Hanoi, capital of and with a population of around 7.8 Mio. people the second largest city in Vietnam. To be honest it was either continuing in Cambodia with a huge bus ride, flying to the Philippines with islands being shut down due to corona panic (no, not the beer) and 3 flights until arriving at my destination or going to Northern Vietnam (2h flight and no stress plus the country where it would be easier to get to my next destination). So, guess what I’ve decided to do… easiest option, here I come!!
Flying to other countries right now is a bit of a pain in the you-know-what… airport security staff is carefully watching out for signs of corona (nope, still not talking about beer) virus and let me assure you it’s not helpful when you’re right in the middle of getting a tonsillitis with a bad cough involved. Thankfully no fever but I had to try not to cough while immigration, which was unbelievably hard. I even tried to suppress it during the flight but telling by the disturbed and worried looks I got from other passengers I think it didn’t work out too well. But staying positive, I managed to get through immigration without any problems (still don’t know how, though). Also, I think that I am somehow meant to run into the weirdest of all grab drivers. A while ago I’ve had a car ride to the KL airport with a female driver who started to give me a private concert with the very best of the Backstreet Boys (the classics, not the new shit) and Mariah Carey (I clapped and cheered to make it less awkward for her. Although, giving it a thought right now I have to admit that me playing along might made it become exactly that). At Hanoi Airport I happened to run into the next grab driver with a special love for music. He had a huge screen placed on the dashboard showing me the very best ballads of a Vietnamese singer (always accompanied by women looking dramatically towards the horizon while shedding a tear or two). After half an hour of live performances in an empty disco room singing different songs that in all honesty sounded like the same song being played over and over again, I finally got dropped off in front of my hotel. And yes, this time I picked a hotel, because all of the hostels were either fully booked or didn’t have single Rooms. With my tonsillitis and cough I didn’t want to be around people and risking them to get sick, too (you’re welcome).
On the first day of my Hanoi experience I got introduced to phở gà, a traditional breakfast chicken noodle soup (you can also have it with Beef in it), mainly served with fresh limes that you can add for a more sour taste. It became my favorite dish in Vietnam. Another thing they are good at is coffee. I mean Hanoi is not Seattle (or everywhere in Italy) but their coffee is by far the best I’ve tasted in South East Asia. For example they serve Cà phê trứng aka. egg coffee (I know, I know it sounds awful! I was sceptical at first, too) which is a coffee made with condensed milk, sugar and egg yolk. It tastes like tiramisú, a big reason why I fell in love with it. Coconut iced coffee aka. Cà Phê Cốt Dừa is the other delicousness I’ve had the chance to try. It’s coffee with sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, coconut pulp and ice cubes. I don’t have to tell you that my caffeine level went through the roof. Totally worth it…
Traffic in Hanoi is crazy! If you ever want to have worse near death experiences than in Bali and be exposed to terrible exhaust fumes… here’s the place to knock yourself out! The best choice of transportation is a motorbike/scooter and they basically drive on both sides of the roads. If you ever have time, sit in a café and observe the streets. You’d be surprised what they are able to stack on a small scooter. Families of 5 plus 2 dogs, 3m long wooden slats or a complete fruit market for example. Fascinating when you consider that I can’t even get my few belongings into my backpack without having a fight with the zipper for several minutes. On the other hand there is something really calming about observing the traffic, a symbiosis of chaos and harmony. And while I’m talking about the vivid streets I have to tell you about how stores work. There are specific streets for any purpose. For example there’s a single street only for pots, pans and kitchen utensils or one street for party decorations. It’s hilarious and yet so useful, if you’re looking for something specific to buy or an easy way to get beers or coffee… there’s always one specific street for it.
As I remembered that C., an american friend I’ve been in the same hostel in Siem Reap with, was currently in Hanoi, too, I gave him a shoutout and we’ve met up for some Bánh mì (a sort of Baguette Sandwich), walked around the streets of Hanoi and ended up in train street, one of the most picturesque places here. It’s a very narrow street with train tracks, where several times a day a Train used to pass through. There’s a special trick involved to get on that street because, since it’s not allowed to walk on train tracks, it’s being controlled by police officers. However, on the other end of the street, there are some people behind a barrier telling you it’s prohibited to get on the tracks. At first, it made no sense at all and we kept wondering how tourists still managed to walk around there. Here’s how it works: if you want to walk on train street and take photos, you’d have to go with one of the café owners (the ones who stand behind the barrier and tell you not to pass), order a drink and after that you can do whatever you please, as long as you watch out for the police officer.
