A Collection of Thoughts: Southeast Asia

I’ve been backpacking for exactly one month. Haley is gone (sad face) and I am currently alone in Bali for another few days before I fly to New Zealand. I’ve been adventuring around Bali and been given a lot of time with my thoughts. Since the Southeast Asia portion is over I thought I’d make a concluding post that displays no facts, just observations, from my point of view. No one use any of this information for school papers, it probably won’t make any sense. Although unlike other posts I am going to actually organize this one, maybe even with bold lettering and CAPS LOCK.

Touch his tusks it's lucky...okay!

Touch his tusks it’s lucky…okay!

FOOD

Why wouldn’t I start with the best part about this month? Going into it I didn’t think I’d be as excited as I was about all the food, which is really weird if you know anything about myself and family. We grew up with cosmo brownies, pasta, mac&cheese, frozen pizza, pork chops, and always, always ending the night with a gallon of ice cream, each. It was wonderful, we may all have intense sugar addictions, but so does everyone else in America so I’m okay with that. Point being, the McCloskey Cuisine was carbs and ice cream, nothing cultural and no spices added. The Southeast Asian cuisine is noodles and rice. Okay, so carbs and gluten, not that different.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Not being a huge rice fan, I always went for the fried noodle dishes. Each one was different in it’s own sauce and use of spices. I was nervous about dishes being too spicy as sometimes when I have too much ketchup I start to sweat. I was careful about it and walked away with a big victory. I stayed away from meat, only got chicken and seafood when it was in a visibly clean restaurant. I basically got a ton of seafood and veggie stir-fry. When entering or exiting a new country (which was every 2 days) we would always try the local dish, so during the in between time it would be yogurt/fruit/muesli for breakfast, fresh seasonal salad for lunch, and a noodle stir fry for dinner. To our surprise, and lack of historic colonization knowledge, the French were everywhere. We had no idea how much the French influenced and carved these countries. With that being said, you couldn’t go 2 blocks without seeing a baguette/croissant vendor. At last! I will get my bread fix! I’m SAVEDDDDD!

Lunch

Lunch

Favorite Food Country: Vietnam. Maybe because we spent the most time there, or maybe because their food is really darn good. I also began drinking coffee in Vietnam. This stemmed from having to wake up at 6am for the AFC Championship game and the only place to watch it was a local cafe. Nothing on the menu was in English so I just pointed at something. Out came a (very strong) drip coffee with sweetened condensed milk. It hyped me up and now I’m an addict, thanks a lot, Patriots. They also had a lot of great local healthy Juiceries, which is my favorite find.

Dinner (I think I need more food)

Dinner (I think I need more food)

Everywhere had great food, and to my surprise I didn’t cave on a Western option until essentially Singapore. I kept it local all the way through. I did not, however, order rice or noodles for breakfast like the locals, but that’s only because I’m thick headed and could not justify it.

Siphon Coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam

Siphon Coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam

I’d also like to note the Pad Thai in Thailand was not AMAZING like everyone thinks it would be. My thought is that it’s one of those completely Americanized dishes. Kind of like how America markets Fosters as an Australian Beer, when if you’ve ever been to Australia, not only is it near impossible to find, but they laugh at you when you ask for it. Big, whole-hearted judgmental laughter, you stupid, stupid, American.

PEOPLE

As I’ve said before, the Cambodians are my favorite people. They are genuine, friendly, and give a smile whenever they can. They are welcoming and seem very happy to share their beautiful country with you. The kids are my favorite, never too shy to shout HELLO as you walk by. You can barter a bit here, but it’s so poor that it’s hard to knock them down, and you never feel good doing it (unless you KNOW you’re being scammed).

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With Thailand being the hottest vacation destination, everyone seems to be in the tourism industry. Constantly trying to get your money, constantly trying to scam you. It’s the easiest country to barter in though, so that is a plus. You could cut their asking price in half easier than in Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam.

