Beauty Behind The Madness: Life in Hanoi
Oy, Hanoi. What a place!
Hanoi is an amazing city. It is equal parts chaotic and charming all at the same time. Since this was my first time in Vietnam, I decided to travel with Remote Year who helped organize my stay here. They hooked me up with a super cute studio apartment in a building next to the military base.
To get to my apartment, I have to go through a garage where this lady that sleeps on a cot bed. When I roll in late at night, it reminds me of high school when I would sneak in all hours of the night trying not to wake my mom up – even though she was probably awake but pretending to be asleep.
Anyways, the studio is super clean and nice and, most importantly, I feel safe. When I walk past the military base in the morning, there’s this awkward smile between the guards and me and wave that happens between us.
The first week I spent exploring the city. The streets are colorful and the pace is insane! What I discovered very quickly is that when walking the streets it’s every man for himself. Most intersections don’t have stop lights and the right-of-way goes to, well, everyone. First come, first serve, I guess. Or maybe it’s “he who is most aggressive.” Just know that if you’re walking in Hanoi – BE CAREFUL! Yeah, even more than New York.
On the first day, I stood on the side of the street for 5 minutes as cars and motorbikes zoomed past me. I felt like I was playing human Frogger, waiting for that log to come by at just the right speed. Luckily, a local walked up and started crossing and I ran up and walked next to him. He laughed and helped me cross the street. After a while, I started to get the hang of it (except for a few intersections.) One girl I met said just clothes my eyes and walk across. That is the best way!
It helps that I’m literally the tallest person ever in the city of Hanoi. I can just hold up my hand and say, “Stop!” and cars come screeching to a halt and people scream, “Godzilla!” No, actually, people are quite nice about my comparatively enormous height. They mostly come up and ask to take a picture with me. I’ve never been Snapchatted into a cat so many times in my life.
Later, I went on my first motorbike. I think I set a personal record for most prayers said in a single minute. It was fun but also scary when you’re driving in between buses on a little motorbike. I have seen an entire family of 5 on a motorbike. I have seen dogs on the back of motorbikes and even a guy holding a giant fan in one hand. Lets just say there is never a dull moment when you step onto the streets in Hanoi.
I love getting lost here. Every time I get lost I discover something new. I have ended up at random cafes that look like the back room of the pawn shop in Pulp Fiction, but the people are so warm and welcoming, and I have become a lot more thankful for the little things in life.
Hanoi, like many Asian cities, is known for their exotic street food. You name it, they’ll cook it. (Well, hopefully they’re more discerning than that.) While walking the streets, I’ve seen people cooking weird shit like snails, frogs, quail heads and even red meat in the middle of a 95 degree day. Yeah….. pass!!!
A people from Remote Year got together and watched a documentary called “The last days in Vietnam” which shows the last days of the Vietnam war. I highly recommend it especially if you’re planning to travel to Vietnam or if you love history. It is so crazy to think less than 50 year ago this place was ravaged by war.
I’ve seen a lot of beauty in Hanoi and I’ve seen a lot of weird things. Overall, I am incredibly grateful this experience!