Last month, we spent a week in Hanoi, Vietnam! I know, it was a bit crazy of us to go during the final weeks of our time in Cambodia. But we had several good motivations -
- Andrew wanted to go to a major water and sanitation conference that was happening in Hanoi.
- We have really good friends who used to work with us in Poipet who now live in Hanoi, and we wanted to see them before leaving Southeast Asia.
- We didn't know when we'd have another opportunity to visit Vietnam!
So we booked our tickets, got our visas, and made our plans. Actually, it was a lot more stressful than that. The visas and ticket prices were more expensive that we'd planned for; we had difficulty finding a hotel near our friends; and our visa application was messed up when the agency got it for the wrong dates.
Andrew said he became quite "Hanoi-ed" with the trip. Haha.
But eventually, all the details came together. And despite Declan sleeping like a colicky newborn the entire week (read: NOT AT ALL), we managed to get out, see some sights, and enjoy time with our friends. And it was a good chance to take Declan on a "test-flight" - his first international flight!
First, Hanoi was overwhelming to us for the first few days. The population of the city is equal to half of Cambodia's population - about 7 million people. The city is much more modern than Phnom Penh - clean, well organized streets; traffic that seems to follow a more logical flow; and cheap, reliable public transportation. But the drivers are constantly on their horns, and the noise never stops.
Other people have told us that Vietnamese are the least friendly of the Southeast Asians. But I think having a baby with us made everyone light up with smiles and give us special treatment. Taxi drivers helped us get the stroller in and out of the cabs, and the hotel staff always helped us out. People were less likely to chat with us or try to practice their English, like they do in Cambodia. But overall, we found it a pretty easy place to travel with our baby.
As a tip, taking taxis in Hanoi was so easy. The drivers always took us to our destination (never saying "It's too far!" or trying to ask more than the meter rate, like they do in Bangkok!), and we paid about $4 to travel thirty minutes to the Old Quarters district (we stayed in the suburbs near our friends). Just have your destination written on a piece of paper to show the driver or marked on a map, and you'll be fine!
One of the highlights of the trip was the food. I LOVED the food in Vietnam. The cuisine focuses on light, fresh flavors, like fresh spring roll wraps you put together yourself, and comforting thick broths, like the national dish of pho with beef and noodles. There was such a variety of flavors, and it was so cheap. And of course, the coffee - thick, dark, rich coffee topped off with sweetened condensed milk.
Street food is plentiful and cheap in Hanoi. You can easily eat for $1-2 per meal by sticking with the local restaurants. And we tried pretty much anything we came across. Our favorite "fancy" Western restaurant was The Kafe - oh my goodness, they had the most amazing drink selection - coffees, teas, fresh juices and smoothes, and more. We actually went there twice. The second time, the whole group ordered several of the desserts, and they did not disappoint.
My first stop was the Temple of Literature - Vietnam's first national university, built over 1,000 years ago. Over centuries, students came to study Confucianism and sit for strict exams. The compound was such a green, quiet escape from the busyness of the city. We passed through gardens and courtyards til we reached the main temple, where worshipers were still leaving offerings and prayers.
I went with two of my friends while our husbands were at the water conference (one couple lives in Hanoi, and the other couple lives in Cambodia, although in a different city). I asked one of my friends to take a photo of Declan and I. As I knelt down next to him, three young people rushed over and asked to take their photo with the baby. I just started laughing, watching these tourists more interested in taking a photo with the white baby, than in front of the 1,000 year old temple they had come to see!
I have more photos to share, including ones from the prison where John McCain spent six years, and another 1,000 year old temple that we stumbled upon by accident. But we'll save that for another post!