We walked into Hanoi like old pros. We’d been on the road a long time, and we were wrapping up our last country (kind of) on the trip. You want to know the first thing that happened to us after we enjoyed some “corner beer” where you sit on tiny chairs and drink sour home brewed beer while traffic whizzes by for $0.17?
We were ROBBED (almost)! It was the craziest thing because I was wearing the backpack (usually Joshua is), and we were walking around the lake in the center of old town Hanoi around 7pm on a Wednesday (not prime time crook hours from our experience). We were chatting about what it was going to be like when we get home, get jobs, etc. All of a sudden I heard the sound of a zipper, turned around and socked a guy right in the chest. I started yelling at him, “thief, crook” whatever came to mind. Joshua was still talking about his ideal company! Finally, he figured out that I had stopped and that I was yelling in some guys face (who was also in MINE). He was cussing back at me! The thief made no move to get away…I don’t know, does that make him look more or less guilty?! Joshua checked his pockets while I checked the backpack for missing items. None that we could find. Then Joshua snapped a photo. We spent an hour trying to find the police, in the tourist district mind you, because we KNEW it was going to happen to someone else. Almost 20 months incident free…good ol’ Hanoi keeping it real and keeping us on our toes! I continued to have dreams that I had used my childhood karate on him instead of swinging right at his chest, but I also don’t want to be fighting a skinny Vietnamese on the streets of Vietnam…let’s be real.
Here he is for general posterity (the guy with the cigarette in his mouth…because robbing people makes humans crave nicotine?!):
This is right about the spot we stopped to take a picture of the lake in historic Hanoi before our friend decided to check out the contents of our backpack.
Aside from the small robbery blip, Hanoi turned out to be one of the most hospitable cities we have visited. We pre-booked the Hanoi B&B Hostel and we were SO GLAD we did. Tony, the manager, was the most helpful, considerate hotel manager we’ve ever encountered both on the trip and in our lives. We arrived early in the morning…far too early to check into a room (like 8am). He offered us complimentary breakfast and a room immediately (even though they were almost full). Every morning we were more and more impressed with him and his staff for being so attentive and courteous. We stayed on and off for the good part of a week, leaving for day trips and overnights, but always returning. Once we arrived on a night bus from Sapa only to leave that same night down south–Tony not only held our bags for the day, but gave us a room to rest and freshen up in because I was under the weather! Unbeatable service!
As for activities, we visited the Hanoi “Hilton” or the prison where the likes of John McCain were held (and tortured) during the war. We noticed the smiling faces, Christmas dinner pictures and abundance of activities like basketball in the photos on the wall.
We checked out the Temple of Literature where students go to pray for good grades and high exam scores. There were several groups of students lighting incense; they must have been preparing for a special test. Joshua and I danced through the incense, remembering UCLA days and being thankful we no longer have to study.
One of the more hilarious stops was the Water Puppet Theater where Joshua and I enjoyed a performance by the Thang Long puppet group. This technique was apparently started during flood season, since work was difficult, farmers would make up puppet shows while standing waist-deep in water sometimes controlling more than one puppet at a time. Totally mind-boggling.
In between sights, Joshua and I did our best at eating (and not being sick, but I continue to fail at that) . Vietnamese is one of my favorite cuisines, but we were disappointed in the lack of freshness in the food we found. I was expecting to down Banh Mi and Bun Thit Nuong on every corner. Instead, I felt like everything was greasy, old and poor quality. We stuck to pho which is hard to do wrong (and ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Except even then, they would deep fry pieces of (mostly stale) bread to dunk in. Hanoi knows how to clog an artery! But of course, the fact you sit on the side of the road on miniature stools provided some “after meal exercise.”
One of the promises I made to myself early in the trip was that I would spoil myself with manicures and pedicures once we got to Vietnam. For $4, each of us enjoyed the FIRST mani/pedi we’d had for the entire trip. I know, seriously gross, but so, so worth it. The mindset is strong right now, “Treat yo self!” (Look at Joshua’s face…who wouldn’t want to spoil him!)