Vietnam: Early Morning Hanoi and Banh Xeo

We arrive back in Hanoi at 6am. I remember our travel agent saying that we would be dropped off in the Old Quarter but it’s impossible to tell if that’s where we are because everything is closed!
We’re followed by people asking us if we want motorbikes or taxis to our hotel but the fact of the matter is, we don’t have a hotel. Or a hostel, or a guesthouse or anything. We were kinda hoping we wouldn’t need one.

Early Morning Hanoi and Banh Xeo

We arrive back in Hanoi at 6am. I remember our travel agent saying that we would be dropped off in the Old Quarter but it’s impossible to tell if that’s where we are because everything is closed!
We’re followed by people asking us if we want motorbikes or taxis to our hotel but the fact of the matter is, we don’t have a hotel. Or a hostel, or a guesthouse or anything. We were kinda hoping we wouldn’t need one.
The plan is to get a bus to Ha Long Bay today, but we hadn’t thought to plan this in advance. Now it’s a waiting game for the tourist offices to open.

We escape the incessant motorbike taxi drivers and walk in a direction that we feel is probably the way to the lake. I have a horrible sense of direction, but somehow we find the lake anyway. From here, we stop at the only open establishment we can find, which is a little café that I would classify as slightly over priced. We don’t have a ton of other options so we sit down to order some breakfast and charge our phones.
Today is a public holiday in Vietnam, Worker’s Day I believe, which makes me a little nervous that nothing will be open at all.

7:00 comes and still, no shops have opened in the Old Quarter. We sit and wait at the café until 7:30, long after we’ve eaten our breakfast and paid our bill. They don’t seem excited about it, but no one kicks us out so that’s positive.
We take a chance and walk to the little tourist centre from which we booked our bus to Sapa. The girl in there was really nice and I’m hoping if we use her again she’ll give us a good price on our trip to Ha Long Bay. The Old Quarter is almost unrecognizable without all the signs, vendors, and motorbikes around to define it. The only wonderful part about being awake this early, is watching the city slowly come to life. We see people unlocking their shop gates, vendors loading their baskets with fresh fruit, and the traffic start to pick up as we walk to our destination.

By some miracle, the travel agency is open. She can’t fit us into a tour today, and mentions that all the tours are booked because of the holiday. Obviously! Silly us. It’s probably best not to go on a busy day…but I’m still not pumped about spending yet another day in Hanoi. I’ve been in Vietnam for 8 days now…and 5 or 6 have been spent in this city. I’m kinda over it.
We book the tour for tomorrow, and ask our travel agent if she can recommend a good hostel in the area. She suggests a hotel down the road that has rooms for $12 a night. Shared, that’s within our price range so we take a look. The rooms seem okay, but they don’t have anything available until noon. It’s not even 8:30 yet. What are we going to do for four hours?!
We try to pass some time by organizing our laundry downstairs in the lobby. I’m ready to set out on a journey to find the cheapest laundry place in Hanoi, but the hotel says they’ll do our laundry for 30,000 dong ($1.50) per kilo. I’ve seen it advertised for 20,000…but the convenience factor plays in and I accept paying $0.50 more to do our laundry here. For the rest of the time we just sit at a table in the lobby and use the wifi.

At 9:30 we are told we can check-in to our room early. Oh happy day! I’m ready for a nap. It’s hard to sleep “well” when you’re bouncing around on a sleeper bus. I nap for an hour and a half before I wake up feeling hungry.
Tamara and I set out to get a bubble tea, which is 20% off because of the holiday. Bonus!

I get an e-mail from a our travel agent in Sapa, telling us that we can go anytime to pick up our Open Bus Ticket. This ticket, if you haven’t heard about it, is insanely awesome. We paid about $48 for a ticket that will take us from Hanoi to Saigon, stopping in other major cities along the way whenever we want. We just have to call them one day before to let them know when we’re getting on. The best part about the ticket, is that it’s good for night and/or day busses. So we can continue to take night busses to each of our destinations, therefore avoiding many nights of paid accommodation. Just for comparison, we’re averaging about $5/night on accommodation, and $14 for sleeper busses. If we take the night bus six times, instead of paying for each individual ticket and hostel, we’ll only have spent $48 over two weeks, compared to an easy $100.
Yeah, we’re thrifty.
The ticket is good for one month and starts the day we leave Hanoi, which we plan to do as soon as we get back from Ha Long Bay. Like, the same day. No more wasted days in this city! I do a quick look at my calendar and see that May 5th is when we will need to leave. We head over to the bus station and pick up our magical tickets.

