When I die, just sprinkle my ashes at the airport bc that's where I've spent the majority of my life at this point.
I spent most of the 31st of January and 1st of February in airports ranging from Munich to Moscow to Hanoi. It was a relatively stressful time in that no one at any of the airports I visited could assure me that my luggage would make it all the way through to Hanoi without me having to pick it up and recheck it in Moscow. This concern was amplified when we had an hour-long delay on my first flight which cut my already short layover in half. I was not amused. I arrived in Moscow right around the time I was supposed to be boarding my flight to Hanoi, so I wasn't going to be able to pick up my baggage whether I liked it or not. I made my way to customs as quickly as I could only to be confronted by an obscenely long line that would most certainly not afford me enough time to get me anywhere on time. So I put on my best pleading face and walked to the front of the line with ticket in hand as evidence of the rush I was in. The people could not have been nicer - every single person urged me ahead and said some variation of "Go for it!" and it was all I could do to give them a grateful look and run through security to my flight. All of that pleading and exercise was for naught, though, bc my flight to Hanoi was ALSO delayed. What. A. Surprise. It didn't help that no one waiting to board was willing to form any semblance of a line and when boarding did eventually start we were more like a mob than anything else.
I was seated next to a member of the Vietnamese army who spoke absolutely zero English whatsoever (understandable considering I don't speak any Vietnamese) but who did in fact speak Russian. I don't speak Russian myself, but he spent our entire flight pointing at objects and naming them for me in Vietnamese and Russian and then asking what the English term was. It was pretty precious at first until I was two hours deep into a movie and he was still tapping my shoulder every two seconds to ask me for new words. It rapidly became less endearing after that. I did learn that my Vietnamese pronunciation abilities are absolutely nonexistent and improvement doesn't look likely, but I could maybe make Russian happen. Big maybe, though.
I arrived at the Hanoi airport at 9AM and found a cafe that offered Wi-Fi with purchases, so I got myself a delicious $1 coffee and camped out in the corner. I say camped out bc I was waiting on Kyle (my best friend since high school in case you somehow didn't already know that) to land at 4.40PM. Now listen, I love Ky, but 8h at an airport is a very, VERY long time. Especially when you have to use the bathroom and take your entire life with you bc you can't leave your bags alone at airports bc terrorism. My love for him slightly lessened when he texted me from China to let me know his plane was delayed and he would be landing an hour later. In that moment, a small piece of me died. But I made it, and eventually I found my tall ginger standing out against the crowd of tiny black-haired people without any issues.
We made our way (slowly and after asking three different people where to go) to the bus station which would take us into the city center, which cost us a whopping .30 cents. Kyle and I spent the hour-long ride catching up - and believe it or not we talked almost the same amount for once - even though we talked almost every day I was gone. I was apparently too loud for our bus driver, however, bc he shushed me. Literally. I didn't think my voice was half as annoying as the perpetual honking going on outside, but I guess he and I differed in opinion on that one. We dropped off our bags at the hostel after the 30 minute trek to find it and headed out into the city to explore. As we walked the streets of Hanoi it was all we could do to wonder at the fact that we were actually in freaking Vietnam. Hanoi is a big city and has that vibe, but it's so entirely different from anything we've ever experienced, so every new street corner was something new and exciting. Luckily it seems to be the perfect transition from Western life to Southeast Asian culture bc while it is so distinct, it's also very accessible for a couple of green Americans who have a lot of learning to do. Eventually we stopped for a dinner of rice noodles with pork and veggies - I paid bc Ky hadn't gotten money out of the ATM yet - which cost us a whopping $5 including drinks. Obviously, Ky was indebted to me forever bc how could he ever pay back such a large sum? We headed back to the hostel to do some planning, but the Wi-Fi was fighting back so we decided to head to bed and finish planning in the morning.
