French folks who were passing around Whisky in a spray bottle. All you heard was spritzspritzspritz, HA HA HA…it was awful. Gosh I hate tour groups. AND they all had a conical hat that needed special storage, biting my tongue biting my tongue.
Clearly, we needed to get off that flight fast so we didn’t get stuck behind theses guys. We BOOKED it and got to the Visa line first (from our flight) waited for 20 minutes and then were told we were in the wrong line. We go to another line, get (rather aggressively) told what to do, and wait in another line. We receive all our paperwork and stamps and go wait in another line. We pay $45 and we’re through, yippee!! Believe it or not, it went better than either of us expected it to. Victory in Vietnam.
Through advice and recollections of friends, I was kind of scared of Hanoi. Didn’t help we showed up at 11:30pm and needed to explore the alleys for food (went well, by the way). We had a great hotel for $40 where the staff was more than helpful and kind. We did a lot of logistical planning in the morning and ended up changing the plan and staying in Hanoi for another night. This gave us the whole day in Hanoi to explore and they switched us to a different hotel, a hotel with the 2 most adorable human beings I’ll ever meet. We were escorted to our new hotel, Skyline Hotel, down the street and were greeted by a Vietnamese man named Jack. Jack was probably in his 20’s, just a little guy with the most genuine enthusiasm you can get. He was SO happy to have us stay at his hotel, and he was so helpful with advice. Later that day we met Dave. We couldn’t believe we hit the hotel staff jackpot TWICE in the same hotel, Dave MIGHT have been more adorable and excitable than Jack. Dave also wanted to learn English and kept asking us if certain phrases he was saying made sense. He then told a few stories of “slang” words he learned, and his favorite three are…”sucker” “in the buff” and “bucks (as in dollars)”. He couldn’t say these seriously because he thought they were bad words, so he kept laughing so hard. It was the cutest display of learning I have ever seen. It was also the best service I’ve ever received by any accommodation, restaurant, tour, etc. The. Best. So if you find yourself in Hanoi (very up and coming city) stay at the Skyline Hotel!
Hanoi proved everything I thought about it false. Although, it was absolutely a nightmare crossing the street. There are basically no streetlights and many intersections and narrow, narrow, roads. 75% are on motorbikes and the others are in cars or buses. The only way to get to the other side of the street without taking 45 minutes out of your day is to trust they will go around you, because they will. Oddly enough, they know what they are doing on those scooters, and killing an innocent tourist isn’t a good look for their city. Hanoi had a beautiful lake, Hoan Kiem, that is even prettier at night. It is all lit up and a lot of locals jog around it. After a huge lunch of about 3 courses and a huge Hanoi Brew, we walked back to our room after stopping at 7 different North Face shops (so strange) browsing for jackets. Turns out it’s winter here, we had NO idea! Hah, mornings and nights are pretty cold, but we’re headed south so we’re trying to avoid the purchase. I decided to go out for a run around the lake and stopped once to play an odd game that involves a birdie-type flying object and your feet. It’s hacky sac with a weighted birdee. Get it? It’s incredible, and I’m terrible at it. I stopped again to sit on a bench and reflect, had many moments of gratitude. I stopped again to play soccer with a little kid. He was playing all alone so we passed it back and forth right by a crazy busy intersection for 20 minutes. He sent me into the street once with a bad pass and so I returned the favor later on in the game. We both survived. His name was Sakum and he’s got a great first touch, star potential. I then stopped to eat a donut on a stick. My run was so far over at this point I laughed all the way to the shower.
We were lucky enough to be in town on a Friday night when there is a huge night market right outside our hotel. We walked around for a bit and I bought a towel that I’m still not sure if it’s a towel or blanket. Either way, I can use it for many activities. For dinner, Jack told us about a restaurant that serves only one dish. One dish only. He said an American magazine called it one of the “Top 20 foods to eat before you go to Heaven.” We were sold. It’s a restaurant called Cha Ca La Vong and it only serves Grilled Fish. We walked in, were ushered upstairs, thrown down in our seats, given a plate of spices and clear noodles and 45 seconds later a steaming hot pan of grilled fish was being cooked at our table. We threw everything together in our bowls and loved it. All for $7 (although kind of expensive for Vietnam). I paid and waited for my change. We watched as the owner sat down and started tending to other duties, clearly with no intention of giving me change. I went up and asked her for my change and she goes “oh yes, yes, here it is.” A good example of how sneaky they can be. We ended our night with bubble tea and got ourselves ready for a long day on Ha Long Bay!
I am very happy Hanoi proved me wrong. It was a really great visit and much cleaner than I thought it would be. The people are pushy, the driving is chaotic, and the struggle is real, but that’s not the entire city. We found the good ones, and they will be the memory of this dear city. Forbe’s says it’s one of the fastest growing destination cities in the world, so you better get there quick!