The 2 hour flight to Hanoi was with Jetstar and filled with mostly Asians and thankfully the guy sitting next to me didn’t let me forget my beats headphones upon arrival as I would have accidentally left it on my seat (first time that ever happened where they were left on the seat as I was packing up). Hanoi airport was quite small and easy to get a Grab surprisingly and as soon as we drove into the city, I was stunned by all the little streets filled with sidewalks of people eating, tourists walking, and obviously mopeds everywhere but it was more chaotic than Saigon for sure, just a much more lively feel. I was so ready to get to my hotel and thankfully it was a fancier hotel but kind of loud out in the streets, not sure what was going on because there was loud music, but it was atleast manageably compared to that band that was playing in the streets in the middle of nowhere in Peru. I actually got a second wind and decided to do some push ups and sit ups before showering since I still couldn’t really practice yoga because of my knee. I tried going to bed early since I had booked a full day tour the next day and wanted to take advantage of the hotel room. It felt so nice being in the most comfortable big bed with a TV and a regular bathroom with air conditioning, so I probably fell asleep around 10pm and woke up with barely enough time to get breakfast. I called down right at 7:30am to tell them I was going up to eat breakfast if the tour guide came and they said that was fine and they would call me, so I quickly ate and then went down at 8am and to my surprise the door to my room wasn’t locking so I called down and they said the tour guide was ready for me, but I informed them the door was locked so this guy came up and tried to fix it but said I needed to leave for the tour and I made sure he knew that I needed the door to lock and that I didn’t want my room cleaned. He guaranteed everything would be okay before having to rush out the door to the tour and the tour guide wasn’t very pleased with me but oh well. I was mostly nervous about my laptop most of the time if these types of instances occurred, but I tried not to let it ruin my time by worrying so much.
On the tour bus, there were mostly older people and unluckily I was the only solo traveler, but I took it all in with a grain of salt as we were off to see these historical temples, caves and "lying dragon" mountain. It was really neat exploring the temples and buddhas, but it felt kind of like it was set up for tourism which is what the guide even said, but at least I was able to get a taste of the culture a bit. My stomach was hurting a lot of the time while we walked around the various temples..there was something in the food/ingredients that my stomach wasn't used to (even when I was in Saigon I was having some stomach aches but never worse than that). We stopped to have a buffet lunch at this tourist cafe before going on the canoe tour through these limestone caves, which was where they filmed that movie, King Kong (so if you’ve seen the movie you can somewhat picture what the setting is like). There were tons of tourists waiting in lines to board these canoes that were being paddled by local Vietnamese women dressed in traditional clothing and straw hats. The lady steering my canoe was so sweet and so happy it made me happy that she was so happy and then there was this other couple (not sure where from) aboard as well. It lasted about 2 hours which was long but it was beautiful and relaxing as you just have to sit there and enjoy the scene. Then we drove to dragon mountain for sunset and had to hike up all these steep stairs to get to the top of these two temples (one mountain has a dragon, the other solely a temple). Many people were trying to take pictures in the same spots at the same time and I had to ask random strangers to take pictures of me so it was annoying, but necessary. I climbed all the way up to the dragon after seeing the other mountain with the temple and admired the sunset with all these younger tourists (mostly Europeans) and then headed back down just in time to head back into the city. When we got back, I was tired but ready for some pho so I asked the receptionist at the hotel where to go and thankfully I made it just in time to this really awesome local pho place around the corner. The place was filled with locals stuffing their faces with rice noodles and a long line out the door with pulled pork hanging from the counter and a huge pot being served. I knew it was going to be good so I waited in line for about 15 minutes and sat next to this family of three girls. The grandmother was feeding the smallest child while the older one kept staring at me and the second one doing her own thing, but they included me in their cute little family for that meal and it was something really special. Then I wanted to sit outside before going to bed so I ordered a smoothie at this Aha place next to my hotel and watched as this big family came and took over a large space on the sidewalk with their children and grandparents (like a whole family outing, except this was probably normal for them). I was tired and needed to shower and go to bed but all of a sudden I realized my lip was swollen (second time on this trip!), probably from the pho I just ate but didn't have any medicine so just hoped it would go away over night. So I went to bed and thankfully it was gone.
I got up in time before breakfast was over and then took a Grab to see this famous lake called Kiem Lake that has a temple in the middle (I was going to try to wake up for sunrise but it would have been too much and I was tired). There were tons of people out and about walking around and it was a Saturday so the roads were blocked and the kids were driving around on their remote small cars and I got a coffee from that Aha place again and walked around the lake. To my surprise, there was a popup festival taking place with tents and music and I even got to see a performance by this K-pop band singing and dancing to this funny catchy song! Afterwards, I continued to walk around the lake, people watching and admiring the different fruits and paintings for sale and then headed back to my hotel to check out before noon. I checked out but left my bags with the front desk and then headed to this famous train street, which was closed when I arrived because it has become“too dangerous” apparently with some crime. After snapping some pictures along different parts of the railroad, I went to the other pho place the other receptionist told me about. This was another unique experience as I didn’t know where to go at first because the signs were confusing but eventually found it after seeing people eating pho outside this one corner shack restaurant. I sat down at one of the tiny picnic stools and ordered one of the popular flavored phos and it was the most perfect situation. I felt like I was part of the culture again with the locals eating this roasted pork pho at a long picnic table where you can add ginger, wasabi, lettuce, and sauces (abundance available in the center of the table to share). There was loud construction being done next door and the air quality maybe not the best to be eating in and tons of mopeds driving by (there could be so much pollution and so many germs)...but it was my favorite memory of being in Hanoi as there was so much commotion taking place at the same time as enjoying this delicious pho meal, a typical Vietnamese experience :). After a delicious lunch, I walked back to my hotel and bought a large water bottle at this one mini-store. I almost gave the guy 100 as opposed to 10 haha and it was a good reminder not to make that mistake (I could only tell by how excited this poor man got when he saw the 100 and I really had to look at the number a second time before realizing what I might have given him). From my experience, these types of lessons only need to be taught once as they catch you by surprise. I arrived at my hotel just in time for the big bus to pick me up to go to the islands off the coast of Vietnam, Cat Ba!