Thai Baby

Thai Baby

The Vietnamese gave off the best first impression. I think that’s due to luck with the hotel we booked. The staff was so unbelievably welcoming, accommodating, and adorable that we fell in love immediately. Stating that, after a full week in Vietnam we were running for the border. It was the most exhausting country with the haggling. You couldn’t walk 5 steps without a guy on the street saying “tuk tuk?” “hello lady, tuk tuk?” “where you go?” “motorbike?” By the end of the week I knew my fuse was severely shortened when I started to take it personal. Is it because I’m a GIRL that they think I can’t WALK anywhere by MYSELF? Am I not CAPABLE of getting around on my OWN?? hah! I continued to smile and say no, and then just ignored them by the end. If you want to walk in peace, don’t go to Vietnam. Even on the beach people were approaching you trying to sell you CD’s, Sunglasses, and Bananas…relentless. I had one lady in Hoi An grab my arm on the street, start schmoozing me, and drag me 1/2 mile to her Tailor shop and try to fit me for a dress. After giving it some thought, I told her I do not need a dress but thank you. She followed me out to the street yelling “okay okay I give it to you cheaper, CHEAPER!” I just lifted my head to the sky, accepted this was life, and smiled.

King of Cambodia

King of Cambodia

Laotians, very laid back. A lot of pushiness here as well, but not nearly as bad at Vietnam. Most shop owners were too busy taking naps in the middle of their stalls. The worst was at the market when everyone was selling the SAME thing and saw you looking around and pushing menu’s in your face. That was pretty intense, had to escape that area quickly before I got too frazzled.

SERVICE

Working in the service industry for most of my life, I think I have a good handle on what people want, and how they want to be treated. People like space, time, and efficiency. You do not get that in Southeast Asia. You walk into a store or restaurant and automatically have someone on your hip. They may or may not talk to you, but they are there, matching your every move. I’m the type to leave a store in the mall if I am greeted to aggressively. HELLO HOW ARE YOU WE HAVE A MILLION SALES GOING ON RIGHT NOW AND I AM GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT ALL OF THEM REALLY QUICKLY WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. I know this is their job, and they are being nice, but I gotta go.

Happiness in .50 cent beers

Happiness in .50 cent beers

Okay back to Southeast Asia, they are magnets and they do not leave you alone. In a restaurant they sit you, place the menu down, and say “what would you like to eat.” Hah! Do I look like a local? Do I look like I know what the heck I’m doing? I’m gonna need at least 10 minutes to look this over, and you want my order now?? Those are all thoughts in my head by the way, gosh I sound like such an outspoken ungrateful biatch in this post. I smile and say “ohhh more time please.” They are very friendly and nice, always smiling, so that helps. Also, they won’t give you the bill until you ask for it. This is a nice approach, but a foreign one for me. Working in a high volume, get ’em in, get ’em out restaurant I can’t afford to wait for them to ask for the bill. Nowhere is understaffed so you have a lot of people just standing around with the hands behind their back, waiting for the nod. This is super helpful because you can ask anybody anything, whether you are their customer or not. They can do it all.

RUNNING/SAFETY

Everyone who reads this blog knows I like to run. I had no intention of running in Southeast Asia because I thought it would be dangerous to go off alone. This was reasonable, I thought. The second morning of the trip I went out for a run in Bangkok. It was phenomenal. It’s very hard to run in these countries because of the traffic, narrow roads, congested sidewalks, sweltering heat, and uneven terrain, but I managed to get out about 5 days a week. I’d find parks or low traffic areas. I even went for a night run in Vietnam, talk about DANGEROUS! hah, not so much actually.

Playing around with my Monkii Bars!

Playing around with my Monkii Bars!

Thai guy working out those legs

Thai guy working out those legs

Okay, okay, so I have a large trust in humanity. I know there is bad people everywhere, and I’m not stupid about the places I run or explore on my own. Turns out, I have never felt in danger in Asia. Both Haley and I have felt very safe in every country we visited. We also met another solo female who has traveled the world and says she feels the safest in Asia. This worked out really well for Haley and I. Whenever we had a “free day” (days with no traveling, designed to explore the town/city) we would do our own thing in the morning. I’d go for a run to find a park and new areas, and she would go off and find the trendy streets and find the best place to get her coffee. We’d usually meet up midday and go on from there. It’s a routine we’re used to when traveling together in the States, and a routine that picked right back up (rather effortlessly) in these Southeast Asian countries.

