We arrived in Hanoi late afternoon. We stayed at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel a.k.a. Hanoi Backpackers Hostel Downtown a.k.a. the westerners haven, which was recommended by everyone I’d met who had been to Hanoi already. We walked into the hostel and were greeted by a large open space with brighter colorful walls, long wooden picnic tables, a bar, and a bunch of white people. A bit of a shock after being in deserted towns the past few weeks. The dorms are $8.50 a night including breakfast, which is the most we’ve spent in Vietnam on a dorm.
That night Scotland, Wales and I went for street food. Later that night we went to Corner Pub to meet up with some friends we bumped into earlier. We stayed at that pub the whole night playing pool and smoking a kiwi shisha. There’s a city-wide curfew at midnight but instead of being kicked out of the bar the employees shut down the entrance with a garage door making it impossible for anyone to see or get in. At 1:45am they officially shut down and we all exited through a side door.
The next morning I woke-up and got a wax. In the afternoon Scotland and I took a bicycle stroller ride through the Old Quarter. Our driver was very nice and guide-like, pointing out churches, temples, speciality stores, and the Vietnamese favorite- street beer bars. The Old Quarter is really lovely with small streets jammed with cafes, bars, shops and street food stalls. The architecture is French making this yet another European looking Asian city. At the bottom of the Old Quarter is a lake surrounded by high-end hotels and restaurants.
In the Old Quarter there seems to be a street to buy everything. There’s a market street, a bamboo street (sells bamboo ladders, etc,) a carpet street, an appliances street, a shoes street, a greeting cards street, an accessories street, a lantern/lights street, etc.
Scotland and I went to Fresh Sushi for dinner, then bought fake North Face jackets for Sapa for $35 each. I’ll also be using mine for Northern Myanmar. Then we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet show. The show is traditional water puppets. The stage is a water ground and the puppeteers control the puppets from behind the curtain; if you look hard enough you can see the long poles (the strings.) There was an orchestra on the side playing traditional wooden instruments- a harp, flute, guitars, etc. The show was entirely in Vietnamese so in some way it felt like the opera. The performance featured farmers, animals, fisherman, babies being born, love quarrels, military, dancers, etc. It was only 50 minutes long but 20 minutes would have been long enough.
After the show we walked around the old quarter intending to get lost and we succeeded. We ended up at the night market which mostly sold electronic accessories. The most bizarre thing about the street markets throughout town at night, and the night market, is that all vendors sell the same thing and there’s no one out to shop. We eventually made our way back towards our hostel and went for burgers and fries nearby to get internet.
The next day we woke up and walked down along the lake to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. The museum described the woman’s role in society since the 1900s. Most importantly she’s a mother who teaches her children to work like her. The most powerful exhibit was that which covered the modern day women who sells goods off her bicycle/stand. These are the women I encounter on a daily basis when I buy fruit and snacks. These women apparently live in group homes somewhere near town- think 8 people to one room and 1 bathroom per building for 25 cents a night. The women are at the market from 2-4:30am every morning buying their goods, then they sell on the streets until 5pm-ish if it’s a good day and 7pm if it’s a bad day. They then go home to eat, shower and sleep. The women go home to the country to see their families one to two times a month if they’re lucky, each time bringing home about $20 a month for their family/kids. I was shaken when I watched a documentary of different women describing their lives.
After the museum we walked to the CGV Cinemas to see The Hobbit in 3D. The walk there was very nice. No tourists anywhere- I was the only western looking one. We walked past many coffee shops, bike shops, clothing stores, and locals, all middle class. Eventually we found the mall which was in a high rise building. It turns out the theater did not update their movies and Hobit was no longer playing. We ended up seeing Into The Woods, which neither of us had heard of. It was awful. A musical mix of Disney stories. I’m pretty sure the writer, director and producer were all on different drugs when they made the movie, and that they did not collaborate. Most of the people walked out of the theater during the film.
That night we finally went for a street BBQ dinner. One of our bunk mates joined us. Scotland and I had seen the same restaurant packed with locals and tourists every night since we arrived and we could not wait to try it. We ordered the beef/vegetable platter for three people. It was street food so we sat on the tiny plastic stools with our tiny plastic table, with a mini-griddle on top. The waiter placed tin foil on top on the griddle and we were instructed to cook our food constantly keeping tons of oil on the foil. We were each given a small bowl with salt, chilis and lime, which made the most incredible sauce. With our meat we ate bread and rice. It was hands down one of the best meals I’ve had here.
After dinner we drank beer at one of the local street beer places, again on the little plastic stools. Then again we went back to Corner Pub.
The next morning we met up with a few friends and walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. When we got there we were told it was closed until 2pm. So we bought tickets for the HCM Museum, which was far from exciting. The first floor was photos of HCM throughout his life, but with captions were only in Vietnamese and Chinese. The second floor was an abstract artistic mumble jumble of HCM and the industrial revolution around the world. At 2pm we walked out and tried to see HCM but it turns out the mausoleum closed at 11am for the day.
I had been wanting to find the dog food street (thit cho) since coming to SE Asia. A friend told me it was in Hanoi so when I arrived in the city I asked around. The bartenders at Corner Pub gave me the street and our friends said they were interested in seeing it as well, so after the museum we jumped in a cab and headed north. The street supposedly was in Nhat Tan area, just north of the west lake. Our taxi ended up driving in circles around the area unable to find it. We asked some locals and they all thought we were crazy tourists, although many locals do eat dog. A few restaurants nearby sold dog but we were not looking to order a meal, just see the street food. I have a feeling that we were in the right place but that it’s only a night food market.
Scotland and I had dinner at New Delhi Indian Food in the Sports Hotel on Ma May street. We ordered fish tandoori, which was good, and chicken tikka masala, which was bad. It was chunks of chicken in tomato sauce. But at least the naan was tasty.
After dinner we went back to Corner Pub, and when that shut down we went to another closed bar around the corner. The staff opened up the garage door for us and we entered into a small dimly lit room with an older crowd playing dance music. I danced Arabic with one crazy guy who dressed like a French mime, and I met at older man from NYC who now lives in Hanoi.
I didn’t get home until about 5am and had to be downstairs at 6am for a 6 hour bus to Sapa. Brutal.
We came back to Hanoi from Sapa for one last big night together before we all flew out in different directions. We went back to Corner Pub, then late night at Hanoi Rocks Hostel club on the 5th floor, then the Scottish crew and I headed back towards our hostel. We stopped at our local street food spot for one last great chicken meal, and stomped in wet cement (hopefully left my converse mark.) Then the four of us chilled in the room. At 4am-ish there was a confetti explosion and for the next 2 days the sparkles were everywhere.
The next day was sunny, warm and beautiful. We strolled along the lake. I stopped at the post office and shipped 3 kilos home for $35 (I will probably be home before the package.) We walked around the entire lake and around the old town for a few hours. Window shopped and had ice cream. At 6pm we went to Pepperoni’s Pizza for an all you can eat buffet for $6. We had waited two days for this moment. To our surprise there was a lot of seafood and I ended up eating mostly Asian seafood and vegetable dishes including shrimp, octopus and steamed clams. The pizza tasted awful.
After dinner we grabbed a last drink at Rockstore then Scotland left for his flight. I went to ViSpa and had an hour Thai oil massage and a pedicure for $25. It’s very expensive here but I needed a relaxing night, and the spa felt high end which made it more worth it.
The next morning I woke up, had a Vietnamese chicken curry for breakfast, then got in a cab for the airport.