So, ma new city. Well, in all honesty, I’m only just starting to familiarise myself with Hanoi as we have spent the first week in a hotel undertaking training. But fear not reader, I have 5 months. Whilst driving from the airport to the hotel I got to soak up some of the city, despite dozing off a few times. I must admit that the chaos did take me surprise, and if I’m honest, I was struck by the dirt. There are, for example, hundreds of cables tied together on each street corner which looks alarmingly hazardous. However, after a week, I’m finding everything quite normal. In fact, I feel like it was a month ago since I landed. If anything, I’m starting to realise just how hyper-sanitary we are in the UK and other so-called first world countries. A lot of places are fine even if they don’t look like something off a Mr Sheen advert (a few places, however, are just downright filthy). The patchwork of houses on each street are quite charming; no two are the same. You begin to realise how you see the same shops and businesses in every city back at home, whereas here, most shops are small family businesses run in the front room of their houses. Great for a nosy parkers like me.
I must confess that the first thing that struck me is the heat. Yes, this makes me sound terribly British and boring but it’s hot. HOT HOT! Mid to high 30s to be precise, and also extremely humid – I’m talking 70% +. I’d read in my Lonely Planet guidebook (aka my Bible) that the South has a tropical climate whereas the North has four distinct seasons. I don’t see how this can be true but I hope to be proven wrong.
Right now it is monsoon season so there have been intense storms and rainfall. In fact one evening myself and one of my house mates, Sherri, decided to take a trip to the nearest super market. We were suffering from sugar cravings (authentic Vietnamese food is fresh and light unlike a lot of the high calorie, high sugar foods we’re used to in the UK) so we needed a hit. Off we went for a bit of choc as well as some general supplies. Just as we got to the foyer to get a taxi the rain began. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before and the roads were beginning to flood within minutes. Once the thunder and lightening began I was questioning whether this was a good idea as it sounded like the lightening was striking something in the not-too-far distance, but as the drivers seemed pretty relaxed I decided to trust that all would be fine and go with the flow. The taxi ride was an experience in itself. In fact it might be more accurate to describe it as a boat ride as the water levels were probably not far off a metre on some road corners. Vehicles were breaking down but the motorbikes continued to plough through. I’m happy to say that we survived the ordeal and found the desired chocolate. All good.
Talking of motorbikes, I should probably mention traffic. It’s insane. Lanes are arbitrary. There is no highway code, or if there is I’m not seeing any evidence of it. Horns are beeped constantly (I think to signal your presence as much as your annoyance). Overtaking, cutting people up, you name the sin, it all happens here. But strangely something seems to work as I’ve not seen any scratched vehicles as yet. Mind, there are so many vehicles, drivers aren’t able to go very fast so that helps, I suppose. To put it in perspective there are only 7.5 million people living in Hanoi but there are 4 million motorbikes! Wow. Needless to say, this makes crossing the road quite a challenge. The rules are: walk slowly, look both ways, and don’t stop. Just hope that the traffic dodges you. Sounds like a suicide wish, but actually, there’s something quite liberating about it; I guess there’s mutual trust between everyone. I just hope I don’t find that I go back to the UK and expect vehicles to miss me; the result wouldn’t be pretty. Well, if the Vietnamese are happy to ride their children all around the town on a motorbike I’m going to assume that incidents aren’t too frequent anyway.
The best thing about motorbikes here (or xe om if it’s a taxi bike) is seeing a whole family of four squeezed on one together – it’s pretty adorable. I have to mention Vietnamese children who are incredibly sweet and will often approach you to say ‘hello’. In fact, I’ve found the locals here to be very friendly all round. They often greet you and have been very patient whilst we have blundered our way through menus with our terrible (non-existent) Vietnamese and their sometimes-broken English. They are clearly very family-orientated people. Family-run vendors and shops tend to be open until very late and you will often see families sat together eating. The children and babies stay up with them till very late too and they are often left to roam considerably far away from their parents. Not sure if they’re just very chilled out here or whether we wrap our kids in cotton wool too much. Both perhaps.
Onto the cuisine. By and large, it’s been great. As you can imagine, noodles and rice make up the majority of dishes here, even at breakfast. At first, it was a little strange not having cereal in the morning, but a bun cha, noodle broth with fresh mint and leaves, for breakfast is delicious. Veg food is pretty easy to come by too, especially if you’re not feeling the meat (yes, there is dog meat about) as you just say toi an chay. Simples (or it will be once we’ve mastered tones – more about that later). It’s great to be able to eat fresh. Coconut water straight out of the coconut is a particular highlight. Move over Vita Coco.
Standard breakfast, pho, and bia hoi on tap. Fabulous.
As street food here is as cheap, and sometimes cheaper than cooking at home, we will eat out virtually a lot of the time. You can easily get pho and a bia hoi (the national noodle soup and beer) for approx. 50 000 dong or less. That’s about £1.50. Best of all, it’s mostly al fresco. Divine. Green tea is almost always free too. To my delight, coffee is also everywhere. It turns out that Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee in the world. A glass of iced coffee here is so refreshing; strong, slightly sweet, and also somehow thicker than what I’m used to. Wonderful. What’s not to love?
Well, so far, my only bad experience has involved spider. Pathetic, I know. But hear me out. As we strolled home from the Old Quarter at midnight one evening we noticed something run across the road. When it stopped we realised it was a huge, grey-ey/white-ey/horrible-ey spider as big as my hand. Despite being terrified we still took photos (social media era or what?), and Jur decided she would be brave and try to pick it up. Some nearby locals noticed us wetting ourselves, and probably found it highly amusing. ‘Yes, spider, ‘they said ‘it’s fine.’ Hopefully, that means we can say it’s not venomous which will help me sleep a tiny bit easier at night.
Just look at the legs!
What’s that you say? You can’t see?
On that note, I’m off for a coffee to get the image out of my mind. See ya!