Travels in Hanoi

Earlier this month, I took my first days off of teaching since arriving in Vietnam in August (other than weekends). Two of my Vietnamese friends, Mai and Hoa, both had birthdays last week and we decided to take a short holiday to Hanoi in order to celebrate.

We began late Sunday night, where we met at the Vinh bus station. Tickets to Hanoi from Vinh are only 220.000 VND (about 10 dollars) and are on overnight sleeper buses. We boarded the bus and found our seats (beds?) and settled in for the journey. It is about 6 hours from Vinh to Hanoi, and the bus would’ve been quite comfortable if I was maybe 3 inches shorter. I had to bend my knees through most of the night to fit, but was otherwise comfortable. Such is the plight of being the tall American in Vinh City.

After arriving at about 5:00 AM Monday morning, we ate some breakfast (a simple Banh Mi with egg) and awaited Matt’s sister to wake up. Eventually we would meet with them early that morning. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and in most ways, is an international hub of trade, tourism, and commerce like any other major Asian city. Suddenly, after months of being one of the few Westerners where I live, there were tourists and businessmen from all over. We quickly became friends with an Englishman from Manchester, and we bonded over an affinity for Liverpool F.C. and talked football over coffee in the morning.

At first, we stayed at a hotel far away from the city, nearby some friends of Mai’s. However, we found the taxi to the Old Quarter (where much of tourism in Hanoi is directed) to be cumbersome and expensive. The second day of our trip in Hanoi, we went looking for a hotel. It struck me on this day just how big a deal this trip was to my Vietnamese friends. They had very seldom left the confines of Vinh City, and in many ways, this city was a bigger adjustment for them than for I, despite their ability to speak the local language. Before long, I was leading us on foot, both of them completely lost in a maze of people and side-streets on a scale unlike that of Vinh City. We found a great backpacker’s hostel willing to put us up for about $10 a night per person (including free breakfast) that was less than 100 meters from most of the action of the Old Quarter. Quickly, we jumped on the opportunity.

Hanoi 1

Afternoon rainstorm in the old quarter of Hanoi

Most of the trip was spent going from one coffee shop to another, drinking local beers, drinks, and snacking on some international cuisine. Though for many international travelers, Hanoi is a city of a distinct Vietnamese culture, it felt to me almost like being home. Compared to Vinh, Hanoi might as well been New York City. I was able to buy books in English, eat a Snickers bar, have a hamburger and pizza all in a week. All were quite enjoyable as a change of pace after 4 months of almost entirely Vietnamese food. Matt and Mai both were awestruck at how to eat pizza. “Just use my hands?”, they asked a couple times in disbelief. Even more incredible was the concept of a cheeseburger. They chattered a bit in Vietnamese at first, before consulting a Vietnamese-English dictionary and proclaiming “greasy”. I couldn’t help but to smile at the language gap and how delicious that burger was.

Lucas Hanoi 2

View from Café Sang Sang in the old quarter

Now on Christmas, I’m traveling again. I’ll be taking the bus to Hanoi, boarding a plane with (part of) my family, and heading to Cambodia. This trip likely will prove to be an emotional one for me, as it is a trip that I have long looked forward to. I’ll be visiting the orphanage my sister lived in before she came to the United States to join our family as well as Angkor Wat, in my mind, one of the locations I have most looked forward to visiting in Vietnam.

Happy Holidays, and safe travels.

Lucas McCamon is teaching abroad with API in Vietnam

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  1. Great experience, What about weather, people and culture?

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