After a fine afternoon, I went back to my place, where I was really hoping for a good nap. You might know, that things happen to me and here’s a Story for you… I was falling asleep when I heard a loud siren. I opened the door to the hallway and noticed that it was coming from the hotel, it was the fire alarm. Well, still too young to burn to death, I went downstairs and closed my door. Apparently, I didn’t have my key with me. Downstairs I was told, that it was a false alarm, just a moron Smoking on the hallway. Well, as it turns out, I’m a moron,too. Confessing that I forgot the key while storming out I was hoping for them to give me the spare key. The friendly lady assured me that they would send me someone to open the door with the key for me. About 10 minutes later a janitor walks in with around 200 keys on a keychain. So far looking very promissing – spoiler alert: No, it wasn’t! He looked at my door, looked at all the keychain with billions of keys (slightly exaggerating here) and mumbled something in vietnamese, before leaving me in front of my still closed door for some minutes. He then came back with a thin metal bar and no keys and started smashing it into my door. Basically he broke into my room like a criminal and completely fucked up my door. Lovely! Between the loud hammering my brain tried to figure out how the hell they did their housekeeping, if they couldn’t find at least one spare key. But hey, how dare I ask myself these stupid questions… Door finally open again, I got in and noticed that now I was inside but couldn’t lock the door anymore. However it worked in the evening when I decided to meet C. again at his hostel… Just gave the door a very enthusiastic pull that shook throughout the whole hotel and voilà (By the way story didn’t end there. The following day I reported that due to this incident my door got destroyed by the janitor and that it would be impossible to lock it without risking further damage. Of course the nice lady would tell me that they’d fix it. They did, door still looked like it’s been part of a crime Scene, though. In the end they even thanked me for reporting that the door miraculously lost the ability to be locked. It was hilarious)!
Without a nap and all stressed out about what they did to my door and how I was going to explain this at the check-out, I got to C.’s hostel, where I met two of his dorm mates. Of course also there I first had to excuse myself for my innocent non-corona cough. Not sure what to do, we’ve decided to join the pub crawl. Funny, weird and disturbing Things happened that night. A whole group of about 20-30 people in Banana pants, Banana hats and Banana shirts, a guy dancing in his hoodie (with what felt like 40°C on the dancefloor) while having the biggest and also creepiest smile on his face, a pole that invited people to do stuff I don’t even want to put into words (men as well as women), singing until we had no voice and endless dancing (+ C.’s fist waving dance move, we should name it!). God, how I’ve missed to move myself to no matter what kind of music with my eyes closed and every cell of my body responding to the melodies surrounding me, being present in the very moment with all my senses. Life is so good, I mean, I’m in fucking Vietnam, I’m doing what I’ve always felt I needed to do and it gives me so much energy and positivity.
Next day’s heading is best entitled as “the sore throat hell”. American C. took a bus to leave Hanoi some hours after the Pub crawl, so I was left with British C., who turned out to be my personal care giver, as I was getting sicker and sicker (wasn’t very clever to dance and sing all night long with swollen tonsils). Basically the remaining days I gave my body some rest to heal and get better but still managed to do some sightseeing.
After hearing that some Islands were shut down for foreigners, we were very happy to hear, that it was possible to book a 1-day-cruise around Halong Bay. With my cold finally getting better (thanks to my dear friend C.!! I am still not over the fact you even talked to me considering how terrible I must have looked, not to mention my terrible cough) it was the perfect excursion to escape the loud and air polluted city and set foot into nature. I’ve missed the sea, one of my sources of energy and narrator of all the good stories. Basically every cruise they offer you has the same structure. They pick you up at the hotel/hostel, drive you to the Harbour to get on the boat. You’ll be then served a seafood lunch and then you visit a cave, hike or go swimming and then you go back. To be honest I did not care about the lunch nor the cave. However sitting on the upper deck of the boat, let me tell you, seeing all these little islands, the water, a mixture of different shades of green and blue… it is magical! We’ve been told the best time to visit Halong Bay is September when it’s sunny. Who cares, it was pretty cloudy and windy and I didn’t mind it. You have to take things as they come.
Getting a cold and tonsillitis wasn’t what I was aiming for during the trip, but that’s life, it had a purpose. My body maybe wanted to tell me to slow down and focus on myself, now that my trip was coming to an end (it’s actually just a break due to corona panic everywhere and some things I have to take care of). Focusing on what I’ve learned and what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen and experienced and what shaped me and my way of thinking, reacting to and interacting with other souls.
Vietnam, thank you for kind and constantly smiling souls, beautiful memories, new friendships and for your immense hospitality. Also for being the first country during my south east asia journey that had strong coffee that I didn’t have to get from a western overpriced coffee place. Oh and for chicken noodle soup!!
Stay safe wherever you are, you are always loved and never alone. Keep smiling, because life is beyond good, even if you might not feel it right now. God is good.
ElinaAria aka. ChickenMonkeyBackpacking