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RANDOM ROUND-UP

Overall, the first month went, how do I say this, perfectly. We had I believe TWO rainy days. When we were in Northern Thailand/Laos/and Northern Vietnam we were not aware it was winter. It was perfect temperature during the day but rather cold in the mornings/nights, that was the only curve ball. We were able to book all the transportation we needed very easily. We took $10 buses, $30 trains, and $40 planes.

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For the curious, between transportation, VISAS (about $45 for each country), and tours I spent $1,487 (including Singapore, excluding Bali). That includes the $555 flight from JFK to Bangkok. That number is on the higher end because of all the flights we took instead of 24 hour sleeper buses. It.was.worth.it. As I stated in my Singapore post our cost of accomodation was covered by renting out our Jackson Apartment. Food was super cheap, but we ate well and we ate often, so I have no dollar amount for that!

Cool British dude

Cool British dude

We spent no more than 3 nights at any one place, with the average being 2 nights. We loaded up our days with mostly independent exploring, and mixed in some guided tours. We ate the local food, drank the local beer, bought the local goods, and mingled with the local folks. We were upbeat, energized, healthy, and made the most of everyday. We went to bed at 9pm every night, asleep by 9:01, and up with the sun (well, sometimes). Aside from the constant pushiness in some areas, nothing seemed to bother us. If something went wrong, we laughed at it. If something went right, we marveled at it. Because how in the world, had everything gone so right? It was a month of unabated joy, it was a month of incessant learning, it was a month I’ll never forget.

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“One life on this earth is all that we get. Whether it is enough or not enough. And the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.” Frederick Douglas

Ho! Chi! Minh! Ho! Chi! Minh!

I chanted that all day for 2 days (in my head only, not trying to stand out more than I already do). The flight was a short 1.5 hours from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh, and if it wasn’t for a French lady named Sophie, very smooth. Sophie started off a crazy lady, but ended up being such a treat. We couldn’t shake her, it was a day full of saying goodbye and reuniting 3 minutes later. It started with her being in our shuttle bus to the airport. She was freaking out because she didn’t think we’d make it there on time. Then she was behind us at every checkpoint at the airport. She even sought me out to tell me she thought I should help my friend because she thought Halez was having some baggage trouble (she wasn’t). We boarded the bus to take us to the plane together. We boarded the plane way before her and then she showed up and sat right next to me on the aisle. We left the plane together, we looked for a taxi together, we shared a taxi, she got out of the taxi. Keep in mind there was a “goodbye!” after every phase of this travel process. She was hilarious talking and joking with our cab driver on our way to District 1, so Sophie made back all the points she lost on the flight.

The best (worst) part about Sophie is that she is a “gazer.” When you are in the aisle seat of an airplane, and you don’t know the other 2 people, don’t you feel UNCOMFORTABLE gazing out the window? Looking past 2 people who, in their peripheral vision, see you STARING at them? I couldn’t help but turn my head and risk making VERY awkward eye contact with her just to make sure she was, in fact, looking out the window and not at my face. I again have just surprised myself with a paragraph, the opening paragraph nonetheless, about a subject really not worth anyone’s time. Sorry but not really.

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Ho Chi Minh was crazy crazy. The most common way travelers explain the attempt of crossing the street is by comparing it to Frogger. There are minimal signs, rules, lights, lines, lanes, ANYTHING that would promote safety. I’m now really good at crossing these streets because I simply don’t give a shit. If they hit me, so be it, but I’m 100 percent positive they won’t. It’s a strange, strange trust. The city is filled with tall buildings, hotels, BRIGHT lights, and tons of noise. My main interest in Ho Chi Minh was visiting the War Remnants Museum.

