An introduction to Vietnam

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to be writing about one of my favorite countries on the planet – Vietnam.

I didn’t come to Vietnam with any expectations – however, I did land with a high regard for the cultural spirit of the Vietnamese and with a profound respect for their history (…and omg love for the food; moar on this subject later).

Where to begin? Well first of all – I never imagined I would be attending university in Vietnam. But let’s start at the beginning.

I remember it was a dreary, rainy day in late January 2015 when I arrived at on the outskirts of Hanoi at Noi Bai International airport.

The landlady I had arranged my accom with had arranged a driver to pick me up. The ride was $20 for the 45min/26km journey from airport to the middle of the city.

I arrived, checked into the room and immediately went for a walk. I was exhausted but had to check out my new sitch.

Hanoi, Vietnam

I still remember everything so vividly. The whirlwind of fresh, incredible activity and so much happening life.

A zillion motorbikes and a million people everywhere. I was totally consumed but by the sheer buzzing of life in central Hanoi. 

I was staying in the French Quarter, and in hindsight, it was the perfect location to be to keep myself occupied while easing outta my jet lag.

I managed to forget the travel exhaustion by tucking into my first of many Banh Mi sandwiched and beers at Hanoi’s famous beer corner.

Wandering around the night markets: taking in all the smells, colors and people from different walks of life. It all felt so surreal. I was a bit overwhelmed – but in the best possible way!

It was so different to anything I’d ever seen – this was my first time in Asia haha….. and oddly, I felt completely at home here.

All the Lonely Planet books told me where to go and yadda yadda all the tourist stops and shops to visit in Hanoi – which I dutifully visited – but what I didn’t read was that some of the best times to be had were the times I just sat still and watched everything move around me.

Everything and everyone where moving so quickly and – and yet so perfectly – no collisions of accidents.

Sitting down late at night on little plastic bendy chairs at the side of the road biting into scrumptious Hanoi street food is where it’s at here in Vietnam! The food is just to die for.

At times you have no idea what you’ve just ordered, and when it arrives, you have no idea how to eat it – but it never disappointed. Just sitting there still in the ‘madness’ is a beautiful feeling, one that cannot be replicated.

Another simple highlight of Hanoi was watching people drive around on their motorbikes, and if you’re brave enough something to try get involved in too. Hanoi has the most amazing sense of community and it’s in your face when you’re sitting on a motorbike in traffic.

I didn’t enter the driving the Vietnam motorbike gauntlet until a little further into my Vietnam stay – but I’ll talk about that hilarious experience in a few blogs time.

Motorbikes in Vietnam

On our first day, we went on a free walking tour with a student who was studying English and Tourism. It was a great way to get shown around Hanoi, she walked us around the whole city, stopping into the tourism’s spots as we passed them but also taking us into places, that to the normal tourist eye would be looked straight over. A perfect example of this was when we walked into what looked like a bag shop, to the back of the store, and up some dark stairs. When you reached the top there was the most quaint little coffee shop, Cafe Dinh, with tiny windows facing out to the street but massive skylights letting in the sun. It was jammed with locals and served the most amazing iced egg coffee. We tried asking why the coffee had egg in it but she didn’t realize it was a novelty! Hanoi has these beautiful hidden gems scattered across the city; whether you discover a coffee shop, a rooftop bar or a restaurant, when it’s filled with locals and very well disguised, you know it’ll be good!

Cafe Dinh, Hanoi

Some of the more touristy spots we visited which are an absolute must, were Train Street, Kham Tien Street. Absolutely surreal, you must go there when there are no trains, just to see how people adapt to living and making business, literally on a train track, and also go visit when a train comes down….it speaks for itself. What’s even weirder is that when we left to travel out of Hanoi to Ninh Binh is that we were on a train, that went through train street! Another perfect selfie opportunity on the tracks is Long Bien Bridge, but don’t forget to sit still there for a minute too and watch the locals on their commute into the city. We saw people on bikes with flat-screen TVs under their armpits cross this bridge..

Train Street, Hanoi

.There are loads of museums, prisons and temples that need to be ticked off your list. One of my favorite temples was floating in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, Den Ngoc Son. Also the famous Hanoi Ancient House, I’m getting excited just remembering all these places. Another less famous spot to explore is the flower market in Quang An, there’s a swimming pool facing the lake there too and a driving range where you hit the balls into the water. I’m telling you, the versatility of this city is endless. 

Without going on forever about Hanoi, I’m always going to feel like I’m cutting it short. It really speaks for itself this city, it’s a true beauty. And what’s even better, is that it’s where our amazing Vietnamese adventure started…we are only just beginning!

Written by Eve Feeney August 2020

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