We stop at a small road-side restaurant that serves banh xeo (pronounced like Ban-Shaow), a hot pancake-like dish stuffed with bean sprouts and beef. A lady sits at the front of the restaurant, surrounded by numerous hot skillets, where she multitasks, cooking banh xeo after banh xeo. That’s all they serve, no menu. We walk inside, sit on little plastic stools and are brought a bowl of lettuce and mint leaves, a mildly spicy dipping sauce, and some rice paper. A few minutes later two steaming hot banh xeos are placed on our table. We watch the people at the table next to us, who roll bits of banh xeo and mint leaves into the rice paper, then dip it into the sauce. We try to follow suit. My rolling skills are not superb but I get the job done. The food itself is, in my opinion, just alright. It’s oily and relatively bland (what can you expect from bean sprouts?) but we have fun rolling and dipping our dinner. We eat a total of 4 banh xeos and only pay 40,000 dong ($2) each.
I really like the word banh xeo.

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I look forward to getting back to our hotel, where we have a fancy shower! It’s not actually that fancy, it’s just not a shower head on the loose in a bathroom like most hostels/guesthouses. I still have yet to master the art of keeping my towel and clothing dry without a barrier shower curtain like I’m used to back home. This hotel though, actually has a glass wall separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom! What luxury!

Okay so I’ve misjudged things. It’s not a whole glass wall barrier. It’s like 1/3 of a glass wall. The shower head has such intense pressure that it’s stabbing me, and any water that hits the wall projects itself back off and onto the bathroom floor. Before I’ve even finished shampooing my hair, there’s water all over the place. My clothes, which I had left in a pile by the door, are sopping wet. There’s so much water that I’m worried the whole bathroom might just rot out from underneath me and I’ll fall through the floor. Naked.
I finish my shower as fast as humanly possible and use the provided towels to mop up the small ocean I’ve created in the bathroom. I have to literally wring out the bath mat and hang my clothing to dry. Worst shower ever.
That wasn’t the indulgent experience I was hoping for, but at least I’m clean.

Upon a second glance at my calendar, I realize that we won’t be coming back from Ha Long Bay on May 5th, but May 4th. God damn. The office will already be closed and we leave early tomorrow morning. Oh how I wish I paid more attention to detail. I am NOT spending another day in Hanoi waiting for May 5th to come, so I need to fix this. On our way out to go get a beer, we ask the front desk if they could call the bus company tomorrow on our behalf to explain our situation. He scribbles down some information and says he’ll call, but I’m a little nervous. I won’t have wifi for the next couple days, so I’ll have no way of contacting him to make sure he’s called. We must leave this up to fate. Tamara is super chill and doesn’t seem to mind at all that I almost cost us an entire extra day in Hanoi. She’s been here 2 days fewer than I, but she’s totally over it too.

We try to find a bar called Half Man Half Noodle because we’ve heard it’s good and also because…well, look at the name. Who doesn’t want to be at a bar called Half Man Half Noodle?
My Google Maps lead us astray and we don’t find the bar, but we’re lead to a cool area of town with a few other decent looking bars. We sit down on a street-side patio and order a big glass of draft beer for only 10,000 dong ($0.50). A total weirdo sits down next to us and keeps forcing conversation so we casually pay and leave as soon as we finish our drinks. We set out to find another bar where we can relax, but we mostly find tacky (and empty) looking clubs or overly crowded tourist bars serving buckets of alcohol. It’s not that kinda night.
We finally find a relatively quiet bar and order one more beer before calling it a night and walking back to our room. I can’t wait to start traveling South where we can always be sure to find a good beach bar.

Vietnam: Pineapple Ladies and Sleeper Buses

I wake up for the first time on my trip, confused about where I am. I suppose I was dreaming of home, because when I wake up I have to remind myself that I’m in Vietnam. What a nice surprise!