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Notre Dame Cathedral

I’m not sure why I thought this would be a small Museum, but it was much larger than I envisioned. Outside were several fighter jets, tanks and missiles that the Americans used in the Vietnam War. Inside was 3 levels with different galleries of photos, memorabilia, letters, propaganda posters, and war crimes. I have always had a big interest in the history of wars and love reading books and watching movies about them. The Vietnam War has a larger effect on me because my Uncle Billy died during combat on March 25th 1969 in Southern Vietnam. Of course I never met my Uncle, but he was my mother’s only brother, thus leaving her with 6 CRAZY sisters (with my mom being the craziest, of course). He could have used the “sole surviving son” that would have kept him out of combat zones or his Engineering degree that could have kept him out all together. He did not feel it was fair for him to defer and others to serve, so to Vietnam he went. As I looked at all the photos I kept thinking I would see his face, and I kept an eye out for his division.

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With learning about the Vietnam war briefly in High School, and doing a little research on my own, I was still shocked by the intense hatred everybody had toward Americans for being in Vietnam. I didn’t realize how much damage we did to helpless villages and the shameful war crimes we committed. The attitude was to kill everything in sight, and that is a duty they carried out. I was scared to tell my mom that I was going to Vietnam. I scooted around the subject until the last possible second. I know how much anguish she (and all my Aunts) carry around, and it surfaces with the mention of War, Vietnam, and more directly so, Billy. I felt guilty for wanting to go to Vietnam on, what this trip can easily be called, “vacation.” Was I really planning to go to Vietnam, lay on the beaches where millions have died, and enjoy the luxuries of cheap but really nice hotels? My mom didn’t react like I thought she was going to, she almost did, but I think deep down she saw it coming. She also had exhausted herself with worry about everything else at that point that she just didn’t have the energy to really question me. So I thank you, mom, for not making me feel guilty for enjoying Vietnam, I know it’s been really hard on you, and you emailing me once every 3 days is a huge accomplishment!

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The War Remnants Museum was a very heavy way to spend the afternoon. Eye-opening, educational, and worth the visit. Both Haley and I were left floored on why in the world they would ever want Americans back in their country, let alone be so darn welcoming and friendly. Our relationship has come a long way, and the Vietnamese have been nothing but helpful and accommodating. Some have gone so far to say “Ohhhh America??? that is my favorite! Welcome!”

It was our last night in Vietnam so we went to a packed outdoor restaurant and I ordered something I had never heard of before, Grilled Blood Cockles. It was under the BBQ section so I figured it was some sort of grilled fish. They were clams, they tasted like the Jersey Shore, and I gagged. I don’t regret choosing them, it was a good lesson learned, but my God, never again. Vietnam has been so wonderful, very friendly people and I’ve tasted my favorite foods so far. A ton a fresh seafood and more stir-fry. We are taking a bus over to Pnohm Penh, Cambodia next, can’t wait for more new places! Everyday, new things.

Grilled Blood Cockles. Same same but disgusting

Grilled Blood Cockles. Same same but disgusting

This is more like it...snacks for the bus ride! haha

This is more like it…snacks for the bus ride! haha..bread.

Central Vietnam

We made it to the coast! Beach time! Well, that was the plan anyways. I read a lot of good things about Da Nang, an up and coming beach town in central Vietnam. Heard even more great things about a beach there called My Khe, or China Beach. After 15 hours on a nasty train we were excited to lounge on the sand, then we looked out the window. Rain day! Hahah…our first beach day came on our first rainy day, it was perfect really.

A very nice old lady gave me her rain poncho

A very nice old lady gave me her rain poncho

We walked along the beach, grabbed some fresh seafood, and decided to bar hop the day away. We got caught in the rain several times in between drinks, but we just laughed about it. It gave us time to plan the rest of Vietnam and out of pure curiousity I logged on to my trusty kayak.com app. We had planned to do one more 15 hour train ride to Ho Chi Minh, but I thought maybeeeee we could avoid that. Found a flight for 37 dollars each! Didn’t take much consultation, we booked it, right there at the bar. 1.5 flight, saves us an entire day!

