Gooooood morning, Vietnam! Robin Williams (RIP) would have to agree, a cheerful greeting to the day is a good match for the fun, friendly, chaotic city of Hanoi, Vietnam. The first thing that hits is the chaos: the lights that never seem to turn off, the shops lined up like brilliantly colored toothpicks, spilling out on the hustling street. And scooters weaving in, out, sideways, against traffic, slipping over sidewalks to get here or there, parking on them, popping out of hidden doorways and alleys.
The second thing that hits you is that you’ll have to cross this sea of scooters — and there are crosswalks (under a stream of scooter tires and the occasional car) but no traffic lights. Our friends who’ve traveled to Hanoi before, the guidebooks and our incredibly hospitable concierge, David advises to just step into the flow, walk steadily and don’t stop. Simple enough. But nothing prepares you for diving in as a wave of scooters approaches from either side. You walk, you wonder if you’ll spend your last moments breathing two-stroke exhaust; but the scooters dodge you and each other and the dirty curb approaches and you’re through.
So you dive in — into the traffic, into the exotic culture and food, the lazy walks around green-brown lakes, the tall cups of coffee so dark the sun couldn’t shine through it from two inches away.
Now, for a little Hanoi in pictures…
After three glorious days getting happily lost among vats of bun cha (Vietnamese bbq beef), bia hoi (the ubiquitous, fresh, light unpreserved draft beer) snails in broth, bowls of steaming pho and bricks of sticky rice, we boarded a train last night for the northern Vietnamese town of Lao Cai. After waking frequently as the train rolled to and fro like a boat in an ocean (we wondered if it would manage to stick to the tracks), a loud soundtrack of vintage Vietnamese music roused us at 5:21 a.m.
Here we are in Lao Cai, breakfasting on beef noodles, egg pho and Vietnamese sandwiches. We’re washing it all down with coffee that resembles motor oil and wondering if we, too will be washed away on our 30 kilometer, 4,000 foot climb up to Sa Pa…
Until next time!