DAY 46 continued..
I’m happy the train ride was quick. I booked a single seat in the AC car, again. This time when I got on a man was in my seat- the window seat, and seemed displeased to see me. I showed him my ticket so he switched to the seat next to mine, in the aisle. He proceeded to take off his shoes and then sit criss-cross-applesauce beside me. Now his knees were in my space and I could smell his feet. I have been pretty stuffed up lately- allergies. So either his feet were that rank or I can miraculously only smell the bad. The whole train stunk. I somehow took a nap. I didn’t want to, I was worried about my belongings. Exhausted, I dozed off while trying to go through photos on my phone.
We made it to Hanoi. I grabbed my belongings and found myself in the nicest of terminals in all of my stops. Too bad I was arriving and not waiting to depart- these trains often are delayed at the last minute; this would be a treminal I’d rather be stuck in. Upon leaving, I was ambushed by motorbike taxis and ran to a corner to get some information. The soliciting drivers were overwhelmingly rude. A friendly lady gave me a WiFi password and I booked with Grab instead. Even while I was waiting they wouldn’t stop trying to take me to my hotel- telling me to cancel my grab etc. I was relieved to see my driver.
The quick relief was replaced by adrenaline. This driver was a bit reckless and I felt the traffic here was a little more dangerous than Ho Chi Minh City. The chaos there, although crazier, was somehow respectable. Here it was more like NYC- just watch out. Meanwhile, my driver is running lights and getting close to hitting people. Alas, I made it.
I was staying at Cocoon Hostel. Even though I never met any travelers here, it remains at the top of my list for best hostel ever. The beds, the privacy, the lockers, the cleanliness, everything… you name it, they did it the best. They were just missing a pool but I had the best weather for both my days.
Let me begin from the start:
When I was all settled in I reached out to Sara to let her know I was here. I met Sara in Siem Reap and we finally crossed paths again in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was inevitable. She arrived a little earlier than I had and was staying somewhere else. We decided to meet up for dinner to catch up. I looked up her hostel and it was only a 4 minute walk from mine. After making plans to meet up later, I tried to take a nap. I think she napped, too, as she went ghost on text. Then she messaged me suddenly at the time we were meant to meet up and I was off to find her.
Reconecting with a friend in a new country
The things she had gotten into in the 3 weeks we were apart were fascinating. I loved hearing her stories. Except one story- she had a minor motorbike accident while doing a motorbike tour with a group. It could’ve been much worse but she trusted her instincts and jumped off the bike. This resulted in road rash, a bad cut and little bruising. Had she not jumped off she would’ve fallen about 4 feet into a stream with boulders, possibly with a motorbike on top of her. She was very fortunate. A little bandaged up but not too much- nothing to thwart her from her adventure.
While she was in Hoi An she met a lady from Hanoi who gave her all the best insider tips for food. She also met two guys, one from the UK and one from Hungary. They were in Hanoi now, too. She said they would join us. Before dinner I wanted to try egg coffee, we quickly found a place and I had one alone. She had tried it already when she arrived much earlier. She went to a different cafe. I assume since she didn’t have another she must not have liked it. Me? It’s something I miss dearly since leaving.
After coffee we went back to her hostel to wait for the guy from Hungary- Atilla. Together the 3 of us walked away from the toursity overloaded streets to find a local street set up for roadside hotplate BBQ. It’s off Cau Long Bien (road) before the red river- we had a more specific address that ended with stall 20b, unfortunatley I cannot download the image from WhatsApp and I cannot recall the exact road. I know it was before the red river; you’d turn left from Cau Long Bien Road, so the wall to the river is on the right and you would be below the railroad- ground level. I did an intense GoogleMaps search but cannot locate it on the map.
Tim, from London, showed up soon after. We sat very low at our table- knees above the top. The waiter brought over a make shift ‘grill’ with a flat top, butter, fish oil, meet and vegetables. We would cook it ourselves. Sort of like The Melting Pot, without the broth. We cooked as best as we could and had beers- this is a MUST! Once we had finished our meal we extended our beers to Sara’s rooftop. The boys left early because they had an early adventure to Ha Long Bay booked. Sara and I talked more until it just was too late and I was ready for bed. We made plans to take a city tour with OneTrip to see the Literature Temple the following day.
The Literature Temple, Hanoi
Day 47: May 28th.
The plans were more an idea. Both of us slept in until noon. We kept going back and forth with no solid game plan. I took a long shower and realized it was getting too late. She held me to my word and we did a ‘walking tour’. We started at OneTrip 2:30. Our guide called a cab and we went to the temple first. He told us about Confucianism, the influence of the temple, and the story behind the stone plaques. We walked through all 5 courtyards as he explained a little about the Feng Shui design.