I assume it was the weather, and that it’s winter, why Da Nang seemed deserted. We decided to cut it a night short and head to a place we’ve both been really looking forward to, Hoi An, just a 25 minute drive south.

Rice Paddy Fields

Rice Paddy Fields

We booked a Homestay in Hoi An because we heard that’s a really good town to do it in. We stayed at Mr. Tuans house in a very nice room upstairs. He cooked us breakfast each morning and recommended all his favorite things. His Homestay is only 2 years old, before he ran it he worked at a boating booking office and made $200 a month. Now he has his Homestay with his family but has to work everyday all day because he is the only one who can speak any English. It makes me sad he doesn’t have any free time for his hobbies (volleyball) or to travel outside his town. It also makes me realize how soft Americans can be, how many times have you complained about having to stay at the office an extra hour? Not getting enough vacation days? Not getting paid ENOUGH? Too many times. He and his family also all sleep in the same room downstairs while he rents out the nice big ones to guests upstairs. The work ethic is instilled early, and they do whatever they can to make money, money to be used in the ways it was intended to be used, for food, water, and clothes.

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Hoi An is often described as a town so charming it belongs in only a postcard. It proved to be true, it was beautiful. We got free bikes from Mr. Tuan and rode them all day, everyday. Most everything is walkable, but the beach is a 20 minute ride outside of town Finally got a sunny beach day! The weather said it was to be cloudy all week, but boy did I get burned up! It came out of nowhere, and was sunny both days we were there. An Bang beach was the perfect spot to swim and lay out for the morning. Mostly peaceful but still had locals approaching you to buy things (fruit, beer, sunglasses) even as you lay there eyes shut, they just don’t seem to understand the preciousness of personal space.

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Every night the locals light up those bright paper box things (are you following?) that you can buy and release on the river. Between all the floating lights, lamps, lit up arched walking bridges, and a community of peacefulness, it has been my favorite town of this trip. A lot of great restaurants, bakeries, and even a local, organic, superfood juicery right in town (spent A LOT of time there). It was really nice to slow down and have a complete free day to go to the cafes, beach, walk about, and mingle at the markets. Hoi An you are wonderful, and I will miss your charm. Time for the hustle and bustle of HO CHI MINH

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Cacao, Goji Berries, Banana, Coconut Milk, and Mint

Cacao, Goji Berries, Banana, Coconut Milk, and Mint

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is one of THEE must DO’S in ALL of Vietnam, soooo we did it! It’s a huge bay in Northern Vietnam that you could navigate for weeks and still not see it all. Being on a time crunch, we did it in a day! Most people do a 2 or 3 night boat cruise, but we wanted to spend more time in other places so we just jammed it right on in the itinerary. There are a TON of tour companies and the best advice we got for choosing the right one was, pay a bit more if you don’t want rats scurrying about and a reliable staff. So we ended up picking Alova Cruises for 50 bux each, incredibly large and fresh seafood lunch included.

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It was quite an efficient day. It was so efficient, that, it made me want to do another season for Trek America as a trip leader to see if I could pull off the efficiency this guy did.

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We got picked up at our hotel in Hanoi sharply at 8AM. Took a mini coach bus 3.5 hours to the bay with one annoyingly-pushy-touristy rest stop in the middle. Every time I touched a snack to see what in the world it was a staff member would walk over, stare over my shoulder, and say “hello lady.” EVERY TIME. Eventually I learned not to touch anything and just simply stand over it maneuvering my awkward body trying to read the labels because I didn’t want someone to hover me anymore, but it didn’t matter, they seemingly raise from the depths of the touristy rest stop hells without a sound JUST to make you feel weird. They win, they always do. Did I just write a paragraph on the touristy rest stop?

