We have made it to the city of crazy traffic, crazy smells, and the craziest humidity I’ve ever dealt with! I can’t say it’s not a bit overwhelming when you first get arrive. The constant honking and trying to cross the street is incredibly hard. But in some weird way it’s also super fun. The looks you get when you’re walking down the street, the uncertainty of not knowing what kind of food you’re going to get when you order in a restaurant adds to the excitement that is Hanoi.
After arriving around 3PM on Sunday, all I really wanted to do was sleep. But I knew that if I passed out immediately, jet lag was going to latch its crazy hands on me. So instead I met up with Sakina and Ariela (my other apartment building mates) and we ventured out to get some dinner. We ended up at Red Bean Restaurant whose high location had sweeping views of Hanoi. The lemongrass chicken was delicious, as were the spring rolls. Afterwards we ventured for an ATM and headed home to unpack. Unpacking is always the first thing I do when I get to a new city because it helps make my room become a “home”. Although I thought I was going to be in for the night, the news that a nearby Bar, Bar Betta, had a free beer hour was enough for me to get back out (even tho I can’t drink beer). Needless to say, I slept like a baby that night.
Monday was our first day working at our new workspace, Toong Coworking. Every month our coworking space has a different vibe… some are more professional and some become the place where you come to hang out, not really to work. For me, Toong is the perfect mix of both and is a place where I can find myself being super productive. We headed early to Toong for our monthly language lesson. I make sure to attend these every month because it’s always helpful to know the basics of any language. It makes your local experience that much more enjoyable, when you can communicate a bit of what you’d like (mixed with hand signals) to the locals. Afterwards I stayed at the workspace to get some of my work done followed by dinner with a few friends and taking my favorite mode of transportation (~ cough, uber moto cough~) home.
Tuesday was a casual workday ending the night at no place other that Vuvuzela, a Vietnamese version of Hooters. Why, you ask? Because why not. And because it’s literally downstairs from our workplace, so chalk it up to proximity. Or to the fact that I wanted to eat something westernized… aka FRENCH FRIES.
Wednesday morning was the perfect way to wake up: a coffee track! My first track event in Vietnam and it was one where we got to explore Hanoi and taste test the different coffees they are known for… score! First up was a coconut coffee which I already had the pleasure of trying at Xofa. This is by far the best “coffee” I’ve ever tried. And it’s probably like that because half of it consists of what I like to think of as ice cream made from coconut milk. It’s DELICIOUS. And dangerous since I could drink a million of them. But anyways our first stop is also accompanied by dry corn snacks which are also addictive. Our next stop is not as typical as the first and brings us to a place to try egg coffee. Yeah, you read that right. Years ago when milk was very expensive and the Vietnamese couldn’t afford to buy it for their daily use; they became creative and decided to add eggs to coffee to give it that same creamy consistency. Many years later, this tradition is still consumed. For me, the consistency was bit thick, but I wouldn’t say I would never have it again. Just not something I would order on the reg. Our final stop was for some flavored coffee with options of whiskey, baileys, and mint as mix-ins. We opted for the mint since most of us had already had a taste of the others in one form or another. As a fan of mint flavored things, this coffee made me think of dessert. After the track I unfortunately wasn’t feeling to hot… so I figured what better way to make myself feel better than to go get pampered. I’m not usually a person who goes and gets mani/pedi’s… but when they cost 14$ including a heel treatment, I just can’t say no. Hey, treat yo’self every once in a while. And I sure did. Two hours later and I was feeling much better, so I returned to the workspace to work work work for the rest of the day. That evening a few of us joined our city team for some traditional food (Joe ate pigeon if that gives you any idea) and to try grilled snails. I’ll always try something once (or at least I’m trying to) so I tried them. And they weren’t too bad! Not something I’d order myself, but glad that I know what they taste like.
Thursday was another day that started off pretty great… with massages! Chris, Sadie and I headed to Midori Spa to have our first taste of Vietnamese massages. An hour later we were so relaxed. Vietnamese massages while very similar to Thai massages are not as strong and you don’t get pulled in all directions like a thai one. Afterwards my relaxed self headed home to get some laundry done and then to Toong to get work done.
