My first real day in Hanoi I spent a little differently than I had imagined. I ate what I could of the free breakfast at the hostel and went on a search for a mobile store. I walked to the modern part of Hanoi by the beautiful and serene Hoan Kiem lake and found a store without too much trouble. I bought the same phone as before and proceeded to spend 30 minutes haggling and miscommunicating with an old Vietnamese woman selling SIM cards on the street. I ended up buying a SIM card that didn't work (but luckily cost next to nothing) and had to go to a real SIM card store later in the day. By the time I had gotten everything sorted out it was almost 2 pm and I had to hurry back to Little Charm Hanoi Hostel for the free walking tour. I regretted signing up for it instantly as we set out.
For a while, I have been feeling like I needed a bit of a breather from socializing and constantly meeting new people. And on top of that I had had next to no food, was definitely low on sleep and feeling extremely hot. The 3 hours ended up passing by pretty quickly though as we walked around the Old Quarter, visiting the Dong Xuan Market,
Long Bien Bridge
Picture: we had to wear these embarrassing hats on the tour
and Train Street.
Train Street was definitely a highlight, it was an absolutely adorable street and we could sit down with a cold drink and chat.
After the tour, I walked to Central Backpackers Hostel to book a Halong Bay tour. I booked a 3-day 2-night tour for the 11th of August since Tammy and Claire (that I had met at the full moon party in Thailand) were going on that one. And as soon as I had booked it I felt really really stressed. I think a combination of exhaustion and needing time alone just made me feel really anxious about the trip. I almost ate none of my dinner and felt both nauseous, alone and homesick. But I also felt guilty for feeling bad - because I know how lucky I am and there is not really any particular reason for me to feel so sad. But travelling can't be fun and joy 100% of the time and I'm realizing that it's okay for me to feel bad sometimes - I'm constantly changing environment and surroundings, I'm surrounded by strangers, away from home and my comfort zone, constantly being challenged and dependent only on myself. And I do love it - it brings freedom and adventure and self-growth - but sometimes it does become too much and I forget to listen to my own needs for a breather.
And so on my second day, I had a self-care day. I woke up slowly, got a giant peach from a street vendor for breakfast
and walked by Hoan Kiem Lake to the Vietnamese Women's Museum.
It was an amazing exhibition and I spent hours inside, learning about traditions in tribes and historical Vietnamese women.
I ate a delicious lunch at Poke Hanoi, before walking the long way to the temple of literature.
It seemed to be closed for lunch though (I later realized it hadn't been) and so I went to Cong Cafe for a cold drink. It started raining while I was there so I changed plans and went to the Vietnamese Fine Arts Museum. The museum started out by being a disappointment but ended up really interesting and captivating.
I walked back to my hostel and packed my things, before trying (and failing) to get tickets for the Water Puppet Show twice. I ended up just eating an early dinner and then walking up and down the night street market buying my Vietnamese diary, a pair of flip flops and sunglasses.
Back at the hostel I felt much calmer and happier than the day prior and having finally gotten a good nights sleep and a day to myself I felt much better about the Halong Bay trip.
I'm really glad I did go on the Halong Bay trip. The Hideaway tour turned out to be a perfect mix of fun with backpackers and beautiful adventures. The atmosphere was amazing, the surroundings were insane and partying wasn't forced on you in any way.
The first of the three days was spent getting to the Halong Bay area by bus and boat and then spending the day on our own boat eating lunch, jumping in the water and socialising in the sun. I was, unfortunately, feeling extremely seasick but managed to have a good time anyway (though steering completely clear of anything but water). Kyle and Steven, our tour guides, were amazing guys and I talked to both of them as well as Claire, Tammy, Nick ( England), Rachel (US) and so many others.
We reached our little private island around 5 pm and spent the rest of the day and night in the water or in the bar area, drinking, talking and playing games.
Everyone was so open and nice and the island seemed a slice of paradise.
The next morning we headed off to Cat Ba island after breakfast,
where we went on an amazing 30 min bike ride through beautiful nature. We stopped in a small village where our unbelievably hard hike started.
We had been warned that people had thrown up and cried on the hike before and that it wasn't safe for people who easily fainted. And it sure did live up to its reputation, although no one luckily did any of those things. The hike was about an hour of walking (or more accurately rock climbing) up an extremely steep, slippery and uneven path. It was ridiculously humid and we were all soaked within minutes of starting.
My knee started really protesting around midway through, but at this point, I had gotten too far to give up. I haven't done anything nearly as challenging since my accident five years ago and it felt incredible to really challenge myself physically again. And the view was more than worth the trouble. No photo can capture how awestricking and beautiful it was.
I stayed up there for a while, gaining back my breath and trying to cool down a bit (and failing). And then I started my descent, which was even more challenging than the way up had been. I slowly made my way down, deliberately placing my feet and sitting down on the rocks to keep from slipping if there was nothing to hold onto. My knees were shaking, I ripped my short completely open on one of the rocks and I got covered in mud, but I made it down. I never ever thought I would be able to do something like that again and the feeling of elation was definitely worth the throbbing knee.
I distributed electrolytes to everyone, we cycled back, boarded the boat and soon after lunch jumped in the water.
Back on the island, I laid down to relax for a while before joining everyone in the water, talking with Fernando and Alejandra (a couple from Columbia) for a good while.
Picture: Freddy, the island puppy
We spent the night once again talking, drinking and playing games, this time also accompanied by dances on the tables, limbo and group sing-alongs.
Our final day on the island I welcomed by taking a refreshing swim in the crystal clear water and then going kayaking around the area with Rachel.
After lunch, we waved goodbye to the new Hideaway group and made our way back to Hanoi.
After checking in at Buffalo hostel back in Hanoi I went out for a cosy dinner with Rachel, Fernando and Alejandra at Bun Cha Ta. It was amazing food and great company.
I then followed Rachel back to her hostel (she just started her solo travel and felt uncertain),
Picture: beer street
before meeting up with Tammy, Claire, Steph and Kendall for the pub crawl led by Kyle. I danced the night away at different clubs, first with Steph and Kendall and later with a hilarious guy, Joe, from Florida. We ended the night at a very empty club, where a guy fell hard from inhaling too much helium and when I went to lift his head (I had a bad feeling about the sound of his fall) my hands quickly got covered in blood. Some people took him away, hopefully getting him to the hospital and Joe and his friend Chris followed me back to my hostel, where we sat chatting on the doorstep late into the night.
These following two days I've kept running into people from the trip and I've had some nice slow cultural days.
Yesterday I went to the Hoa Lo Prison - morbidly nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton - which was a weird mix of goosebump-inducing exhibitions about the Vietnamese prisoners held there by the French and extreme propaganda about the American POWs that were later imprisoned there by the Vietnamese. Both were equally interesting and I ran into Nick there, which was nice.
I ate lunch at Poke Hanoi and then walked around the lake to the little temple.
I finally managed to get a ticket for the Water Puppet Show, and after walking around the market for a while (to buy new shorts) I met up for coffee at the Note Coffee Cafe with Joe.
We walked around and talked until my Water Puppet show started at 8 pm. It was a wonderful and weird and captivating show that I understood absolutely nothing about but was definitely entertained by.
Today I went to the Temple of Litterature
and the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum,
before spending the rest of the day walking around Hanoi and relaxing at the Note Coffee.
Tonight I will be taking the night bus to Ha Giang in Northern Vietnam and arrive there around 4 am to start my 3-day 2-night motorbike tour around the area. I'm so excited to see the nature that everyone I've talked to has said was the most beautiful in Vietnam.