Day 8 – Our days on the sleeper trains behind us, we caught an early flight to Hanoi. Even before getting to our new city, we all kind of silently wrote this day off as a transit day.
Feeling sleepy and travel-worn (none more than those world trekkers, @nomadderthedistance), we checked into our Hanoi home base, My Moon Hotel. A huge plastic cherry blossom featured prominently in the entrance. Another prominent feature was the far too enthusiastic hotel manager. I don’t even remember his name, but it’ll be hard to forget his manner. All of us were trying to blink the sleep away as he took a good half hour to tell us about the tours available to us through the hotel. Granted, to be fair, we were early to check-in and the staff was preparing the room for us while he talked. But he wasn’t just distracting us, he was also selling hard. And talking a lot. And definitely not reading the room. Eventually, he freed us from his grasp. Sorta. The rest of our stay, whenever he spotted us, he was like a chicle (a sticky piece of gum), following us everywhere, asking about our stay, invading personal space, lingering far past his welcome. It’s hard to describe him… I’m coming off as the jerk here, but just trust me. Annoying insistence mixed with awkwardness and a keen desire to sell all the things while being hospitable made for an irritable experience.
Our room though, while hilarious (besteads are white/pink and pocked with giant jewels), is totally comfortable, and despite our hotel shadow, My Moon is quite cozy. Perhaps too cozy. We napped longer than we should have, and ventured out into the buzz and madness of Hanoi only as the sun was starting to set.
The city of Hanoi is the strongest Vietnamese flavor I’ve encountered yet. The first thing that struck me as we were driving to our hotel, and then again as we explored on foot, is the thick haze that covers everything. It turns out that Hanoi boasts the dubious honor of being one of the most polluted cities on earth. In fact, in May 2015 it held the number one spot for a few months. You don’t just see the pollution, you can feel it. The air is thick in your lungs, eyes are quick to water and are constantly irritated, and lets just not talk about what happened to my complexion.
If I thought Ho Chi Minh was a hive of energy, excitement, and hussle, then I hardly have words to describe the craziness of Hanoi. It is absolutely wild. Street crossings are more death-defying than ever. Narrow walkways are thick with people selling fruits, Vietnamese diners eating pho on the curb, chickens running around free (and maybe cock-a-doodling right when you pass them, scaring the bejeezus out of you). Trash is everywhere you look. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city that felt more littered and, to be honest, dirty.
I have to admit, city girl tho I am, I was feeling mad overwhelmed. Funnily enough, apparently Hanoi dwellers find Ho Chi Minh city to be the more bustling of the two, but I’m afraid that, based on my short day and a half stay in HCMC, I must emphatically disagree.
Overstimulated and tired, my decision centers were all out of wack, and I took us to a dinner spot that was mediocre at best, and left us with a stomach ache. A lesson I’ve learned about finding good restaurants here: for breakfast, find the tourists. Vietnamese bfasts aren’t our jam, and we prefer more traditional Western eats. Finding a spot crammed with tourists is the way to go. On the other hand, for lunch and dinner, follow the locals. Stay away from fancy/manicured spots. The basic rule of thumb is, if the seating (and table) consists of a one-foot-tall plastic stool and there’s not a touristy face to be seen (and maybe you’re slightly worried about look/cleanliness of the restaurant), then you’re sure to have a taste-bud shattering life-changingly delicious meal.
After our bla dinner, with a bit of a stomach ache, we turned in for the night. We’d need a full night of sleep to properly gird our loins for a sunrise to sunset day of Hanoi hussle on the morrow.