The honeymoon begins! Let us take it way way back to Saturday, March 14, 2015. Pi Day. An epic Pi Day for many reasons, not least of which being the start of our trip.
We began our adventure in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city - wait, scratch that. We really began our adventure at JFK airport, where we embarked on our 375 hour plane journey. I exaggerate, but ever so slightly. Our first flight was 14 hours, up and over the North Pole, with a short layover in Seoul before another four hour flight to Hanoi. The flights were not as bad as I'd feared, but certainly not great. We flew Asiana Airlines which is a Korean airline and suuuper classy. We got these rad little slippers for walking around the plane, free booze, which certainly didn't hurt when it came to naptime and multiple meals. When the first meal service came around, about an hour into the flight, around 2 PM, we had the option of Korean or Western and, feeling adventurous, we opted for Korean. We were served really yummy beef bibimbap in real dishware with actual silverware and everything. Very schmance. And pretty tasty! There was also a small cup of soup which one of us instantly spilled all over our laps.
GUESS WHAT it wasn't me!!! It was Brian and I felt for him, y'all, I did, knowing he'd have to spend the next 13 hours in soup-stained pants (one of like 2 pairs he had, since we were "packing light"). BUTTTT also the part of me that is horrible and evil was just gleefully reveling at the fact that for once it wasn't me covered in food.
Ol' Soupypants looking cute at JFK.
We spent the next million hours napping, eating not one but TWO more beef and rice bowls (answering the question: how many airplane bibimbaps is too many airplane bibimbaps) and watching such cinematic masterpieces as Legends of the Fall. They didn't have amazing movie options but did have about 10 different Brad Pitt films. I guess he's big in Korea - or at least on Korean airlines? Who even knows. I'm not complaining. We arrived in Hanoi around 10 PM Sunday night and waited on the longest-ever customs line where I was a totally relaxed and calm and patient individual (LOL as if). Our hotel sent a driver to pick us up, so we were able to be whisked right away without having to haggle with any taxis - a blessing, as we've heard that can be a bit of a nightmare.
Our hotel, the Hanoi Elite Hotel was absolutely adorable with great service, our favorite place we stayed all trip. Buildings in Hanoi are taxed on width, so all of the buildings are tall, skinny and deep. We were in a teeny room on the 6th floor of a skinny-mini building, where were greeted with fresh mango juice and rose petals on the bed.
Que romantique! We were asleep in moments.
We woke early the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed. It was nice arriving at night - instead of trying to stay awake all day to fight jetlag, we were able to just pass out right away and begin the next day reenergized. After a hearty American-style breakfast at our hotel (every hotel we stayed in served western breakfasts: eggs, toast, the works. Loathe as I am to admit my Americanness, it was nice to start the day with some comfort foods.)
The rest of the day was essentially spent just wandering around town. New York is wild, sure, but Hanoi is absolute madness! Everyone rides motorbikes and there seem to be no traffic laws like, whatsoever. They ride in every direction, up on the sidewalk, barely avoiding collision, it seems. As Kate says, "crossing the street feels like you’re playing a terrifying game of chicken." So true. You just have to step off the sidewalk, keep your eyes in front of you and march across the street. Don't look at the drivers, don't hesitate, don't turn back. And they'll go right around you! It took us basically the whole day to get the hang of it but I'd like to think we were pros by the end of it.
Our first stop was Hoan Kiem Lake, aka the "Lake of the Returned Sword." Think The Sword and the Stone, except with a lake, not a rock! And no Merlin.
Temple on an island in the middle of Hoak Kiem Lake (take the red bridge in the first photo over to here.)
Coffee break at Caphe Pho Co - this became our favorite little spot, I think we visited four times! You enter on the ground floor through a silk shop, go to the back of the shop and then take a windy staircase up to a balcony overlooking the lake and the city. Coffee culture is very important - and delicious - in Vietnam. Traditionally it's served strong but sweet, with condensed milk. You'll get a glass with some milk in the bottom and a tiny little coffee filter balances on the dop, dripping the coffee down into the milk. Stir & drink, yum. This coffee here in this expert, magazine quality photo, is egg coffee - egg whipped up into the coffee, very frothy and rich. It almost has the consistency of a coffee milkshake...but warm. Sounds super gross, but trust me!
Hotts at Pho Co. The spiral staircase in the back leads up the the patio!
Next stop: Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university.
Your resident book nerd, literally worship at the altar of lit-ra-cha!
We then wandered back into the Old Quarter where our hotel was located...along with most of the tourist activity!
Also known as the "36 Streets," originally this was the main area of town and the, you guessed it, 36 streets that made up the city. The vendors on each street specialized in a different craft or product - silk, fish, flowers, etc - and the streets are named after the original materials sold there - i.e. Silk Street, Fish Street, Flower Street...you're smarter than you look, you get it. Though the wares have since changed, they maintain the same structure. There were full streets dedicated to toys, to sewing tools, even a whole street of packing supplies! Just stores and stores and stores full of TAPE. Fascinating and hilarious. Less hilarious later in the night when I wanted to buy a pair of flip-flops and we couldn't find them anywhere and got ourselves lost looking for Shoe Street...but that's entirely beside the point here.
That evening we took a walking food tour of the Old Quarter. It was a perfect introduction to the city and to local dishes. (PS this is a Chekov's Gun moment wherein we begin to overestimate our ability to detect "safe" street foods. Dun Dun DUNNNN.) We were with a group of six other tourists, all super nice, and our guide who was incredibly sweet and enthusiastic. We spent several hours weaving all around the Quarter and had six different dishes: bun cha (rice noodles with pork meatballs), papaya salad, these little dumpling things that I forget the name for (made with rice paper and we got to test our hand at making rice paper! ), bo bia (rice pancakes filled with roasted sugar cane, coconut & sesame seeds), spring rolls, fruit salad with condensed milk (a traditional treat with lots of unique fruits - jackfruit, mango, dragon fruit, longan) and then banh mi (sandwiches on French style baguettes with pork, pate, herbs and veggies) and another egg coffee.
We were fully stuffed and ended the night with a few bias (that'd be beers!) at "Bia Corner" an intersection of five (!) streets in the Old Quarter. The bars set little stools outside facing into the square and beers cost about 35 American cents (!!) and you just sit and drink cheap beer and people watch.
Aka: my dream evening.
It was a blast watching the bustle of the night - motorbikes weaving in and out, vendors selling treats or cigarettes, young Vietnamese people out for the night, kids running about, tourists in ALL manner of dress and decoration. I could have spent the rest of the trip just sitting there, I do believe.
As you may guess, I did not do that. We called it a night around 10 as we had an early wake-up call for the next day's adventure: Halong Bay!
And that, my friends, is another tale for another time. One day down: 13 to go. Buckle up!