Well if there’s one thing Hanoi wasn’t, it’s uneventful. We experienced so much in the little time that we spent there, and made some great new friends along the way.
We spent the first two days with Lam, a friend we met through Couchsurfing. He kindly collected us from our bus stop in the early hours of the morning and brought us back to meet his housemates, friends of his from uni. We wanted to explore a bit of Hanoi on foot that day, so Lam pointed us in the direction of the city-bound bus and we were on our way.
We spent the morning walking the streets of Old Quarter, before circling Hoan Kiem Lake and then breaking for lunch. We came across a little place down an alleyway selling banh cuon, a dish that Anita has been wanting to try for some time. It’s basically a thin rice batter cooked and stuffed with pork mince and wood ear mushroom. They were pretty good, but I seemed to enjoy watching how they were made even more. After a little more walking, Lam and his friends picked us up and took us to dinner.
We were taken to a banh mi vendor near their uni which they believed were the best in Hanoi. To be fair, they were pretty damn tasty. After that, we were taken to the tables next door for the main course – chao long. Now it’s not so much the rice porridge of chao long that makes it so “interesting”, but more so the cubes of congealed pig’s blood, sliced liver and tubular innards that go with it. I’m not sure if it was the textures, flavours, or both, but Anita and I struggled to finish our bowls, as much as we tried to so as to not offend our new friends. Thankfully, we were able to cleanse our tastebuds with a cup of mixed jellies and fruit for dessert.
Just as we thought the night was over, we were taken to a local uni hangout where short, red plastic tables and stools were crammed together outside for students to drink sugary teas, milks and juices. It’s funny, in Australia uni students would be dropping shots of jägermeister into redbull and skulling beers, but the Vietnamese are perfectly happy with their juice. It was nice to see, actually.
Our last stop off for the night was a type of “lovers bridge”, where young couples pull to the side of the road to look out over Hanoi city. The funny thing is this bridge is on a freeway, meaning trucks, cars and motorbikes are screaming past at the same time. Lam also pointed to the next bridge down, telling us that it’s where the suicidals go to jump. Not the most romantic place I could think of, but still a nice outlook.
The following day Lam and his friends took us to Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam, Vietnam’s first national university built in 1070. After a wander, we grabbed a big bowl of pho for lunch and headed to Giang Cafe for an egg coffee, another of Hanoi’s local favourites. After a full day, we sat down to a home-cooked dinner with the boys before saying our final goodbyes, as the following day we would join Trang and Long, a couple from Hanoi, for a four night workstay.
As Anita and I arrived at our workstay the next day, Long met us at the front with his cousin and took us to breakfast. Moments after sitting down, what should hit the table but a big plate of congealed pig’s blood, sliced liver and tubular innards. Just when we thought we’d seen the last of it. Long’s cousin then whipped out a bottle of home-brewed rice wine and began to poor us all shots. Yep, at our 9am breakfast. The owner of the restaurant even joined us, asking for a photo with me, “the foreigner”.
As Anita and I politely picked at the chunks of pigs intenstine and drank shot after shot of rice wine, a small bowl of bright red sauce with crushed peanuts and a wedge of lime hit the table. I asked Long what it was, to which he replied with a smile “tiet canh – fresh pig’s blood”. Being the adventurous-type that I am I said yes to trying it, but Long sternly said “no” and took it away from me. He went on to tell me that you can become extremely sick, even die, from eating fresh pig’s blood as it has the potential to carry disease. There have been many cases of this happening in Hanoi in recent years, so thank god Long was there to stop me!
After way too many breakfast shots, I suddenly remembered we had an interview for an upcoming workaway. Not only was it that day but it was only an hour away! We excused ourselves from breakfast, splashed some water on our faces and jumped into a taxi, heading straight for the interview with our heads still spinning from the rice wine. During the interview, the wine, which is actually more like a whiskey, luckily just relaxed us. That combined with the fact that the interviewer musn’t have been able to smell it on our breaths meant that it all went swimmingly.
Just when my head hit the pillow after getting home from the interview, a knock at the door reminded me that in my drunken stupor, I agreed to play soccer with Long’s cousin and friends that night. I peeled myself up from the bed, chucked on my hiking boots and the XS jersey I was thrown and headed to the game. Despite the 35 degree weather, the fact that I was delegated the high-pressure position of goalie on my first day and the splitting headache from the rice wine, it was actually pretty fun. Those boys can play!
On our last day, Trang and Long took us to a rural area to teach a class of children English. These classes were actually organised by Trang’s sister-in-law, who teaches on her weekends. I’d forgotten how much fun teaching young kids could be. They’re all just beaming with positive energy.
It was on our last night that we’d heard of the heavy rains up in the north of Vietnam. There had been flash flooding and landslides in Lao Cai, and the rain was starting to pick up in Ha Giang, where our 4am bus was headed.
It was 2am, only two hours before our bus north that we decided to pull the pin and fly to Sri Lanka, where it’s apparently one of the best times of the year to visit. Anita and I have always wanted to visit Sri Lanka, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. We found a cheap flight leaving at 4pm that afternoon, clicked “buy”, and climbed into bed.
Vietnam, it’s been fun.