Hanoi is the capital city of Viet Nam… and happened to have the cheapest flights in from Bangkok! Making my decision of whether to go from south to north (starting in Saigon) or north to south (starting in Hanoi) very easy. North to south it was!
My first shock was the currency. Vietnamese Dong (haha). 1,000,000.00 (yes million!) dong = $50USD. I was a millinaire for about 3 weeks, it was great!
My first night a few people I met at the hostel decided to go out to dinner. This proved no easy task as I quickly learned that being a pescatarian in Viet Nam would be rather difficult. The first street side restaurant we sat in basically kicked us out. The man handed us menus, which I couldn’t read so I asked if they had anything with no meat. He promptly removed the menues from us without saying anything and passed them to other customers. Hmmm… to the next place? After a few attempts I figured I’d just get tofu in tomato sauce… sounds safe right? Well if it wasn’t sitting in a chicken broth it would have been. We were able to try some other interesting morsels, though!
I was pleasently surprised to find out the hostel offered a free walking tour, so I jumped on that opportunity the next morning. First thing we were taught was how to properly cross the crazy scoooter and motorbike filled streets. You wouldn’t think there’s a techhnique, but there actually is! It’s pretty basic… pick a line and cross the street while putting your hand out (like saying “stop”). DO NOT look the drivers in the eye. The assumption is that they see you and will avoid you. If they see that you have seen them, they assume you will move or avoid them.
Next, a traditional Vietnamese egg coffee was in order (yes, raw eggs are used in the preparatoin). to my surprise it was very tasty! Like a sweet custard on top of coffee, more like a dessert.
We continued on and got a feel for some local markets, which were vibrant and colorful, but confirmed my reasoning to not eat meat. Although, throughout my stay in Viet Nam I was continually jealous of some of the delicious looking meat dishes my friends were eating…mostly street food.
Though there are sidewalks, you can’t ever really walk on them (as you can see from the pictures above and below). Forcing pedestrians to walk in the narrow streets amongst the crazy traffic and horn honking.
Horn honking was my second shock when arriving in Viet Nam. I have never heard so many horns in my life. In America we are only supposed to use our horns in case of emergency or warning (but we all know we use them in anger and frustration sometimes). In Thailand they used them a little differntly, for example, when going around a blind corner I noticed they would honk their horns to warn on-coming cars or bikes. In Viet Nam, horn honking is a whole differnt ball game. Horns are honked almost consistently as a means of saying “hey, I’m here, just so you know”. When scooters/cars pass other scooters/cars they will honk to let them know its happening OR when they pass pedestrians they will honk (for my entire trip this scared the crap out of me almost every time). When I was in Mexico, last year, I noticed they used this same method BUT not to the same extent, as there were far fewer motor vehicles.
Hanoi is also home to the Mossoleum of Ho Chi Minh. An immensely respected figure to the Vietnamese people. He led the cause for a united communist country from 1945-1965 (when he stepped down). We waited in a long line and were able to walk by his wax like body. I felt like I was in a Madame Tussauds.