By the time we were situated in Hanoi, Việt and I only wanted to eat a satisfying dinner then fall straight to sleep. Riding on another rented motorbike, we arrived in an outer edge of the city where we tried nem chua rán, a deep fried pork roll dish along with mangoes that Việt insisted I try since the pork rolls were special to Hanoi. Craving something sweet to top it off, Việt researched a local’s favorite dessert joint for yogurt with black sticky rice (sữa chua nếp cẩm) and coconut ice cream (kem trái dừa). It was a great day for food, most were with Việt.
The next morning, we got an early start exploring around the center of the town then taking the motorbike to the outskirts to visit a district well-known for thrifting. Traveling with Việt not only provided a better taste of the country’s cuisine, since he could recommend local dishes, but also opened up a new world of easily exploring cities. He could quickly research in Vietnamese and come up with more accurate results than I could manage to find in English.
Following winding alleys into a labyrinth of more alleyways, we found piles of clothing for sale everywhere around us. The area was immense so it was only natural that we felt overstimulated and claustrophobic after only two hours of sorting through it.
Prior to dinner I had used Facebook to reconnect with Nina, the German workaway-er whom Milo and I worked with at the homestay in Bangkok. It just so happened that she was also in Hanoi and overlapping us a day, so we decided to meet for drinks.
While drinking out in Vietnam is extremely inexpensive, especially when compared to Western countries, Hanoi tops the list of cities to partake. In a certain part of the old district, many bars have set up shop with their iconic tiny plastic chairs and tables overflowing into the streets. Each boasts the sale of bia hơi, a daily brewed draft beer for only 5,000 dong or 22¢ US cents per 12oz! Sure, the beer is made “unofficially” and not monitored by any health agency… but depending on the place and day you try it, it’s always got a new and interesting flavor.
Wanting to maximize her time with Việt and me, his cousin, Thanh, left her grandparent’s home where we had just celebrated the holiday with her and the rest of the family to come back to Hanoi where she lived and attended school. Việt and I met up with her and one of her friends the next morning in the city center to begin another day of sightseeing on 2 motorbikes that she had brought along.
Weathered, aged, and as if it had thousands of stories to tell, the city was filled with a charm like no other; it really had its own character, unique to any other place I had been so far. Marveling at the buildings on each block, we walked to a nearby yogurt spot to try another variation after circling the lake.
Craving something more, we hopped to a communistic-themed chain coffee shop called Cộng Cafe and relaxed on the second floor balcony while overlooking the streets. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of coffee, the delicious Vietnamese brew made me think otherwise.
After a short nap, we met back up with Thanh and her friend to go out for cháo sườn (rice porridge), another special dish Việt insisted I try while in Hanoi. Under a backdrop of graffiti, we waited in an alley for dinner, scarfing it down as soon as the steaming bowls arrived. An hour prior to our bus, we enjoyed bia hơi with Thanh before parting ways.
After our quick 2 days in the city we were off to Sapa, the largest Vietnamese town up north before the border with China. With Việt’s birthday quickly approaching, we decided to celebrate early, spending a day hiking around a traditional village then spending the next 2 days hiking Mt. Fansipan, Indochina’s (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam’s) tallest mountain. It was the one other thing I had eagerly wanted to experience other than Tết prior to arriving in the country. Without the appropriate clothing, shoes, gear, and experience of long distance hiking, would I survive the climate change and trek?
Every Vietnamese post header image features a shot on film by Việt during our time together.