Pineapple Ladies and Sleeper Buses

I wake up for the first time on my trip, confused about where I am. I suppose I was dreaming of home, because when I wake up I have to remind myself that I’m in Vietnam. What a nice surprise!
Tamara and I check out of our mediocre guesthouse, walk to the travel agency where we bought our bus tickets, and leave our backpacks. It’s so nice that we don’t have to carry them around with us all day. Now we can do some sightseeing!

There is a prison here in Hanoi that was built hundreds of years ago by the French colonies, and then used by the Vietnamese to house American pilots and other prisoners during the war. Not all of it is still in tact but what’s left of it has been turned into a museum in the middle of town. By Apple Map’s estimate, the prison is only a 15 minute walk away from the Old Quarter, so I map the directions when we have wifi at breakfast, screen shot them, and use them to find the prison later. Unfortunately, they aren’t the kind of directions I’m used to following. I get weird instructions like “walk west on Bàt Dân Street, turn left at the Vietnam Bank, pass by công ty cō phãn on left” which isn’t really helpful. We try reading all the street signs and shop names but we never find công ty cō phãn. We decide it might be best to just get a motor taxi. This is not a hard thing to do in Vietnam because EVERY ONE drives a motorcycle, and there are always people slowing down or beckoning you over to be driven somewhere. We find two motorbike drivers and ask how much it will cost to go to the prison. They say 100,000 dong ($5) each. Having no idea what a good price is, but making the assumption that they’ve way over quoted us, I laugh and tell them no. They quickly drop their price to 50,000 dong each. I push a little further and say 40,000. They accept. We are given helmets and each get on the back of a motorbike. I’m not really a huge fan of motorbikes after my incident in Koh Lanta, Thailand last year…but I trust that these guys know what they’re doing. At least I’M not driving in this crazy Hanoi traffic. I’d die.

After 5 minutes of weaving between motorbikes, cars, and buses, (with what feels like a few close calls) we’ve arrived at the entrance to the prison. We pay 20,000 dong ($1) for an entrance ticket.
The prison is interesting; full of historical information, authentic artifacts, a few prison cells still in tact, and even some old torture equipment. I’m not a big history buff at all so I still don’t totally follow the chain of events that lead to French Colonization or the war with the USA, but nonetheless it’s cool to your around. One of the coolest things I see is a small cement tunnel that has been excavated out of the ground for display once the prison was shut down. It shows the small space through which 16 prisoners escaped by crawling through a sewer and past a set of iron bars. The space is TINY and it just proves how malnourished the prisoners were and their desperation to escape.

We walk back from the prison to the Old Quarter, now that we know the direction and don’t need to follow any weird Apple Map instructions.

I’m walking ahead of Tamara when I hear her laughing behind me. I turn around to see a fruit vendor has come up to Tamara and placed her fruit basket balancing stick-tote thing on Tamara’s shoulder so she can test the weight and balance. The woman also removes her traditional sun hat and puts it on Tamara’s head. I manage to snap a few hilarious photos before she comes and transfers everything on to me.

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The next thing you know, slices of pineapple have been bagged up and handed over to us with a demanded price of 150,000 dong ($7). I almost puke. 150,000?! EACH?! For some measley pieces of pineapple and a silly photo? Hella no. Take your bagged fruit back back! While I’m trying to tell pineapple lady (as politely as possible) that she’s crazy, another vendor comes out of the blue, selling little doughnut-like pastries. She tells Tamara they’re free to try so she tries one, but big surprise, she bags up a bunch of them in .001 seconds and forces them into Tamara’s hands. I overhear her demanding a stupid amount of money for a handful of little doughnuts, I think I hear 200,000 dong. Tamara is trying to bargain without being rude. I quickly finish haggling with the pineapple lady, by giving her 50,000 dong in the name of keeping our funny photos and being able to now get rid of the doughnut lady.
I see Tamara handing the doughnut lady 100,000 dong, and being asking for 80,000 more. Doughnut lady wants almost $10 for 10 shitty little doughnuts. No! We tell the doughnut lady that she’s already charged us WAY too much and we walk off.

My first time being scammed in Vietnam.