We totally didn't plan in the morning. We did, however, enjoy our free hostel breakfast of an omelette and fruit before heading out into the city to wander in the light of day. We grabbed some egg coffee - a Hanoi delicacy that is absolutely delicious - bought $20 North Face jackets to get us through Northern Vietnam (it's freakin' cold up here), and headed to the train street where a high speed train that runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City goes barreling through residential areas twice a day. There were Insta lovers everywhere going for super artsy pictures, something Ky and I don't really do very well bc of who we are as people, so we snapped some pics and walked the tracks before visiting a hostel-recommended restaurant for lunch. I use the term "restaurant" lightly, bc it was mostly a room with a kitchen and some plastic tables, but this was more than the average considering most places have you sit outside on Toys R Us plastic kids chairs. It's awesome. Or I'm sure it would be if our legs weren't twice as long as the national average. We split a combo meal of bun cha (fatty pork with rice noodles and greens) and there was a moment when I almost died bc the chili peppers were spicier than anticipated, but other than that it was delicious. Granted, I couldn't really taste anything after the chili pepper incident, but Ky said it was great. What made it better was our server coming over to literally cut our noodles with scissors bc she saw us struggling to separate the chunks of rice noodle with our chopsticks. Any cool points we'd had for eating at a super legit place were immediately lost with one swift snip of her scissors.
Fully embarrassed at our chopstick abilities, we made our way back to the hostel to get our lives together and plan for the next few days. The best thing about this trip in a lot of ways is that we have absolutely nothing booked. The only time we have to be somewhere is eventually Bangkok to pick up my mom (who's visiting for two weeks in March) and Malaysia to get Ky to the airport in April. As such, we book as we go, and Ky is the perfect travel buddy for this bc he is literally the most chill person on the face of the planet. We went up to the roof to get some Wi-Fi and started chatting with a German guy who had just been to Sapa, so he turned into our source of information rather than the actual internet. I'll take word of mouth over some random Trip Advisor review any day, so by the end of our conversation we more or less had a plan for Sapa. That plan, by the way, was to not book anything at all whatsoever and just go for it when we get there. We worked really hard on it. We'd decided to leave the next day (today) so we packed our bags and headed to grab SIM cards so we could have data in the event that we (probably) get stranded somewhere on this leg of the trip. Ky had already done the research so we knew which companies were reliable and stopped into a store where we got 3 gigs of data for - wait for ittttttt - $5. It almost broke the bank, but we agreed not to eat for the rest of the week to make up for such a steep purchase. We then moved on to the Night Market for the atmosphere and the food. We grabbed some dried, flavored coconut and dried pineapple that were absolutely delicious, followed by a kebab of some kind of meat (it's better not to ask and they wouldn't understand us even if we did) as we wandered the streets lit by lanterns and strings of lights around trees. As the night got later, we decided to stop for dinner on the way back to the hostel bc our bus was scheduled to leave at 6.30AM and we weren't quite updated with the time change quite yet. Also probably bc I suck at mornings and Ky knows it so he wanted me to get to bed as early as possible, but whatever, I woke up this morning ALL ON MY OWN. You can ask him yourself for verification, but if you don't know him you'll have to take my word for it.
This morning went as smoothly as a morning that starts before 9AM can go, and we checked out of the hostel with ample time to catch our bus. Or rather, what we thought would be a bus. A man on a motorbike pulled up and told us to follow him, so we weren't sure whether he meant for us to run behind the bike or get ourselves and our bags on the back of the bike (that kind of thing isn't abnormal here). Luckily he led us over to a van nearby (decidedly not a bus) where we were seated on three metal bars without a back. Concern and confusion rapidly set in bc we were told we would be taking a sleeper bus with Wi-Fi, but we stayed positive. Thankfully it was only about 10 minutes of driving and hopeful positivity before we were unloaded and brought to a big bus with lots of lovely big seats and boundless Wi-Fi. My only complaint is that the seats are all laid back and it's really difficult to write a blog in a horizontal position. In related news, my neck muscles are getting a great workout right now.
There are at least another 4.5h on this bus ride to Sapa Valley, so I'm thinking a nap is in the very near future for me. Until then, I'll be enjoying the view of rice fields and colorful villages outside my window and feeling really freaking grateful that I'm here.
This is where I leave you for now boys and girls!
PS. I am going to try to make a list at the end of each Southeast Asia post to mention things that were completely new or different from back home (culturally or socially speaking) so that you guys can start to get an idea of the contrast, bc I think it's not only important but also super fun to learn about. Plus I don't ever want to forget how new and exciting everything was upon arrival in each new place bc I never want to become jaded to travel in such an amazing region of the world.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)