Friday, January 30, 2009

how to spend your first day in vietnam -- a step-by-step tutorial

  1. wake up with a start at the rapping on your cabin door. stumble off the train into the pitch-black hanoi morning, confused and disoriented. get some vietnamese dong from a nice woman at the train station and hop on the back of a motorcycle-taxi for a ride to your hostel.
  2. hold on for dear life during the ride and laugh a little at how you must look in the pink helmet that was given to you by the driver. try and take in the sights of early-dawn hanoi but struggle to process everything.
  3. once the moto taxi has dropped you off into a dark alley, realize that the hotel you chose is still closed. shake your first at the travel gods, and then thank them a moment later when a kind man from a separate hotel takes pity on you and lets you kill time using his internet for free.
  4. end up checking into a different hostel altogether with a hefty price tag of $7.50/night.
  5. enjoy a hot shower and a free continental breakfast and feel slightly human again.
  6. have an early morning stroll around hoan kiem lake and watch the mist lift. watch various locals perform their early-morning calisthenics on the waterfront, including vigorous punchings and stretchings and another move that looks like something beyonce would do in concert in true sasha fierce mode.
  7. soak it all in... the incessant honking of motorcycles, the smell of hot pho on every corner, the ubiquitous cafes with french baguettes and strong vietnamese coffee, the old ladies squatting on every corner with a small spread of fresh vegetables around their ankles.
  8. stumble upon a food market. gawk at the coop of live chickens and look on with horror as a man twists one chicken's neck and ever so carefully collects the fresh blood into a bowl and then carries it off to do God-knows-what with it.
  9. feel like a stupid American when you make comments to yourself such as "dude, they really wear pointy hats!" resolve to learn a few Vietnamese phrases and memorize the words for thank you, how much, hello.
  10. start eating your way through hanoi. this is accomplished with all-day walking interspersed with incessant snacking. highlights include piping hot pho ($2) consumed while squatting on a street corner, a perfect pain au chocolat, deep-fried spring rolls served with nuoc mam, local beer, the list goes on and on and on...
  11. decide to brave death and rent a bicycle to ride around on the sunny day. decide later that this is a bad idea when you realize that hanoi roads are even crazier than chinese roads (a concept that was previously unthinkable). feel the hot exhaust of way too many motorcycles on your ankles.
  12. have dinner at a little local cafe next to a german family, who invites you to join in their game of gin rummy.
  13. decide that the first day in vietnam is everything you hoped for -- completely foreign, completely different, the true foodie experience you were dreaming about, and a country you can't wait to explore.


  1. yay! glad it got better than the early morning nonsense

  2. Everything sounds awesome so far! I visited my cousins in Hong Kong back in 2004 and it was definitely a diverse and interesting city. Can't wait to hear more about your travels in Vietnam.

  3. you are quite a brave girl, my friend...and it looks like you have a stomach of steel too. Your trip just sounds so amazing.

  4. What exactly is vietnamese dong?