spent two hours in Yangon. Did I get my first experience of the hot, humid
Asian air in Yangon Airport? No. We sat in the plane – if you were going to
Myanmar/Burma then you went on your way, however, if your last stop was Hanoi
then you stayed on the plane. So we stayed. We were told not to leave our seats
if we could avoid it. We waited while they refuelled. We sat while they sprayed
disinfectant in the plane in accordance with Vietnamese regulations – all we
were told was that if you would be bothered by this then you should cover your
eyes, nose and mouth when passed by the cabin crew while they sprayed it at the
height of the overhead bins. While we waited we filled out mandatory forms
detailing if we had been to certain named countries or if we had experienced
vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat and other minor unpleasant ailments in the
past 30 days. As well as our email, phone and address of where we would be
staying for the duration of our trip in Vietnam.
When we landed in Hanoi we made our way out – slowly and impatiently. Our nerves were settling in and leaving an uncomfortableness in our stomachs, we needed this part of our journey to be over. We handed the “medical” forms in (they just stamped them and didn’t even read them) and headed over to the visa desk. We gave our visa approval letter over and waited to receive our visa. We opted for the visa on arrival simply because there isn’t a Vietnamese embassy in Ireland, the closest being in London so doing the application online is super quick and easy. It took less than an hour from what I remember of the blur that was our arrival. We collected our bags and shuffled our way out of the crowded arrival gate searching for our name on a piece of paper. Finally we saw it – our driver was waiting patiently in a mess of other drivers. The fantastic thing about our hostel was that they had a section on their website that allowed you to request an airport pickup. This saved an immense amount of hassle and stress for us – we knew that it was a fixed fee which we would pay to the hostel, we wouldn’t be brought an arsey way around Hanoi nor did we have to find a taxi driver and hope that our exhausted and nervous selves could explain where we needed to go, hoping he would know how to get to the hostel.
Our first time on the roads of Vietnam was, for me, terrifying and exhilarating. Cars and bikes were swarming from every direction and few were driving in a manner which seems safe or logical to us. Cars drove where they could fit – not in between the carefully painted lines on the motorway. In other words a three lane road had become a four or five lane road, not including the bikes which zipped in and out of traffic and sped about this way and that way. Once we got into Hanoi it was a new chaos in comparison to the motor way. We were at a stand still but again, if we could fit through a gap in the numerous vehicles then we went through it. To say we were delighted to reach the hostel doesn’t quite do it justice. The staff were incredibly lovely and welcoming. They put our minds at ease and were eager to offer help and advice. We got changed and showered and went out with directions and a map to find food. It was about 6pm and we were knackered and hungry. We got lost. Quite lost really. We doubled back on ourselves and never found one of the recommended restaurants (the hostel staff strongly advised that we stay away from street food initially) but we did find an ATM to get out some dong. Once we found a small restaurant/café/essentially indoor street food we ordered some pho (noodle soup). My SO got beef and I got chicken as I normally prefer chicken to beef for something like that. It was good but my nerves weren’t allowing me to fully enjoy it but it was so good to eat something that wasn’t airplane food! We paid and laughed at the fact that our dinner had cost us €4! We used our data (yes Irish data…I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re super stuck) because we were lost in Hanoi and desperately needed to find the solace of our hostel. I won’t lie, I clung to my SO so that neither of us would get lost in the madness of a Friday night in Hanoi.
Once back to the hostel, we quickly shed the city off and got ready for bed. That’s when I tasted my dinner for a second time. I vomited all night and most of the morning. The stomach cramps were horrible. Don’t get chicken pho from a restaurant or café. Just don’t do it. Around 11 or 12 the next day my SO found a “western” café and insisted we go just to get some food that I would be able to stomach. We downloaded a map of Hanoi and made our way out. Let me tell you, Joma’s bakery was an absolute godsend! I managed to keep down a fresh croissant and an iced tea – with a lot of bargaining with my stomach. We still felt horrible though. There was this constant feeling that we had fucked up majorly. It was hot, humid and verging on terrifying really. Hanoi is really, well and truly not like any other city we’ve been to, and as my first experience in Asia it looked hostile. No matter how much research you do nothing can truly prepare you for the chaos that is Hanoi. We were indescribably delighted when our soon to be colleagues arrived Saturday afternoon and were waiting to meet up with us. We crept out again and realised that there was a lot around us – familiar shop and restaurants which would become our saviour for the 6 days which we spent in Hanoi. We met the manager with whom we had our Skype interview and three other people outside Dominos and went to a secluded café for a few hours. The café is impossible to find unless you are given ridiculously specific directions or if someone brings you there. It is behind a silk shop, down a tiny alley, past what kind of looks like someone’s living room and then it just opens up into a 3 story building. I got the best mango smoothie that I have ever had, and may ever have in the future. While my SO got an iced egg coffee. You read that right – an egg coffee. I don’t know how to make one but it is pretty much just iced coffee with whipped egg whites mixed in, it is truly amazing and is something that my SO orders whenever we step foot in Hanoi. Meeting people who have been in Vietnam for quite a while, 2 for 3 months and 2 for almost a year, it put our minds at ease. It was great to meet the people with whom we would be living and working to convince us that Vietnam was not as scary as it might seem, we would be able to find our place within it and, hopefully, with our new colleagues and housemates.
The rest of the week was ok, we spent most mornings in Joma’s and spent quite a lot of time escaping the heat, humidity and pollution during the middle of the day safe in our hostel. We would head out again in the evenings and found that Dominos was our safest option for food while we were adjusting. We knew before that we would need to avoid the women and men selling things, especially food, on the street and quickly learned how to easily move past them. We had been followed by one for a day we discovered and she caught us while we had to wait to cross a busy street. To hold us there she put her bamboo baskets across my shoulder and her hat on my head insisting that we take a photo so we caved and then before I could get it off of me she had given us warm and pre-cut pineapple and demanded payment. We didn’t have exact change so she kept saying “I give you change, I give you change”. If you take one thing away from this then let it be this – you will not get change and will have been paying too much in the first place, they will take off and disappear into a sea of Vietnamese hats and bamboo baskets. We paid 300,000 vnd for pineapple we didn’t eat - €12 for a small bag of pineapple. You have to be smart and fast with these people as they have been conning tourists for years and will always become smarter and faster. Mind your shoes when you walk – men sit and call after you in a panic, desperate to “help” as your shoe, be it a flip flop or leather dress shoe, is broken and he and only he can help you with his glue. They are very adept at getting your shoe off before you know what is happening and you will pay more than 300,000 vnd to get it back. They have friends around too in order to make sure that you can’t pull your shoe back and run. They almost got my SO but we were a few days in Hanoi and more savvy (well more than we were at first). Wanting to try Vietnamese food again, but more carefully, we found a restaurant called the Green Mango, which happened to also be a hotel. Well Oh.My.God. The food was amazing, they do effectively Vietnamese food and Western food and they were so friendly and for the first time since arriving in Vietnam we didn’t feel like we were being cheated out of something. For example we ordered a starter each and the waitress kindly told us that as the portion size was so large she would advise us sharing one – which we did and were glad that we did. Oh and the cocktails were to die for!