I arrived in Hanoi at night after a couple of solitary days in Vientiane, Laos. It was the halfway point of my trip. I’d been traveling for 30 days, and was feeling homesick for Copenhagen. I missed my friends, the quiet streets full of bicycles, clean air, and the delicious Danish bread and coffee. I’d had some lovely French food in Vientiane, but it wasn’t enough to make up for solitary hours spent in coffee shops. I booked a hostel in Hanoi and promised myself that I would be outgoing and try to meet some fun people.
At first, Hanoi just made me feel worse. The weather was grey, cold, and rainy. I met a few nice American girls immediately at the hostel and followed them to a pub crawl, but half-heartedly dancing with drunk backpackers just made me feel sad and ten years too old.
Hanoi was buzzing with people and vehicles everywhere; people sitting all over the sidewalks on little blue chairs; drivers hustling every time I walked past (“Motorbike?” “Taxi?”); ladies shoving food into my face (“Doughnut? Pineapple? Banana?”); people on motorbikes whizzing by my feet at every moment. Motorbikes drive on the street, on the sidewalk, through red lights and crosswalks without a second look, honking loudly to warn everyone to get out of their way, because whether it’s the sidewalk or the road, here they have the right of way.
I was completely overwhelmed. I just wanted to go home.
So, I did what I could to try and make myself feel better… I booked a private room, hoping I’d sleep better on my own (I did). I ate some pho and booked a street food tour, which helped too. I kept smiling, kept meeting people.
A few days of indulging in noodles, egg coffee, and western food helped. I made new friends and spent a laughter-filled evening eating street food with them (we even experienced a police raid, due to the fact that eating on the street is technically illegal here). After a lovely side trip hiking in the Sapa region, I came back to Hanoi feeling refreshed and better able to handle the traffic and craziness.
There is a part of me that feels disappointed that I haven’t been able to embrace the noise and chaos in Hanoi. I shrank away from it and was only able to venture outside in small doses, spending most of my time in Hanoi eating and drinking coffee. I took very few photos here, not because it’s not a photogenic city, but because I was too far out of my comfort zone to feel creative.
But another part of me is proud of myself that I managed to get out at all; that I got a haircut and ate street food and crossed insane intersections where the traffic flows without stopping, walking slowly through the sea of motorbikes and letting them pass around me like the locals do.
There were, however, a few moments of joy here in the midst of the frustration and stress of Hanoi. Here are a few:
Little girls in tutus on their way from a dance recital
Sampling egg coffee
The park around Hoan Kiem Lake with the mythical tower rising out of it
The water puppet performance with lovely Vietnamese music
The Temple of Literature (and the adorable group of Vietnamese school kids
excitedly waving hello to me outside of it—wish I had a photo!)
The cute young Vietnamese guy who did a great job trimming my bangs despite only speaking enough English to ask if it was ok, and say “bam!” at the end
The variety and sheer amount of stuff that people put on their bikes!
I'm grateful for these small moments that have brightened my days in Hanoi. I’ve had more and more of them during my time here. Maybe the city is growing on me.