After handing out tickets, unloading the bus with it still in motion, and paying a lady a dollar to use the bathroom, we boarded the boat. We sat down with a couple other people, a really cool Canadian named Hannah and an undercover Ukrainian who “didn’t speak very good English”…oh really Andre? And why again are you able to receive phone calls in the middle of the sea? What provider are YOU using? HMM? anyways, they were really cool and we shared a great fishy and vegetably lunch with them. I was too busy drooling to take any photos.

The Undercover Agent, black bandanna front left stage right (i was never in drama club)

The Undercover Agent, black bandanna front left stage right (i was never in drama club)

Hung out up top until our first stop for kayaking. Most people (the older folk) chose to hop in a bamboo rowboat that looked really cool, but undoubtably a huge bore. Halez and I hopped in a kayak after not receiving any instruction, filling out any waivers, or being able to buckle OR zipper our life jackets (little broken). Very different than any tour operator in America who now a days make you watch a 20 minute instructional video on proper protective equipment and the dangers that lie ahead. Nope, In Vietnam you just go with it, which makes for more action and less waiting around. We went through some caves where we bottomed out a few times, quiteeeee shallow in those things. The best was watching our Canadian friend and undercover agent navigate the waters together, if we got stuck 3 times they must have gotten stuck 23 times.

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The key to success is communication

We board the boat and next stop is the Caves. The French founded this huge cave and the Vietnamese must be responsible for all the rave lights they installed in there. It was a disco underneath, a beautiful and geologically mind numbing disco. I loved it. Okay back to the boat to ride home, but first everyone sit down to your fresh watermelon we’ve cut up for you!

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Ha Long Bay was extremely gorgeous. It was filled with limestone rock structures (not a geology major here people) and had a certain peace about it. Out in the middle of it all were floating villages that were really cool to see and ponder about…where did they poop? Did they like all these cruise boats invading their space? Can I move in? What would my duties be? Could I be kicked off my floating boat home? Anyways, we got lucky with the weather because it’s usually rainy and foggy this time of year in the bay and we got a clear and sunny day. The temperature was a bit cold and a slight fog covered the area, but for this time of year the weather nailed it.

Floating Village

Floating Village

Overall we spent 4 hours on the actual boat, then got back on the bus where I resumed my throne at my single window seat above the back tire. My knees may have exceeded the height of my face, but I dug it. 3.5 hours back to Hanoi. We get back to our hotel at 8:15pm. Halez and I clean up for a few then race the streets to find dinner. We had a 15 hour train to catch at 10! And we need snacks!

We get to the train station and a guy offers to grab our bags and lead us to our track and room, he does this rather abruptly, he puts our bags under our seats and we thank him. He sticks out his hand and yells “TIP”…I immediately am like “NO WE DIDNT EVEN NEED YOUR HELP” but I kept quiet and Haley tipped him hah! The sneakiness and hustle drives me nuts, it’s fine when they are nice about it but most of the time they are in your face doing anything for you to buy their service or product. I’ve kept calm by telling myself it’s a cultural thing and I need to adapt and accept, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s a humanity thing, and I hate being treated like an ATM, and treated rudely at that. Oh well, I’ll deal.

On a cleanliness scale, this train is the pits. I don’t expect much, but my word is this one beat up. I can’t complain though because we got a 6 person sleeper ‘room’ and we had the whole thing to ourselves! We each took bottom bunk and the 2 shelves above us were sooooo unoccupied. We got on the train at 945 and for those 15 minutes before departure we froze everytime we heard a footstep, then said a powerful little prayer, and released a sigh of deep relief. Extra lucky because this train didn’t have any bunk curtains, zero privacy. We read, we journaled, we slept, I played solitaire until I eventually won, and we got to our destination on the Central Vietnam coast at exactly 1PM. Overall not a bad ride, and always good to travel overnight because it takes care of accommodation and is very efficient for the timely traveler. Onto the beaches!

Northern Vietnam — Hanoi

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.

Local

Local.

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!

The Vietnamese celebrate their New Year in the middle of February, and they get REALLY excited about it

The Vietnamese celebrate their New Year in the middle of February, and they get REALLY excited about it

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.

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Night street soccer

Night street soccer

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!

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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!

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