I guess it’s not really so much a scam as it is some little snack vendor ladies ganging up on poor innocent backpackers. We’re too nice! It all happened so fast. We were bombarded and just couldn’t think quickly enough to get away from the puppy-dog-eyed “sweet” little vendors. Looking back, I wish we had just dropped the stupid pineapple, said no and peaced out. So what if I took a photo? I know that I know better than to let this stuff happen to me! Damn that clever pineapple lady and her tricks.

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I’ll never trust you again.

After (spitefully) enjoying our little snacks and checking the time, we decide we’ve got enough time to visit the West Lake where there is a popular pagoda. We try to find another motorcycle. The weirdest and most annoying thing has happened to us frequently over the last two days. When we walk around aimlessly, we see a billion travel agencies, cafés, restaurants, hostels etc., but when we are looking for a hostel? There isn’t a one to be found for blocks. It’s ridiculous. It’s happening right now with motorcycles. I feel like I haven’t walked 10 feet without someone offering to drive me somewhere…until this very moment when I actually want to be driven somewhere. Classic.
We walk for a while, keeping our eyes out for any taxi motorbikes, until Tamara finds an old man who waves us over from his bike. Score. I do the haggling, because I want to see how low I can push the price this time. We barter back and forth until we agree on a price of 40,000 dong ($2) each to drive three times the distance of what we drove to the prison. I’m starting to think that my haggling this morning still resulted in us getting ripped off. Whoops. This time, there’s only one man and one bike. Tamara and I both have to squeeze onto the back of ONE motorcycle! Ah! I sit on the very back and hold onto the seat for dear life. It’s far more comfortable than I expect, but there’s no where for me to put my feet, so my leg muscles get a bit of a workout while keeping my feet from dragging on the ground.

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The pagoda is only kinda cool. I’m not a pagoda snob or expert or anything, but I don’t understand why it’s listed as one of the top sites in Hanoi. I’m not überly impressed by it.

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It’s kinda tall I guess. We don’t hire a guide, so it’s very possible that there’s a whole story behind it’s existence that I’m missing to make it significant. There is a lot of good people watching along the lake side, which I find more interesting.

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We slowly start to walk back in the direction of the Old Quarter, where we need to go to catch our overnight bus to Sapa. It’s a half hour walk, but we’re not low on time and walking will allow us to explore more of the city anyway.
The road we follow is lined with lots of bizarre bridal shops. I see more than one 80s themed mannequin bride on display. Big teased hair and everything. We walk for at least 15 minutes down the same, weird street before an elderly man on a motorbike beckons us over. We had planned to walk, but we entertain the idea of quick transportation anyway. I ask him how much it will cost to the lake. He speaks no English, but we are able to show him a picture on Tamara’s phone. He quotes us 80 but we bargain him down to 50,000 dong. 25 ($1) each. That’s the lowest I’ve done yet! He turns his bike in the direction we’ve just come from. We’ve been walking the wrong way the whole time! Both of us are confused but we laugh and hop on the bike, feeling thankful that we found this guy when we did! I sit in the middle seat this time, which is more comfortable for my legs but gives me awkward arms that I don’t know what to do with, so I just hug my backpack against my chest.

Back in the Old Quarter we end up with another hour to kill before the bus leaves. We sit down for two-for-one happy hour and have a beer. We order two sandwiches for take away as our dinner for later. Who knows where the bus will stop for dinner? Or if it will even stop at all.

We arrive at the travel agency for 6pm as requested. We sit and chat with our travel agent lady for half an hour before the bus actually arrives. While sitting there and waiting I see a sign for something called an “open bus ticket”. I enquire. Apparently, you can pay $55 and get a one month ticket that allows you unlimited hop on hop off access to busses stopping at all the major locations between Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn City. What is this magic? $55 to not worry about transportation for the rest of my time in Vietnam? Don’t mind if I do. I’m willing to bet that we can get a cheaper price if we stay loyal to this agency, too. I keep that idea in my back pocket to discuss more with Tamara later.

