Hey, I’m in Asia!! Never in a million years did I think I would find myself in Vietnam, but here I am!! Proud I made it here. Hanoi, so far, the land of: humidity (I mean 100%, on top of 90 degrees), motorbikes (6 million of them, no joke), and yummy noodles (when they don’t give you the poops).
Hanoi is one of the noisiest cities in the world and according to our welcome packet, has 9 million people, 6 million motorbikes, 500,000 cars, and 18,000 construction projects going on at once. We received ear plugs upon arrival at the airport. It is also known to be quite smelly, a lot of times smelling like noodles but also large hints of trash. No one really walks here because sidewalks are uncommon and when they exist, they’re covered in parked motorbikes. It’s hard to describe the true organized chaos you witness every time you leave the apartment.
Cultural Differences (oh so many):
- Americans need a visa to get into Vietnam. I got mine here which like all the possible sites, looks incredibly sketchy and kind of like your sending your money to some kid who just learned how to build websites. Anyway, there are 30 day and 90 days visas and lucky for us we’re there for 35 days. There’s also the choice between single entry or multiple entry depending if you’re planning to leave the country and come back at all during that time. They email you a printable entry form and you need that along with: 2 passport photos and 25 USD for arrival.
- Instead of ordering an Uber for a car ride here, you can order a Grab in the form of car or motorbike! Naturally, I had to try motorbike.
- The currency is the dong. And no, I haven’t stopped laughing yet. Had a little trouble getting the dong out at first, but now I got some dong. 1 dollar is 24,000 dong. My groceries were 1,000,000 dong. Most places just say 24k or 50k as the prices but like whyyy??
- Part of the reason it’s so noisy is there’s constant honking. Except unlike in New England where people are saying ‘get out of the way you asshole!’, it’s more like ‘hey, I’m here *beep beep*’ and all the time.
- Ha Noi in Vietnamese translates to ‘in river’, suitably so as it’s on the Red River
- It’s hard to describe the busy streets, but I had to steal this GIF from our City Welcome. It’s very accurate. Just put your head down and don’t stop walking, the motorbikes will adjust to you. I also appreciated the advice when asked: Should we wait at the crosswalks? Response: if you wait, you will wait all day.’
- Took a language class this week. Vietnamese is quite interesting. There are no gendered items or verbs, no conjugations of verbs, and no tenses. Sounds easy right? Wrong. There are also 6 TONES! The example we were given:
- MA means ghost
- MÁ means mother
- MÀ means come on
- MẠ means little rice field
- MÃ means code
- MẢ means grave
Safe to say I won’t be fluent any time soon. And yes, those 6 things sounded the same to me. I have a hard enough time with thank you and hello. Xin chào! Interestingly, they say once you can speak fluently, it’s really quick to learn reading and writing. One plus is that at least the language is written in the Latin alphabet and not characters.
- I tried Pho for the first time this week (ever)! And I think I’ll never be able to have it in the states because now I’ve had the authentic version. Pho is one of many traditional noodle dishes. Really just made of rice noodles and broth (and usually some meat).
Week in Review
- Arrive at 6am off very little sleep so spend most of the day in bed
- Spend 40 minutes walking around the small grocery store trying to identify things. And yes, somehow I ended up with corn flakes even though I don’t even eat those at home. Also successfully located peanut butter. Is this how international travel is done? I did get rice noodles…haven’t cooked them yet but they’re there.
- Dinner at Puku Café, a pretty expat bar, and try some fried rice. Figured it was a safe bet for first night.
- Wander to the night market. Honestly my favorite place so far because they blocked a huge section of the road to only pedestrians and it was the quietest, coolest spot in the city. Completed by an old man dedicatedly doing his thing to the chicken dance music.
- Weird to celebrate Memorial Day where Americans were once at war
- City welcome where we learned the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Hanoi
- Wandered with Simone and Tim to the famous ‘train street’, an active railroad turned touristy alley on off hours (yes, there are set times when the train runs through)
- Drinks and chill on the rooftop of the Apricot Hotel with some other remotes. Thank goodness for rooftops as a break from the madness
- Pho at An’s Restaurant with some remotes. Also tried some spring rolls AND my new favorite fruit lychee. How have I never had one before!?
- Watch the Bruins first Stanley Cup game with breakfast! Very strange for it to be in the morning.
- Language Class
- First trip to the gym. In true Vietnam style, picture a 4 floor club turned gym, filled with people that all don’t look like me, and whose locker rooms are like Grand Central station if everyone was in towels (or nothing). Sprinkle in the interesting hip exercises that the older women do and the pink lighted mirror room, and it’s a sight to see…thanks California Fitness.
- Food prep. Gonna be a lot of cooked veggies for a while.
- Work at the new workspace. I have to say, this one is the best so far! We have the entire space to ourselves, and there are a lot of glass breakout rooms instead of tiny phone call booths.
