#OTNTravels: Hanoi | One To Nothin'

#OTNTravels: Hanoi

You guys! I haven't powered on my personal laptop in, like, months. My bad. I've been talking about my trip to Vietnam with anyone who will listen and yet here we are, MONTHS later (+ a couple more adventures under my belt) and I haven't given OTN a single update.
The most important thing is I FREAKIN' SURVIVED all alone in a foreign country where I don't speak a single word of the native language. The second most important thing is IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. I have lots of thoughts about solo travel, tips to pass on and lessons learned to reflect on, and I’ll hopefully get to them later, but for now I just want to travel log this shit because I never want to forget the details of this trip. Luckily I'm a big ol' dork, and I took notes full-on diary style every day I was there, so let's do this. Here's what went down in Hanoi for the first two days of my trip.
 Day 1:

After a very long flight from San Francisco to Taiwan, seated between a married couple, who chose to let me sit between them for 12 hours rather than give up the coveted aisle and window seats, I hopped on a connecting flight to Hanoi. My taxi dropped me off at my cute little boutique hotel called the Golden Moon Hotel (a friend of mine recommended it to me, and it did not disappoint). I arrived around 10:30am, but I couldn't check into my hotel until 2pm, so my sleep-deprived zombie body was forced into the bustling city sooner that it was prepared for. Not only had my feet swollen to, like, three times their normal size, but I bought new sneaks for the occasion that obviously were going to give me blisters. The first thing I did was try the famous egg coffee at Giang coffee just a couple blocks from the hotel. It's this delicious sweet and creamy egg white concoction you mix into the highly caffeinated coffee. I was pretty nervous after trying it knowing that I wouldn't be able to explain that I was lactose intolerant to anyone, but surprisingly my stomach behaved (more on that later). 
After egg coffee, I had no idea what to do. I wasn't hungry yet, I was so tired, and WAY too overwhelmed by the kazillion motorbikes that don't stop for pedestrians to actually find touristy stuff to do, so I ducked into another coffee shop to hide until I could check into my hotel. Not my proudest moment, but just tryna keep it real. This was my first time out of the country since I was 15, and it was starting to feel like a lot. This coffee shop was called Analog and it totally could've been a hipster coffee shop in the Bay Area, except no one in there understood me at all and the WiFi wouldn't work. Classic. So I ordered iced coffee (by pointing at the menu, pretty much all of which surprisingly had English translations on them) and read in that dark little shop until I could check into my hotel. It was all young women working there, and one of the servers kept bringing giant balloons to this girl lying in a booth. I thought maybe they were planning a party until I realized that Nitrous Oxide balloons are totally a thing. lolz.
After getting into my hotel with this adorable view and rose petals on my bed, I showered, took a nap, and got ready try to see the city again. This time, the amazing folks at the front desk of my hotel pointed me in the direction of a sit down restaurant because I wasn't mentally prepared to sit on the sidewalk for street food just yet. The restaurant was called Redbean, and while it was clearly made for tourists, I was so happy to enjoy a six course meal with a variety of local dishes that only ended up costing me about ten US dollars. #blessed Afterwards, I walked around a bit, but I was still terrified of crossing the street, so I decided to give myself a break, go back to the hotel, and be braver the next day.

 DAY 2:

I woke up early and was determined to make the most of my day. I took a screenshot of Google Maps directions to the lake in the center of town, and figured I'd follow the front desk folks' advice on where to get breakfast. Of course I got lost immediately and never did find that elusive breakfast spot, but as I moseyed down streets that changed names every few feet, I began to feel the hanger rising. It doesn't take much to make me start questioning every life decision when I'm hangry, and as I was dodging motorbikes from every direction and not any closer to the lake (or so I thought) than I was when I first left the hotel, I decided I could have an anxiety attack or I could just walk down a slower street to find food. I went with the latter, which brought me to a cozy little restaurant where a sweet old lady sat reading the newspaper to another sweet old lady.

I pointed to a photo of soup and she brought me some. I still have no idea what the protein was, but I was so grateful in that moment for food, for the patience of this lady, and for the young boy who understood me saying "WiFi" and typed the password into my phone for me. I enjoyed every last drop of that soup and at some point the lady brought me hot tea because she (and all the other locals on that mid-60-degree day) was "lạnh." She thought I must be freezing in my little windbreaker, and the simple gesture of handing me warm tea even though I couldn't properly thank her touched my heart. With my newfound wifi access, I was able to access my translator to tell her how delicious the soup was and ask how much the food was (she found the translation to be hilarious, so who knows what I actually said). This was definitely a turning point--just one more example of food and human kindness completely changing my attitude about life.
From there I figured out how to download Google Maps to access it offline (what a newb I was) and found my way to the lake. I walked around, bought some souvenirs and found my way back to the hotel to start my motorbike food and city tour with Alice (I booked it through the hotel that morning). I spent the next four+ hours exploring Hanoi with this sweet tourguide--don't worry, she drove the motorbike, I just rode on the back. It was pretty terrifying being in that chaotic traffic, but she got us everywhere safe and sound. We saw the Opera House, Temple of Literature, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, West Lake, and several temples. Alice spoke English very well and by the end of the tour we were taking selfies together and gossiping about boys. It was pretty great. I'm so glad I booked this tour especially since I was still so shy about crossing the street at this point.
We ended the tour eating at her favorite street food spot, which I unfortunately can't remember the name of. We sat on the tiniest plastic stools and I was served bun cha--grilled fatty pork with vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs and lettuce, plus fresh garlic and chilies to top it with. Omg, guys. It was incredible. I was in street food heaven. THEN she took me to get dessert. I was pretty jet-lagged and convinced that I'd be going straight back to the hotel afterward, so when they brought out fresh fruit with crushed ice and what I could only assume was sweetened condensed milk on top, I decided to go for it without asking questions (kind of like with that egg coffee from day one). I hugged Alice goodbye and went back to my hotel room expecting my lactose intolerant stomach to explode at any moment and was, once again, surprised to discover that I was... fine.
It was crazy, but I was still too tired to venture out again, so I chilled out and turned on the TV. To my delight I found a station dedicated to American pop music videos from the early to mid 2000s with hardly any commercials. The coffee shop next door was poppin' with club music, but I drifted off to sleep with the lovely sounds of Pitbull echoing in my head.

TBC: Day 3 and 4 in Ha Long Bay coming soon...

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