A van finally arrives to pick us up and take us to the sleeper bus. The drive is a lot longer than I expect, but it works out fine because our ticket indicates that we won’t actually be departing on the sleeper bus for another hour.
When we get to the bus terminal we sit and wait in a room with nothing but some black chairs, all facing a television playing some really awful really old American film (1940s/50s?) with a Vietnamese voice over. Some guy and some lady crash their helicopter in Africa and happen upon an African tribe. It’s sexist, a little racist, and the special effects are so bad. It’s genuinely the worst film I think I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but I haven’t watched a lot of old movies so maybe they’re all like that. It’s awful in a kind of funny way, I suppose.

I step away from the riveting film to use the washroom. The electricity seems to be out, and it’s 7:30pm. I get to pee in the dark.

We board the sleeper bus around 8:15pm. It’s the size of any regular coach bus, but with two tiers of “beds” which look like extremely reclined bus seats. Some intense Vietnamese techno beats pump through the speaker system. We climb into a pair of top bunks with super wonderful cheetah print blankets and get comfy. We’re given a bottle of water aboard the bus. Free gifts!
An old couple sitting across from us complain to the driver that there is no toilet on the bus as advertised. They’re like, “but we were told there would be a toilet!” and I just chuckle to myself and think, nothing in Asia is ever what you are told it will be. They’re in for a surprise. We probably (definitely) won’t arrive when we were told we would either. I wonder how they’ll feel about that. The toilet thing kinda sucks I guess, but I pride myself on my ability to hold my pee so I think I’ll survive the next 9 hours just fine.

I fall asleep to the melodic sounds of car horns, the bus engine, my fellow bus mates text message alerts, (why don’t people use silent mode?) and the Vietnamese techno relentlessly being played over the speakers. No doubt the most appropriate musical choice for a bus full of people trying to sleep.

I wish there were a font for sarcasm.

Vietnam: Tamara Arrives!!

Tamara arrives in Hanoi safely! Wahoo! It’s been three whole years since I’ve seen her! Crazy. I meet her at 10:30am outside my spider hostel and we go to find a new place.
Some backpackers I met last night told me about another hostel just like 50 metres down the street from this one, but when we stop in to ask for a room we find all their dorm beds are full. We keep searching.

Tamara Arrives!!

Tamara arrives in Hanoi safely! Wahoo! It’s been three whole years since I’ve seen her! Crazy. I meet her at 10:30am outside my spider hostel and we go to find a new place.
Some backpackers I met last night told me about another hostel just like 50 metres down the street from this one, but when we stop in to ask for a room we find all their dorm beds are full. We keep searching.
We find a small guesthouse a few blocks away, with a big room that we can have to ourselves, and is only 125,000 Dong ($6) per person. I won’t lie, it’s not the most pristine room I’ve ever been in, but I show the owners a picture of the giant spider from last night and make them promise I won’t see one here. Good enough.

We walk around the lake and visit a small temple on the water. I buy a pair of flip flops and some comfy pants, and try my hand at a little bargaining. I’m a bit off my game… it’s been so long! It’s also taking me forever to get adjusted to the currency here. 21,500 dong to the dollar is not an easy conversion to make.

We walk back to the Old Quarter for Lunch. We find a weird tall and skinny restaurant with a balcony and an Italian theme, and order a bowl of Pho. We chat and catch up on each other’s lives over the last three years sometimes in French, but mostly in English. I love when we can kinda mish-mash the two languages into one. I look forward to working on my French a bit while we’re here, it’s lost so quickly. What’s great about us catching up, is that even though so much has changed, it feels like I just saw her a week ago. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

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After lunch we walk around to some travel agencies and get prices for a bus to Sapa (in the North West of Vietnam). I like to check out at least two or three agencies and try to bargain a bit so we can be sure to get the best price. A lot of them offer tour packages for cheaper than a two way bus fare, but I largely dislike the idea of tours. I like trying to discover stuff myself! We also don’t know how many days we want to stay in Sapa yet. Most places are quoting us $20 dollars for a one way bus ticket, but we happen upon one little place that we stop into on a whim, where we negotiate $15 for a sleeper with air-con. We take it. Now we can book a ticket back from Sapa whenever we like, and can find our own place to sleep without a giant bus full of other tourists beside us. I’ve heard there are some wonderful hill tribe people who open up their homes to travellers.

