After I zipped my way through the country including 4 days on the Mekong, cool days in Da Lat and beauty in Ninh Binh, I found myself in the countries capital, Hanoi. To be honest I had nothing on my 'To Do' list for the city, but then again I don't tend to stay in the big cities for all that long. True to my nature I began making my exit plans almost as fast as I arrived. To be fair though it was 1 million degrees in the city and I was ready for some alone time.
After we found ourselves a cheap room we decided to venture out for an afternoon beer. I had my mind set on one of the CHEAP (5,000 dong ~ 25 cent) "fresh beers" at the Bia Hoi's scattered around the city but finding one was proving to be more difficult than expected. Apparently, Andrew didn't get what I was after when he suggested a few other bars, eventually we were on the same page, asked a few locals and found what we were looking for. We paired our beers with some french fries and dumplings (we figured we should eat something that day) and enjoyed the afternoon. The rest of the day was pretty much a wash though; shower, nap, night market (not worth it) and back to bed, I guess the last few nights of travel had taken their toll on me.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, before even stepping out into the heat of the city I knew it was going to be a rough day. I really just wanted some alone time but had already made plans with Andrew to explore the city so I sucked it up and out we went. I scheduled a quick detour into our morning route so I could buy my train ticket for later in the evening (yes, I gave Hanoi one whole day of my time) before we made our way to the Hoi Chi Minh memorial. We were en route to see a corpse but all I could think about was how freaking hot and crowded the city was, yet I for some reason still insisted we walk.
As we neared the mausoleum my excitement started to fade (not that I started with much to begin with). The line appeared to stretch on forever, wrapping back and forth through streets, filled with (annoying, I swear I don't judge) tourists. I wasn't amped about the prospect of waiting in this line to see a creepy, old, preserved body but when we finally found the end of the line my problems were solved. Apparently, I was too scantily clad (short shorts and a tank top for 100-degree weather, who would have guessed) and was turned towards the shop to buy clothes to cover up with. See ya later. I told Andrew to go on without me but he insisted it wasn't a big deal and that he would just come back a different day, seeing as he was staying in the city more than 24 hours. Instead, we made a stop in the HCM museum (not very impressive for 20,000 dong).
Having failed to eat breakfast my stomach was making some pretty evil sounds of anger at this point, so needless to say this took away a majority of my attention during the museum tour. Despite my yearnings for food we decided to try and seek out HCM's birth home (same grounds) but I guess you had to stand in the same ridiculous line for that so needless to say we didn't make it. Instead, we made our way back towards the hostel, a walk that felt like an eternity, until my stomach was filled with a big delicious plate of rice, spinach, omelet, and tofu. As I was leaving Andrew decided to change hostels to the one down the street (more of a backpacker/party feel) so we needed to get back in time for checkout. I left my bag with the front desk and took the opportunity to escape, I was ready for a bit of my own space. I opted for an afternoon fo air-conditioned coffee shops (yes, plural) and catching up on some picture editing and blogging. I almost felt bad for not exploring more of the city buuuut not really.
One thing I did do, which proved to be my best experience/memory from the city, was spend a few hours at Huang Xai Lake. This is a popular place for both locals and tourists to congregate in the late afternoon. I watched as old men played checkers, young lovers spend time together, new puppies roam free and various other activities. As I sat reading not once but twice was I approached by students wanting to practice their English with me. The first girl was clearly following a script of questions and didn't last too long but the second duo stuck around for a while. The girl was only 15 and although she insisted on having "poor English", spoke with confidence that led me to believe otherwise. As I looked around the lake I realized other students were doing the same, taking advantage of the numerous tourists with nothing but time to kill and English to speak. This happened to me once before in Cambodia and to all of these kids, I nod my head in admiration. Willingness to make an effort and notice opportunity proves how successful these kids will be in the future. I remember students in Korea asking me how to speak better but immediately coiled away with fear when I told them to talk with foreigners. This is really unfortunate considering a large majority of the English speaking tourists in Korea are English teachers. Anyway back to Vietnam, these students brought a breath of fresh air to my hot, noisy, crowded day in the city.
I was warned that I'd either love it or hate it. For some Vietnam is a food and adventure paradise while others just can't seem to find their grove. With a turbulent history and remains of division between north and south, it's an interesting place to say the least.