Exploring Hanoi, VietNam
After the temple we went to find dessert at Chè Đà Nẵng. He showed us his favorite as well as 2 others- so we split and sampled 3 total. We had: Chè Khoai Dĕo, Chè Buöi, and sūa chua mít lá nêp. They were all very good but mostly textured with gelatin. One of them was a dessert made with potatoes. It was actually my favorite one. Potatoes and gelatin… Sounds weird, but I promise it is delicious. I’m always down to try a local favorite- foodie. After dessert we went to see street art. I saw beautiful graffiti from the windows of the train and was hoping to get pictures, it was really pretty.
Instead ‘street art’ loosley translates to the literal idea of at on the street… sort of like graffiti, I guess. This street art was definitly commissioned looking art- big murals made from all sorts of mediums. To find this street full of art you can use: 27 Phung Hung as the address on Google Maps. Be forewarned, you will see rotisserie dogs- face and all on the same street. As I mentioned before, I am a foodie, but this was a local food I wasn’t willing to try.
I took some pictures before the crowds started coming. With inspiration from the recycled wire piece we decided to check out the oldest railway bridge. This was the same bridge I crossed over on the train- I figured we must be getting closer to the graffiti. The street seemed so familiar but I couldn’t place it. Then Sara and I realized it was the same street from the BBQ. So during the day it is set up as stores to the left and the road is used by motorbikes and people, etc. Then at night the road is blocked by chairs and tables for the ‘restaurants’. So strange, it’s actually night and day. Seriously.
I hadn’t had a breakfast before we started, or lunch, considering I’d woke up at lunchtime. Even after the shared desserts I was still hungry I asked to at least find a smoothie. On the way to find a smoothie our guide shuttled us to turtle tower. We walked around the lake learning about the trees. We ended up at a coconut coffee place called Coffee Club. They serve smoothies, too. It’s a chain, but still worth checking out. I had a pressed juice. A seasonal fruit that was both sweet and bitter: Ambarella, like umbrella. Sara had a coconut mung bean drink that tasted like ice cream and our guide just sat with us.
He told us stories of how he used to come to Hanoi as a kid for his eye check-ups. He would come with his cousins and they’d go out for ice cream afterward. He really like Hanoi back then. Now he is going to school in Hanoi living in an apartment alone and he hates it. Quite a guide, Haha. I respect the honesty. I then ordered a similar drink to Sara but it’s with green rice instead of beans. It was pretty late for our guide so he parted ways with us. Sara wasn’t feeling well and took a cab home while I went off looking for sunglasses. I went to Aldo but didn’t find anything I liked. Then I went looking for a place to get a Brazilian. I was headed to the Phillipines and due for a wax.
Patrice and Brian gave me a street to checkout. They told me there were nice looking spas there. They were right. It took 3 tries but I found one in a hotel. I had the best wax of my life. Of course it still hurt. It hurt a little less though, 2 women worked together and they also took their time. It was very thorough. Then feeling a little generous I went back to the original spa for a 30 minute foot massage. The first 2 spas were partners. After my massage I’d meet up with Sara one last time. She wanted to try Bún Thịt Nướng. I’d had the Saigon version for breakfast. I loved it and was happy to have it again.
We didn’t go out until 10 pm. We found a place in the touristic area near our hostels that also accepted credit and had a feast! I needed a place to accept credit because I’d used all my cash to pay for my hotel to do my laundry, and my final day- an excursion to Ha Long Bay to include a taxi, too. Then I’d be off for Manila and have no more need for Vietnamese Dong. It would be pointless to take out any more cash. My laundry wouldn’t be ready until 11. We ate for more than an hour and I told her I had to go. I still needed to pack and wake up by 6am. It was sad to part ways, traveling solo for extended periods of time can get lonely. Everyone you meet is temporary and the conversations are typically the same. To make friends and meet up later is ideal.
I had to put my luggage in storage while I’d be gone for the day. I knew I would disturb the other dorm guests no matter what so I packed in the dark. Well I threw all my belongings onto my top bunk, closed the curtain and used my light up there. When I was finished I just stood my bag up in the corner and went to sleep. Another perk of this hostel was how they handled my belongings. Not only did they do a great job on my laundry and keeping track of all articles of clothing. They even allowed me to lock my bag in a monitored room on the top floor. When I came back from my trip they offered me a shower on the same floor. I was happy to have this option!
Tips in Hindsight:
I stayed at: https://cocooninn.com/
I had my brazillian at: https://dalvostrohotel.com/
I wish I had more time in Hanoi, although I wouldn’t switch the extended time I used in Hoi An. There are many divisions of the capital city. I spent majority of my time on the edge of the Old Quarter and lost an entire day to my trip to Halong Bay- wouldn’t trade this either… so it boils down to needing more time- overall. I had already purchased my ticket to the Philippines and if you know anything about traveling around those islands… you’ll understand due to the remote places I’d be going, I couldn’t just add a few days. On my ride to the airport I passed an amazing looking little district full of women riding bikes with huge bundles of gorgeous flowers piled high on the back! I’ll definitely be returning to VietNam regardless- It is my favorite country thus far in all my travels (22+ countries and counting).