The bus ticket search takes up the better half of our afternoon, and by the end of it we’re hungry again. We walk around for a good hour before settling on a place to eat. We find some decent looking restaurants but the food is relatively expensive. I’m banking on a $3 meal, tops. We come across a cool looking restaurant with a kitchen out front and dining area in the back. It’s cheap, we’re hungry, we sit down. It’s Japanese food, which I somehow only realize once we’ve already picked a table. I’m definitely not opposed to it, but I had my mind on something Vietnamese. Oh well. I order a noodle soup and a steamed bun stuffed with pork. It costs 50,000 dong ($2.50). The food itself is sub-par but not terrible. What’s terrible, is the table of screaming children just two tables over from us. Their parents are enjoying their meal and seem completely indifferent to their two toddlers wreaking havoc on the poor little restaurant. Like actually smashing things with hard plastic beach toys and screaming about it. Rah! Some people’s kids, ya know?

Our walk back from dinner is pretty uneventful until we get about two blocks away from our guesthouse. For reasons I cannot explain, the traffic in the Old Quarter is out of control. Crossing the street becomes impossible. Well, a different kind of impossible. Crossing the street is a hard task at best in Hanoi, as there is no obvious right of way or any crossing signs, so you just step out into the street and play Frogger with the motorbikes, taxis, and busses.
This is worse though. The traffic is so intensely backed up, no one is moving. Still, bicyclists, motorbikes, and pedestrians all try to squeeze into any tiny space available to them, in hopes of moving forward. It’s impossible to find a gap to squeeze through just to get across the road!

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Making it back to the guesthouse feels like a completed mission, where we can enjoy the peace and quiet of our room, away from all the relentless honking.

Vietnam: Giant Demon Spiders

A friend I met 5 years ago (why am I so old?) lives in Switzerland, so I haven’t seen her in a long time! As fate would have it, she has planned a South East Asian backpacking trip that lines up with my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, so obviously we’re meeting up! She’s been stuck in Bangkok for a few days working out her Vietnamese Visa, but is expecting to arrive in Hanoi tomorrow.

Giant Demon Spiders

A friend I met 5 years ago (why am I so old?) lives in Switzerland, so I haven’t seen her in a long time! As fate would have it, she has planned a South East Asian backpacking trip that lines up with my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, so obviously we’re meeting up! She’s been stuck in Bangkok for a few days working out her Vietnamese Visa, but is expecting to arrive in Hanoi tomorrow.

I hang out in the city and wait for her, but am having a bit of trouble figuring out what to do with my time here. I don’t want to hit any tourist spots yet, because there’s no sense in seeing them twice and I’m sure she’ll want to see them all too! I plan to wander around the lively streets of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake like I did yesterday; absorb some more Vietnamese culture. Maybe I’ll find a new spot, who knows where my day will take me!

While walking down the street I meet a guy from Ghana, who’s living in Vietnam on a soccer contract. We hang out around the lake and go for lunch, which he offers to pay for. I usually like being an independent lady and buying my own stuff…but when you’re on a budget of $15/day and you’ve just paid $100 for an entry visa…you do what you gotta do. I’m just used to being around backpackers whom I would never expect to pay for anything of mine because we are all equally 100% poor.

After a long afternoon of walking around Hanoi I feel like just relaxing on my own. Maybe taking a nap? I think months of living at home had turned me into a semi-hermit. I leave my new pal and head back to the hostel where I take a cold shower, which only effectively cools me down for a total of 0.5 seconds, and then have a little nap. It’s a lazy kind of day.

In the evening I hop across the street for some dinner. There’s a restaurant that serves both western and Vietnamese style food, and it’s indoors/air conditioned which means I don’t have to risk getting soaked by any potential rain again. There’s been a giant grey cloud threatening the city all day. I sit alone by the window.

Shortly after I get my $0.50 beer, I am provided with some entertainment when another traveler tries to enter the restaurant but really struggles with opening the sliding entrance doors. He pushes and pulls like 5 times before he sees me pointing to the arrows on the door that signify the side to side sliding motion. He makes it inside, what a champion. He’s eating alone too, so I invite him to join me. He’s from Manchester, UK, and is the spitting image of my friend Tom, who I traveled with in Australia last year. Tom was also from (basically) Manchester. Weird!!! Same same but different. Later, a girl from his hostel walks in and sits with us too. I forgot how stupidly easy it is to meet people here. They’re leaving in an hour for an over night bus to Sapa, so they aren’t in my company for very long.