- Made an appointment to get my eyebrows done. For those wondering, we rely heavily on recommendations from previous remotes on beauty stuff. So far I’ve had great luck!
- Appointment was 6km away so I thought great, an excuse for a long walk. Well as I mentioned, walking is not the best. It was quite a stressful hour plus walk.
- Not wanting to repeat the walk on the way back, I called a motorbike using Grab (well first I had to find WiFi because Google Fi isn’t great here). I was so excited that I entered the wrong address and was taken 6km beyond the place I wanted. Soooo I had to find WiFi again, avoid getting the same Grab bike, and take another ride back home. On the bright side, I got a great tour of Hanoi AND it only cost me $1. And hey, it was a lot of fun!!
- Work, gym, work.
- Somewhat slow and normal day….well if normal is getting up 2pm. Jet lag hit hard.
- Work and Bachelorette night
- Went to the gym and the weirdest thing happened! I was minding my own business on the bike, and some older woman came up behind me, stood, and laughed at me for a solid minute even after I acknowledged she was laughing at me. Whhaattt!?! Never seen a white person before??
- Dinner with Lindsay at a really yummy Indian restaurant near the workspace called Namaste Hanoi.
- Drinks after work with some Remotes at The Alchemist Bar.
- Stroll through the regular weekend night market. Safe to say I like Hanoi better at night, can’t see how dirty it is ha. Market stretched along a whole street and was filled with clothing, shoe, and food vendors. Lots going on but cool.
- Shopping day with Lindsay! Lottsss of shops to pop into along Shoe Street and Silk Street. Our favorite was called Gingko.
- Get caught in our first monsoon and spend it inside the Hanoi Ancient House. Just a quick visit and tour through a typical Vietnamese home. Complete with the prayer room, kitchen, and loft for the grandparents to reside and watch below.
- Much needed night in
Sunday- Ninh Binh Day Trip!!
- Bus to the Bai Dinh Pagoda, about 2 hours south of Hanoi, with 5 other remotes and an Indian couple. This is the tour we took, and I would highly recommend!
- Our tour guide Wendy, who resembled a cartoon character and really made my day with her energy, guided us through the pagoda. Note: pagoda is the specific word for a Buddhist temple.
- The Bai Dinh Pagoda:
- Now the second largest pagoda in Southeast Asia.
- Complete with large prayer buildings, a huge garden, and corridors all around containing around 400 Buddha statues
- Walk in the right side of doors to enter the future and out the left to leave the past (center is for monks and nuns)
- People leave gifts at the base of statues upon entering and then take them upon leaving as a peace offering
- Bai means pray and dinh means top of mountain so it’s ‘pray to the top of the mountain’
- Great EXCEPT it was sooooo hot and women had to ‘cover our knees’ aka wear pants or a skirt. In my case, somehow sweatpants was a good idea.
- 4 holy animals of Vietnam: dragon, turtle, unicorn, phoenix
- Bus to a resort in the middle of the mountains for a buffet lunch. Absolutely delicious. Tried dragon fruit and loved it!
- Grabbed bikes and rode around a village of Trang An. The greenery and mountains were stunning, the quiet was much needed, and it really felt like I was in a movie. Made friends with Wendy, too. She taught me how to selfie with an ‘ok’ sign.
- Final activity of day was a 2 hour boat in Trang An (which you could do on your own too). There were hundreds of little rowing boats, powered by local farmers, which tourists hopped into in groups of 4. Our captain was a little grumpy and kept hitting us to tell us to slide left or right.
- The time was spent weaving down the river, under caves, past little islands, and through the mountains. I chatted with a Remote Year staff member and really relaxed and took in the peace.
- Bus ride back to the city.
- Dinner at Quán Ăn Ngon, a typical Vietnamese restaurant at the end of our street. Had some chicken pho and an amazing passionfruit/kumquat juice.
This has been the roughest transition for me by far. It’s a 5 hour time difference from Spain, 11 hours from home. The constant fear of getting sick, sweating every time I step out the door, and the crazy street commotion are very overwhelming. Add in the fact that there are zero blue sky days, it’s been a bit gloomy. Oh and the fact that I’ve been travelling for 4.5 months straight with little downtime. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought about flying home right this second (and I still might!). I am trying to find the balance between pushing my comfort zone and not enjoying it at all. Because as we were asked in the welcome event: so what’s the good part of Vietnam and Asia in general?
Some positives: Don’t need adapters here! I can finally use my regular cords and chargers. Best workspace so far and an apartment with good AC. Still got a great group of people with me. Friendly people live here. The countryside is SOO BEAUTIFUL and unique.
I am going to take it day by day, continuing to build time for myself and just staying in if I feel like it. I guess one bright side is spa treatments are rampant and really cheap! May have to #treatmyself.
Here’s to learning about me and taking it slow!
(And HUGE thanks, especially now, to those at home, you know who you are, that have talked me through things!)