For our "honeymoon" trip around the world, we chose Vietnam. We've visited several Asian countries, but the way other travelers describe their experiences in Vietnam seemed special. We'd heard great things about the nature, food, shopping, culture and people in Vietnam, particularly in the north. From Luxembourg, our honeymoon trip included, Vietnam, Tokyo, Seattle and London, wrapping 17,000 air miles around the globe. To begin, we headed out before dawn on a bus from Luxembourg to Frankfurt, and after a very comfortable 10 hour premium economy flight on Vietnam Airlines, we woke up in Hanoi.
Throughout our trip, we bounced back and forth between Hanoi and various spots around northern Vietnam, using Hanoi as a home base for our multi-day excursions. Each time we stayed at a hotel in the La Siesta group. We loved these hotels, as they were welcoming and accommodating without being too over the top. The staff helped plan transportation, booked spa appointments and upgraded us to a two-floor suite. One of their branches had a rooftop hotel bar that looked down on Hoan Kiem Lake, the best sunset view in the city and a welcome respite from the unrelenting commotion at street level.
In our first two days in Hanoi, we took time to get our bearings and to learn the art of street crossing. Although there are a few stop lights and areas marked as cross walks, generally crossing is at your own peril because the locals don't follow any traffic rules. The sidewalks are filled with construction works, parked motorbikes, mini restaurants and businesses and people just hanging out. So really to get around you have to walk in the street, with thousands of motorbikes and cars constantly honking.
Hanoi Street Food
In addition to braving the wild streets, we ate. We spent our first day eating pho and bun cha. The first night we booked a private food tour with our guide Rosie, a local college student. We tried seven tastings, including Vietnamese pancakes, egg coffee (which is a little coffee and a lot of whipped egg and sweetened condensed milk), bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwiches on a rice flour baguette), coconut ice cream with sticky rice (Erin's favorite), local beer, fresh squeezed sugar cane juice and spicy noodles. It was wild wandering the maze of streets with a local, and the energy at night was electric. There were people out everywhere, seated on tiny plastic stools along the streets.
The food in Vietnam is some of the best we've ever had traveling - there is always a mix of fresh herbs and crunchy vegetables, fresh rice or noodles and spicy chiles. On top of that, the local egg coffee and fresh fruit juices (including watermelon juice, our fave) are delicious and super cheap.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Throughout our trip we took time to get lost walking the winding streets of the old quarter, colonial French quarter and around the breezy, Hoan Kiem lake. Each morning, people danced in groups and practiced Tai Chi near the lakeside, and we loved observing these behaviors that would make a person look crazy in the west. Throughout the day, women in conical hats balanced bamboo poles on their shoulders with bowls on either end carrying fruit, tools, wares and really anything you can imagine. Locals whizzed by on scooters carrying over-sized loads of household goods, building supplies, and even stacks of live animals. After a long day of walking around town, seeing local landmarks and shopping, we also took time to wind down at local spas, which were only about $15/hour and offered relaxing and luxurious treatments.
When we weren't walking, spa-ing or eating, we spent a lot of time in Hanoi shopping. Dave loved the local worker uniforms, and we were able to track them down at the local market and negotiate (all in Vietnamese, thanks to Dave's language practice) for a rate of $5 per shirt. Erin invested her shopping time on Hang Gai, or silk street, where she picked from among various silk colors and prints to have custom clothes made, from internet pictures she showed the tailor. She also picked up very inexpensive prescription glasses, and we both loaded up on the classic soft Southeast Asia travel pants, usually decorated with tribal prints or elephants.
The longer we stayed in Hanoi, coming back after each side trip in the country, the more we loved it. At first, we felt bombarded by the constant traffic and endless honking horns, but we really came to appreciate the energy on the lively streets, always filled with people, delicious street food, live wires carelessly wound around trees and street signs, and random array of souvenir shops, local craftsmen, and serene temples. On our last morning, we picked up sticky rice with cucumbers and chili sauce from an elderly woman with a small cart just outside our hotel, and wandered the streets to pick up a few more items, savouring every moment. We both felt sad to leave, especially because it seems like Hanoi will inevitably change. At some point, the local street food stalls will be moved into a more hygienic, sterile building and the crumbling old buildings covered in wires and surrounded by shady trees will be replaced with modern retail buildings. When we were there, we tried our best to fully enjoy each moment, as when we inevitably go back, no matter when, it won't be the same.
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