I skipped breakfast at the hotel again because it ended at 9:30 am, and I wanted to be hungry for a food tour that I signed up for. When I walked through the lobby, the staff pointed out that I missed breakfast again and said they’d give me a wake-up call the next morning. I appreciated their concern, but I was hoping that staying in a hotel instead of an Airbnb would give me some privacy. It appeared that the hotel staff was very concerned about my food intake.
The food tour guide, Minh, met me in the lobby. She was 27, had glasses, her hair was in a ponytail, and she was short. She told me to grab a jacket because it might get chilly. I followed her instructions, and then we walked to a hotel to pick up a guy. Minh told me about the city as we walked. She was cute and grabbed my arm when crossing the street to make sure I followed her. She was petite but fierce. She crossed those streets like they were nothing. Minh asked me what it’s like traveling alone as a female. She told me that she likes to travel with friends, but she thought I was brave to travel alone.
We arrived at a hotel, and Jake was waiting to join the tour. He was 26, lived in Los Angeles and Boston, was tall with brown hair, and was in medical school. He was doing an internship in Thailand, and he was only in Hanoi for the weekend to explore.
We took a taxi to the next hotel and picked up Michiel. He was from Holland and was only 18 years old. He was around 5’9”, was thin, had light brown hair, a nose ring, and an earring. He was taking a gap year before college, which is common there. His friends weren’t traveling on their gap year, so he traveled solo for a few months.
Jake asked Michiel how his parents feel about him traveling alone. He explained that his parents said he couldn’t take a gap year if he didn’t travel. Michiel pointed out all that he’s learned and that traveling solo has forced him to do things for himself. I was impressed that he was traveling internationally by himself at 18. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that at such a young age. At age 20, I drove from Missouri to Colorado by myself and visited family and friends. But going overseas and exploring on your own is a whole different story. Michiel was mature, smart, and fun. It was great seeing him out there exploring the world.
The four of us walked to our first destination. When crossing the street, Minh told us, “Just be confident.” She held up her hand, and we crossed with her. The three of us were all scared to cross the street, so we followed her closely. We went to several food stalls and small restaurants down alleyways eating donuts, egg and dill patties, rice pancakes, soup, meat, ice cream, and (my favorite) egg coffee.
As we sat at a miniature table, we got to know each other better. Michiel was staying in hostels and explained that they’re mostly great, but sometimes he gets to one where nobody talks, and he gets lonely. Jake confirmed traveling solo can be lonely for him at times too. It made me feel better that they also experienced loneliness.
Jake told us about the things he was learning in Thailand. He was in a smaller village just north of Bangkok. One time there was a man who had a spinal injury, and his muscles were completely frozen. The local doctors did acupuncture on him, and Jake watched as the muscles loosened and the man could move around again. I was happy that Jake was learning both western and eastern medicine because I think it’ll make him a better doctor.
Minh was from a small town, but she moved to Hanoi when she was eight years old. She told us that the government took homes from the wealthy and gave them to the poor. Thus, houses have seven to ten families living in them, and they all share a kitchen and bathrooms. Most homes have a business on the ground floor (like a restaurant), and they all live on the floors above.
The government charges taxes based on the house’s width, so everyone builds very narrow houses that are very deep and tall. The houses were sometimes so narrow that I could almost touch my arms on both walls. The houses were packed in side-by-side, and sometimes trees grow right in the middle of courtyards, making their way up the house.
We continued eating at the various food stalls around the city. Minh took us to a cart that the woman carries on her shoulders every day using a wooden pole across her shoulders. She sets up in front of a bar that is closed until the evening and serves food during the day. There were tiny plastic stools just six inches off the ground for customers. A few men were sitting on the stools eating, and one told us that we need to try it if we wanted to “see the real Vietnam.”
We went to our last stop for egg coffee and sat at a small table. Egg coffee is whipped egg (mostly egg whites) that fills half the coffee cup. The whipped part is sweet and once you stir it, it tastes like a creamy, sweet latte. They started making it many years ago because they couldn’t afford milk or cream.
All of a sudden, my stomach was agitated. I raced to the single-use restroom and wasn’t feeling well. After our coffee, I was luckily feeling a bit better. We walked around for a bit and then said goodbye. We were all extremely stuffed and wanted to take a nap.
On my walk back to my hotel, I stopped for a manicure for $12 USD. The salon also offered a Swedish massage for $17 USD an hour. I agreed to the massage and was taken upstairs. There were a few tables very close together with sheer curtains around them. The woman made me uncomfortable as she stood there while I undressed. I laid under the blanket and hoped nobody else came in.
After my massage, I rested at my hotel. I still didn’t feel very good and spent time talking on the phone and working on my blog.
The next morning, the hotel staff made good on their promise and gave me a wake-up call for breakfast at 9:00 am. I ordered a banana pancake and beef noodle soup. I love the soup, but it is hard to eat onions in the morning. I went back to my room and researched while resting since I still wasn’t feeling well. My throat had been hurting for the last day and I didn’t want to push myself too hard.
In the afternoon, I talked with the girl at the front desk, and she gave me tips on what to do. It was hotter outside – around 70 °F (21 °C). I walked around and made it to the famous train tracks. They’re famous because houses, shops, and restaurants are lined up extremely close to the tracks. Trains still use the tracks, which makes it crazy that people are actively walking on them.
I ordered a banana coffee at a shop and sat against the wall on a small ledge. I enjoyed watching the people in the lively area. Tourists posed for pictures in the middle of the tracks creating their (not very) unique pictures. I talked with a young couple from the U.K. and took their first picture together in eight months.
I walked to the Citadel, which is a huge complex. I didn’t learn much about it because I wasn’t on a tour, but I walked around enjoying the structure, narrow and steep stairs, beautiful flowers, and jets.
In the evening, I walked to a theater and saw an acrobat show where they did all sorts of gymnastics using large bamboo. Once that was finished, I enjoyed a drink at a rooftop bar while looking at the skyline. I used the time to search for day tours of HaLong Bay. Once I got back to the hotel, the girl at the front booked a tour for me.
Sometimes it feels overwhelming going to a large city not having researched what to do. I often struggle with feeling like I’ll miss out if I don’t constantly do something. I’m learning to let that go and be ok with relaxing a little bit. It’s still a struggle, but I consciously try to have some downtime.
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