Hanoi is intense. We have been in this city (and this country) for less than 24 hours and have had some of the more extreme travel experiences of our trip. I like it — it’s got a lot of energy, it’s chaotic — but it can challenge you on so many levels.
Hanoi is like one of those annoying friends you just can’t shake. You let them stick around because they are not only fun but also the gateway to other opportunities. However, man alive, they are loud and imposing.
The city’s energy has actually been a breath of not-so-fresh air (thanks, motorbikes) after spending the past couple weeks on the sleepy, dusty streets of Laos. It’s nice to be in a big city with some life (and a Starbucks Reserve Bar) again.
That said, there’s been some other tough pills to swallow here. Today has been … I’m not sure I want to jump straight to traumatizing, but there were some things that I wish I could unsee.
We started our first day here at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. While it’s mostly an empowering museum about the role of women in Vietnamese society, you’ll eventually make your way to the section about their role in the Vietnam War.
Let me tell you, reading about the Vietnam War as an American in Vietnam was one of the most intense museum experiences I’ve ever had. To see museum placards that memorialize women (or anyone) for shooting down American planes and capturing American soldiers was not like anything else I’ve experienced. So there was that.
GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING Proceed with caution. (Things I never thought I’d say in my travel blog.)
And then there’s the dogs. You won’t find many stray dogs sleeping lazily in the street like you see in the rest of Southeast Asia and South America. There’s an unsettling reason for that. In parts of Northern Vietnam, they eat dogs.
I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t often see the line as clearly between animals people are okay eating and animals that they’re not (I still squirm at seeing whole roasted birds), but I have a feeling that even meat eaters would cringe at eating dog.
The sight was horrifying, and something I wish I could unsee. If you’ve seen whole roasted poultry, like chickens or ducks, it was the same concept. So utterly recognizable that it makes my stomach church just thinking about it.
So yeah, it felt really good to know that everything we ate in this country was plant-based. Moving on!
Our Vietnam Travel Route
- Two-day, one-night Bhaya Cruise in Ha Long Bay
- Train from Hanoi to Hue
- Train from Hue to Hoi An (via Da Nang)
- Hoi An
- Train from Hoi An (via Da Nang) to Nha Trang
- Nha Trang (home of great snorkeling!)
- Ho Chi Minh City
First Impressions on Vietnam
- Sidewalks are for everything except walking. The sidewalks here are filled with parked motorbikes and seating for street vendors who are also cooking right on the sidewalk. In fact, all sorts of business takes place on the sidewalks, even barber shops! If you want to actually walk, the only place for you is the street. Keep your eyes peeled because, though …
- There are motor bikes everywhere & traffic laws are optional. They zip in and out of traffic, navigating through pedestrians and cars, honking constantly and zooming through seemingly lawless traffic where lanes and stop signs don’t seem to matter.
- The (vegetarian) food is amazing. We discovered that we loved Banh Mi back in the States only shortly before we left for this trip. We’re never sure what American versions of ethnic foods are actually truly common ethnic foods, so we tried not to get too excited about the Banh Mi in Vietnam. We were pleasantly surprised though to find that Banh Mi is super common among street vendors and super delicious! It’s definitely among our favorite things about this city.
What you need to know — Vietnam:
- Population: Hanoi — 7.5 million | Ho Chi Minh City — 8.5 million
- Altitude: Hanoi — 10 meters | Ho Chi Minh City — 19 meters
- Exchange Rate: 22563.50 Vietnamese Dong to $1 USD
- Primary Language: Vietnamese & English
- Walking Tour: I think they’re are actually walking tours, but we are not planning on taking one.
- Time Zone: Indochina Time Zone, UTC +7 (13 hours ahead of US Central Time)
- Taxi: Yes
- Uber: Yes
- Public Transit: Buses only
- Emergency Number: 113 – Police; 114 – Fire; 115 – Ambulance/First Aid
- Running: Running would be tough here, but you could run some laps around Hoan Kiem Lake
- American Football: OMG YES! We actually missed the Patriots game this morning and were so bummed to pass the Irish pub playing the game with only three minutes left. We definitely planned our morning wrong.
- Starbucks: Yes, finally!!
- Local Starbucks Specialty: Chestnut Mont Blanc Latte and Salted Caramel Mocha crumble (similar to the Salted Caramel Mocha, which is in the US, but with cooke crumbles).
- McDonald’s Veggie Burger: We haven’t checked yet because there is only ONE McDonalds in Hanoi and it just opened in November! But there are more in Ho Chi Minh City, so we shall see.
- Coffee Price: You can get a specialty coffee (Vietnamese coffee) for 40,000 dong (~$1.77 USD) at a local cafe or grande specially espresso drink at Starbucks for 90,000 dong (~4 USD)
- Beer Price: You can get a (regular size) bottle of Hanoi Beer for only 30,000 dong ($1.30 USD)