I go back to my hostel and prepare to have an early night, because I’ll be getting up relatively early to meet Tamara. Instead, I meet an Argentinian dorm-mate of mine, and we go out for a beer. We find another sweet “happy hour” deal and sit on a balcony. I’m 90% sure our waitress is drunk. She’s the nicest thing ever, and seems excited to be practicing her English…but definitely tipsy. She talks to us all night.

When we get back to the hostel, I’m casually settling into my bed when I catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. In the corner of the room, directly across from my bed, there is an absolutely gigantic, hairy, demon spider on the wall.

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I will never sleep again. I try to keep my cool but draw everyone else in the room’s attention to it, and then immediately go get someone from front desk. I couldn’t have it disappearing while I stepped out to find rescue.
Our front desk guy comes into our room with a giant broom, climbs up on a bunk bed, and just smashes the beast without remorse. It tries to escape and run away. It’s an epic battle for the history books, but the front desk staff prevails. There’s now a huge curled up spider carcass on the floor. He comes back a little while later with a plastic bag and throws it away. Back to the depths of hell for you, spider beast.

Will I sleep tonight? Will I ever sleep again with a bug net? Prob not. What if he had a big spider family? What if he was just the BABY and his larger, scarier spider parents are going to seek their revenge?

Vietnam: Speaking English in Hanoi

I was not a happy camper this morning when I woke up to someone else’s abandoned alarm clock. It was ringing for a solid 5 minutes before they came back from wherever they were to turn it off. I’ll kill you.

Speaking English in Hanoi

I was not a happy camper this morning when I woke up to someone else’s abandoned alarm clock. It was ringing for a solid 5 minutes before they came back from wherever they were to turn it off. I’ll kill you.

Everyone in my dorm room is leaving to go to either Ha Long Bay or Hoi An today, and they’re all up early getting their stuff together to go. I try to sleep through it, but fail. Hostel life. I wake up with only a few mosquito bites, but I’m totally over heating. I want to take a cold shower but so does everyone else in the room, so I’ll have to wait.

My $4/night bed also comes with an included breakfast. If that’s not thrifty I don’t know what is. It’s a pretty good breakfast, too! Not just some toast and tea, but a menu of about 6 items to choose from, and tea or coffee. Actually, tea and coffee are free all day. If it weren’t for the bugs, I’d probably want to stay…but I don’t. I plan to do it the traditional, and most effective way, of just walking around and stopping in to check prices/ see rooms before committing to anything new. I also desperately need a pair of flip flops (as the floor in this hostel is sometimes wet without reason) and I need to pull more cash. I make these things my mission for the day. I also look into getting my legs waxed because I’m going to be hittin’ the east side Vietnamese beaches soon.

I bring a small black and white map of Hanoi, given to me by the front desk, and set out into the craziness of the Old Quarter. It’s so humid outside that it’s hard to breathe. I should just accept right now that I’ll be perma-sweaty for the next month and a half.

I somehow manage to walk in the right direction towards the popular Hoan Kiem Lake, where I can be sure to find shops and an ATM. I see a Bank of Vietnam and try to pull money but it doesn’t work with my debit card so I must use my visa once again. I don’t know how people travel without these, really.
I feel extra on edge as I pull my money because someone comes to stand behind me half way through my transaction. Please don’t rob me please don’t rob me please don’t rob me. He doesn’t rob me, he just wants to use the ATM too. Crazy.

One mission: completed. I’m close to a salon that I googled with a good reputation, so that’s my next stop. I walk into a very skinny lobby area with hundreds of nail polishes on shelves all along the walls. I am lead up three flights of a narrow, winding stair case to an air-conditioned room with calm Vietnamese music is playing.
There are two ladies in the room, not just one. Right away, BOTH of the ladies start waxing my legs! One lady per leg. They move super quickly and I can’t stop myself from laughing. Kinda weird at first, but just too funny! If I went to a salon in a Canada and asked to have TWO people wax my legs at the same time they’d probably just say no, or I’d be paying double. Here, my leg wax only costs me $25, and is done in half the time it usually takes. What service!

