Apologies for the long delay in posts. Since leaving Japan and arriving in Hanoi, life has gotten pretty crazy. Good crazy. Awesome crazy, in fact.
To get right into it, what I’ve found entertaining is that I experienced next to no culture shock in arriving in Tokyo from Canada, save for the language barrier” but I initially found major culture shock in coming from Tokyo to Hanoi. In Tokyo, things are highly efficient, immaculately clean, and intensely organized. In Hanoi, things are chaotic, loud, and slightly grungy. And oh so smoggy. I’ve spent the last week staying with Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel, which is located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. If you’re heading to Hanoi anytime soon, and want a place to have a great time and meet tons of other great backpackers, I highly recommend this place.
The first day in Hanoi took a bit of adjusting, but the traffic reminded me of being in India. People drive all over the road, and at first glance it appears to be sheer insanity and every-person-for-themselves (which, to be fair, it is). However, with some more interaction and practice, there is a tiny bit of method to the madness. People still more-or-less drive on the right-hand side of the road, people yield to motorcycles and scooters, bikes and scooters yield to cars, and cars yield to buses. So as a pedestrian, you simply strategically walk within the traffic to avoid being hit. Again, at first it feels nearly suicidal to walk into a mass of scooters, all blaring their horns and seemingly not slowing down. Once you’re into it, however, you start to read the traffic and are able to predict who’s going to go which direction, and it actually becomes–wait for it–fairly easy.
Now, easy doesn’t translate to stress free. And that said, Braydon and I have both gotten pretty fed up with the craziness of this city, and are ready to get out somewhere more quiet. But more on that later.
First I want to speak to the food culture in Vietnam. In reading about Vietnam, along with most other places in Southeast Asia, you get a lot of advice to avoid street food, water, ice, and most other things that don’t come pre-packaged. I definitely stick to the water idea–only seal bottled water. But the food. The food has been unbelievable. My bit of advice on street food is: if there’s a place so packed with locals that there are three floors of seats full, and tables outside full, they must be doing something right. And thus far it’s held perfectly true. I have had the best spring rolls ever from a little spot absolutely crammed with people on the street. Massive plates of noodles with shrimp and pork that are to die for. And delicious Bun Cha, which is a standard dish that includes a plate of noodles, some broth with grilled pork in it, and a basket of greens. You mix it all together as you eat, and it is absolutely delicious. And did I mention it only costs $1.50? Yes, the food has been unforgettable.
Beyond food in Hanoi, we’ve spent plenty of time wandering the streets, checking out a few local cultural sights, and meeting tons of great people. We went to see a water puppet show, which is an ancient art that’s been passed down through many, many generations. Thought to have started in the 11th century, once possible reason for the art was to appease spirits which people believed controlled all aspects of their lives.
We also went to the “Hanoi Hilton”, or the Hoa Lo Prison, where many Vietnamese were held during what we know as the Vietnam War. It was absolutely fascinating to see and read about the Vietnamese perspective of the war and what happened.
On Tuesday Braydon and I left for a tour to Ha Long Bay called Castaways with the hostel we’re staying at, Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel. That’s going to be it’s own separate blog post because it was such a freaking amazing time. After returning from Castaways, we quickly took off toward Hue, Vietnam.