It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to post here on the blog. We’ve been back in the United States for almost two months now and getting settled back at home and work has been quite a process. However, I still have some travel stories I want to share here for my own selfish reasons. (Mainly because if I don’t write them down I might not remember them.) So if you want to hear about the remainder of our trip, feel free to continue following along! I left off right as we arrived in one of my very favorite countries. A few months ago when I started writing out my thoughts on out time in Hanoi, it came out as a list of all the things I love about that city. So here you go: a Love Letter to Hanoi.
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Hanoi. The travel blogger consensus seemed to be more on the negative side. “Hanoi is loud and chaotic.” “The motorbikes are aggressive and don’t stop for pedestrians.” “The people are unfriendly.” “I got tired of being harassed constantly by people trying to sell me things or give me a ride.”
I worried that we were making a mistake by choosing Hanoi as our introduction to Vietnam. I was afraid that we would hate it, that it would set a bad tone for the rest of our time in the country.
I needn’t have worried. Hanoi was wonderful! Loud? Hectic? Over-stimulating at times? Yes. And hot. SO hot. But I also found it to be vibrant, fascinating, and full of character. I still get a huge smile on my face every time I think about being Hanoi. As cheesy as it sounds, being in that kind of city make me feel alive.
And for what it’s worth we did not have any experiences of people being unfriendly to us. Some were quite friendly and others acted indifferent, but no one was downright rude. We also didn’t find the touts to be particularly bad. (Although, to be honest, I think Tanzania set such a high bar for pushy touts that everywhere else feels like no big deal.) As we walked down the street people did offer to sell us fruit or souvenirs, and passing taxi drivers would honk to get our attention to see if we wanted a ride. We would simply say “No, thank you” and continue walking and that was it. No one followed us or got overly pushy.
All that being said, I can see why some people don’t like Hanoi. Lots of noise, drivers doing pretty much whatever they want…it can be overwhelming for sure. But me? I’m in love.
I love how the city is in constant motion, how it seems like total chaos sometimes, but there’s a kind of rhythm beneath the chaos.
I love standing at an intersection just watching as cars, motos, and bikes from all directions stream around each other, never stopping but somehow never hitting each other.
I love the pride I felt when I finally mastered crossing the street, and I love the feeling I get every time I step confidently into the road and cross the street at a steady pace as motorcycles steer around me.
I love that traveling through the city as a pedestrian is like navigating a maze, as you go around motorcycles parked on the sidewalk, fruit sellers with their products laid out on the ground, and those tiny plastic chairs and tables put out by restaurants.
I love that even in such a bustling city there are pockets of calm to be found, like the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s oldest university built nearly 1000 years ago.
I love reading about many courageous women and seeing their accomplishments honored at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.
I love sitting in those child-sized chairs on the sidewalk eating food that is truly some of the best in the world, recipes that have been perfected and passed down for generations.
I love the food with its fresh ingredients, beautiful mix of textures, and subtle balance of flavors.
I love seeing the variety of fruits and vegetables for sale along the street in colors and textures so different from what I can find in the supermarket at home.
I love the desserts that are a strange mixture of colors, textures, and flavors. I couldn’t identify half of what was in the bowl, but the combination was oddly satisfying.
I love the coffee: iced, of course, with condensed milk. Or the Hanoi Specialty of coffee topped with egg cream. It’s my favorite coffee I’ve had anywhere in the world.
I love witnessing the beautiful sense of community as friends and families gather outside their homes in the evening, trying to stay cool as they enjoy a meal together.
It’s hard for me to fully explain why, but Vietnam makes my heart happy. It’s the place I’ve found myself longing for more than any other since we returned to the United States. I’m so glad I didn’t let the naysayers scare me off because Hanoi was the perfect introduction to what is now one of my favorite countries in the world.