I said goodbye to Neige and Rachel and began my journey to Hanoi, this time as a solitary traveller. I arrived in Hanoi in the later evening and grabbed a cab to go see Nate and Tali.
Nate and Tali are a wonderful couple I met while teaching in Chile. They only stayed in Chile for a couple of months, but could not afford the low pay, so decided to move back to Hanoi. They have been living there for about 2 years and I was very excited to see them. They live in an area of Hanoi called Westlake. I gave the cab driver the address and crossed my fingers I wouldn´t be dropped off in a ditch. Thankfully, I made it safe and sound and had a wonderful evening catching up over Chilean wine followed by an AWESOME dinner out. Seriously, one of the best meals of the trip.
Followed by fried frog legs, beef wrapped coconut rolls, fresh pho rolls with dill and wasabi soy dipping sauce and banana flower salad with dried beef served in a banana leaf.
View from Tali and Nate´s place
The next day we had a slow morning filled with coffee and delicious homemade crepes (Tali rocks).
We went to the park and had a delicious lunch (bun cha) with some of their friends from work, followed by some strong Vietnamese coffee.
Sunday night, I went to my hostel which was located in the Old Quarter which was originally built as a big market, each street named after the product it sold. For example, my street was Hang (Street) Ga (Chicken). Wikipedia says,
¨At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. Each street then had merchants and households specialised in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, etc. The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce.¨
The Lake (Hoan Kiem) near the Old quarter, is really lovely to walk around, both in the day and in the evening. It provides a moment of calm in a sea of motorcycles which can be pretty intense. Crossing the street feels like a game of frogger. Tali told me that buses are allowed to kill two people a year and not lose their licenses. At first I found the chaos fun but later it started to drive me a little nuts as crossing the street became a stress inducing activity.
I left on Monday morning to go to Halong Bay on an overnight boat tour. Halong Bay is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, and it is immediately clear why. The bay is filled with over 2,000 limestone islets that just straight up from the water. They almost look as though they are floating. Millions of years ago, Halong Bay was actually under deep-sea water, but through a combination of strange geological events, the sea water fell rapidly leaving these incredible rock formations.
We arrived in Halong around noon and then were ferried to the boat itself. I got REALLY lucky and got a room for two for just myself, which was great. The first day we went to Dau Go cave, which was made by the sea water years ago and is now preserved for tourists. It was enormous and very well-lit, but still hard to take good pictures.
Next we went to the beach where we were able to hike up to high point to take pictures of the bay.
The meals on the tour were really wonderful and around 5pm I was excited to go back for dinner. Post dinner we had cocktails on the boat and relaxed. I played a dice game called ¨worms¨and drank wine with a nice Dutch couple. the next day we headed back to the dock.
My only criticism was that the tour felt very couple-y which wasn´t much fun for single Grace, but there were other tours available which were more like ¨party boats¨ but I opted for the calmer tour.
I spent Tuesday evening, once I got home from the tour, checking out the bars in Hanoi with an Australian girl I met at the hostel. Hanoi has a curfew at 10pm, which is totally wild. Apparently this is some leftover regulation from Communist days, I´m not sure, but the cops come around 11pm to shut all the bars down. It was really interesting to witness. There is a cute cobble stone street right off the lake with some very cool bars. I especially likes Mao´s which has a Communist China decor and Fat Cat´s which had 1950s memorabilia as well as 70´s and 80´s disco and rock playing. When the cops came, we all had to put our drinks in plastic cups and go into the street until the left. It was strange. Nate told me there are also bars you can enter in secret, through people´s homes. It´s like being in Prohibition.
Rachel came to Hanoi Wednesday morning and we got some tasty Pho. She was tired and took a nap in the afternoon while I checked out Hao Lo Prison. It was pouring rain that day which was frustrating but the prison was very interesting. I was absolutely floored by some of the images of the Vietnam War. It became clear also that the American pilots were actually treated quite well at the Hanoi Hilton (well….for a prison) which is ASTOUNDING considering the damage they inflicted on the Vietnamese people. I left feeling sobered.
Nommy Banh Mi Sammy and Pho
That night, Rachel and I went out for more Cha Ca (tumeric fish with fresh herbs….so good!) and to go see a water puppet show. It was very interesting and only 45 minutes. Well worth the 5 dollars. We ended the night with some goodbye drinks at Mao´s.
Vietnam was hands down one of my favorite places I´ve ever visited and I´d love to go to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) someday. I was totally in love with the mix of old French colonial style building and traditional Vietnamese houses and how all three (French, American and Vietnamese) blend into many aspects of Hanoi´s culture. I hope to come back someday!
So, then it was back to Seoul for the night, then on to Seattle, and here I am! I suppose that concludes my adventuring for a bit. I may go back to using PicanteKitchen so stay tuned!