I walk back over to the lake so I can catch up on my writing. It’s a beautiful location to sit and relax on one of the many benches surrounding the water.
I have been sitting for maybe 10 minutes, when I am approached by four Vietnamese people about my age, two girls and two boys. One of the girls asks me if she can sit down and practice her English with me. Please don’t rob me please don’t rob me please don’t rob me.
I invite her to sit down, but I am clutching onto my bag for dear life. What is the catch here? What’s the scam? I’m pretty much prepared to run if something weird happens.
They ask me simple questions like my name, where I come from, and my age. I have to remind myself to speak slowly, which is not an easy task.
Over time I ask them some questions too, and find out that they’re all University students in Hanoi, who often come here to find tourists to speak with. I start to calm down a little. No one is here to rob me. The hype about Vietnam being so dangerous doesn’t seem to be true to Hanoi. Maybe Ho Chi Mihn?

The four of them have only met today, while wandering around the lake to practice English. What a fun way to make friends! After they sit with me for a few minutes, more and more people start to gather. Eventually the first four leave, but I am now speaking with a new group of 10 or so people, asking me the same questions.
“What is your name? Where do you come from? How old are you? Do you have any siblings? Tell me something about your mother. How long are you in Vietnam? Do you like my country? Tell me something special about your country. What do you study? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you like shopping? Why are you traveling alone?” Everyone is always sad that I’m traveling alone. “What music do you like?” They all love Taylor Swift. No one knows Macklemore.

The questions go on and on and I sit with them for hours, helping them with pronunciation and spelling. Some write down new words I say, and they all help each other translate if they are unsure of what I mean.
It’s a really really cool experience!
Some add me on Facebook or ask for the link to my blog so they can read about my time in Vietnam, which will be even more English practice for them!

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By 5pm I realize it’s been FOUR hours of sitting by the lake and chatting. I’ve missed lunch and I’m starving, so I apologize and say I have to go find dinner. One of the guys makes some suggestions for me on where I can go to find good Vietnamese dishes in the area. He even has a book about the food handy! Someone else gives me a map in colour and WAY better than the one the hostel has given me. Everyone I meet is so nice.

I also haven’t peed in four hours. I can’t wait until I get back to the hostel so I try to stop in a small café but they tell me they don’t have a washroom. Nooo! I ask the shop keeper at an art store just next to the café where I can find a washroom. She offers to let me use hers…in the scary dark back room behind the shop. Am I going to die? Please don’t rob me please don’t rob me please don’t rob me. She turns on the washroom light and here I am.

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In the scariest, most spider covered squatter toilet in all the land. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I try to find my happy place.

I leave and thank her a million times for letting me be in the scariest room I’ve ever been in.

I plan to go back to the hostel before heading out for dinner, but I get totally lost, even with my new map. The Old Quarter is like a big maze.

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A woman carrying a big basket of fruit approaches me in the street as I’m looking at my map. Please, for the love of god, don’t rob me. I don’t want to buy anything please go away. She offers to help me figure out where I’m going, and easily points me in the right direction. She doesn’t ask me for money, she doesn’t try to steal my bag. Just a nice lady.

I make it back to my hostel, take a cold shower and head back out for some Pho. I find a restaurant on a street corner with lots of other customers so I sit down at a miniature table (extremely popular here in Hanoi) and order one bowl of chicken Pho. I sit on the sidewalk and enjoy the people watching. It’s totally enjoyable until the rain starts pouring down. Like some serious rain. There is no awning to cover my head and no where to sit inside, so I follow suit with everyone else and push my table against the wall, huddled under a small roof overhang. I am soaked. Everyone is soaked, but no one seems to mind. The Pho is great, though.

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Lightning brightening the sky

I eat quickly and head back to my hostel where three American girls walk in off the street and join my almost empty dorm room. They invite me to go for a drink with them, so of course I agree and we find a cute restaurant close by with “Happy Hour Now, Buy One Get One Free Beer” permanently printed into the menu. I didn’t know discounts could be permanent. Vietnam has taught me many new things today.