So for those of you that don’t know, Southeast Asia isn’t really known for it’s wine. Mostly just it’s super cheap beer. Like two dollar beers always (sometimes even free). Needless to say, I’ve been struggling a bit… because as much as my liver liked a nice break from it’s month in Portugal (and in Budapest, and Croatia…..) sometimes a girl just needs a solid glass of red wine. Today was the night. My personal angel, Sadester had found a supermarket that had cheap-ish wine. Since wine is not Vietnam’s drink of choice, most bottles cost upwards of 15$ and as a budget conscious traveler, that is not the life I’m about. Thankfully (or at least sort of) there exists one type of wine “Dalat” that costs 4$. As you can imagine, it’s not the best wine you’ve ever had, but set your expectations low and its ~drinkable~. So it was finally wine night, and then we returned to the workspace to have wine night with everyone else who was still there. And then the party moved to Puku. Wine night done right.
On Friday I had signed up to do a free walking tour with some Vietnamese students that were practicing their English. A group of us went to the enthology musem in Hanoi. While I usually love open air museums with replicas of different types of architecture you can find in parts of Vietnam, it was SO humid out, that it was torture. My shirt was soaked and I was barely even moving. Apple weather even tried to make jokes and say that the weather had a wind chill of 109. NOT FUNNY. So as much as I wanted to stay longer, I had to cut the tour short and head back to Toong as the rest of the group moved to the second stop. I grabbed some food and went to work to complete the week’s workload & start celebrating that it was Friday. Which meant one more impromptu party as the stragglers of Toong. Afterwards we went back to Puku where we snuggled the cutest pup ever and celebrated completing our first full work week in Vietnam. And I probably shouldn’t have celebrated that hard considering the following morning I was to be up at 5AM to catch a bus to Sapa. And had yet to pack. But hey, welcome to RY. I somehow managed to wake up with one hour sleep to throw some things in a bag and still get to our bus on time.
After boarding our charter bus, we had a five hour-long ride to Sapa. That ride was split between napping, bathroom breaks, and just staring out the window. I was exhausted. But I was also excited for whatever the rest of the day had in store for us… and boy I couldn’t have guessed what that was going to be. When the 15 of us signed up for the weekend Sapa getaway, we all did so blindly, like we do with most Remote Year things. Someone mentions in the group if anyone wants to join them, tells you the price and the date, and you say yes/no (usually yes) and then later find out what you’ve actually signed up for. It’s kinda crazy, but it goes hand in hand with this new lifestyle we are a part of. So when we got to Sapa and we all learned that our supposedly 5K hike was actually 14K you can imagine we were all a bit shocked. But everything that is a bit shocking usually comes with a reward, so we all buckled down and started our trek. And when I say trek I mean small dirt paths on the ledge of rice paddies. We struggled, we slipped, but we marveled in the incredible view. And it took me halfway into this trek to realize that it was a bucket list item for me. The views were as if I was standing in a National Geographic magazine. They were breathtaking and humbling and by far the most beautiful views I had seen on my trip. And although by the end of hour 6, when I was over it all and when we finally made it to our homestay, I was still the happiest human ever. We had completed it. And our reward was french fries! Followed by a delicious homecooked meal of chicken and pork and tofu (all without soy sauce!). We all relaxed that night, talking over a bottle of Dalat wine (which, let me tell you, was a pretty good wine after a trek like that). I’m positive I feel asleep within minutes on my mattress covered in my mosquito netting.
Sunday we woke up to the sound of thunder and rain. As we all gathered on the outside terrace of our homestay we agreed that our trek the previous day was so amazing that we did not want to ruin it with an additional trek through the rain and mud. Instead we took a van back to Sapa, stopping for the most picturesque views. Once in Sapa we all spread out in different directions and I opted to pamper myself once more with a massage and meet up with the group for our final lunch before the five hour bus ride back to Ha Noi. Although exhausted and back in the city, I still managed to meet up with some at Bar Betta for our traditional free beer hour + some.
Wow, what a first week in Asia. Check below to see the stories in pictures.