“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”– Barbara De Angelis
I was very excited to be reaching Hanoi, Vietnam. It was the first city I would arrive in completely solo and Chuck had told me how it was one of his favorites. I was ecstatic about exploring it, but, no doubt, a bit nervous to finally be going at it solo. Needless to say, the solo portion of my trip would find itself on hold because, due to coronavirus, Chuck would be changing his travel plans and also going to Hanoi at the same time. It was time for my two weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam, to begin.
Upon landing, we went straight for the ATM, it was time to get some local currency. Cards are rarely taken in Vietnam and using their local currency is preferred. I inserted my “international” debit card and for the first time on the trip, it did not work. I moved to the next machine and the same thing happened. I made my way to a third and again, nothing. I checked my balance, just to be sure. In fact, it was exactly as it was supposed to be. Thank goodness the solo portion had not begun. I was able to Venmo Chuck and get cash. Calling my bank, I was made aware that my international bank account is blacked out in 2 countries in the World, Vietnam is one. Ah, the adventures of nomad life.
Chuck and I decided to share a Grab car to his guest house and I would walk from there to my hostel. This was the first time we would be staying completely separate and in different parts of a city, as I was supposed to be solo. The walk to my place was not an easy one, but I made it. My hostel, Happy Feet, was found after lots of research. I should have done a better job in my research. The wifi was abysmal and I was unlucky in bunkmates. My bunk was nice enough and it had a curtain and a fan, so I was comfortable when it was time to sleep. It was located right off of Beer Quarter, so my walks to and from were interesting, to say the least.
Day 1 of exploring was going fine. Then walking down a street in the old town, I ran into my first scam of the trip. A hat was placed on my head, a picture was taken and then money was insisted upon. I will not go into boring details of the incident, but always be observant of your surroundings when traveling. You can remain friendly but firm when interacting with folks who are trying to make a living, but you must protect yourself as well. Thanks to those I love for helping me through this incident.
The three above things all happened in my first 24 hours in Hanoi. This made the city itself leave a bad taste in my mouth. I was not a fan and it would take me a couple of days to shake my negative mood and start to try and enjoy it for what it is. There are a ton of beautiful things to enjoy and see. Hoan Kiem Lake is the center of the action in Old City and there is much to see around and in the lake. Jade Island sits in the lake and is home to Ngoc Son Temple. You are granted access via the Rising Sun Bridge. It is definitely a tourist spot, but it is stunning both during the day and at nighttime. There is also the interesting tale of the turtles of Hanoi that is fun to read up on. I almost allowed my bad mood to cause me to miss it. I am thankful Chuck was there to convince me to shake it off.
You hear people say all the time that we should learn from history. The hardest thing for me to grasp is that history is documented from a person’s point of view, a man of power more often than not. This was never more clear than when I visited Hoa Lo Prison. Many of you have heard of the Hanoi Hilton, no doubt – the prison where John McCain was held during his years as a POW. Visiting this location kinda put me in a mood, one that still I am having a hard time explaining or coming to terms with. Reading their version of history, the history of being war-torn for so many years, it was all very eye-opening. The prison has been preserved and the story told is VERY heartbreaking, especially the time during the French War. One of the most interesting parts I found was that the United States was never made out to be a villain. More so, they just showed how the prisoners held there during the American (Vietnam) War were treated fairly and well. A harsh difference from how we are taught this same history in the States. I will continue to study this time in more depth, as I found it extremely interesting.
Ever hear of a water puppet show or seen one? Well, I had not either. Water Puppetry dates back to the 11th century in Vietnam. It is a unique art where the puppets are made of wood and then lacquered and perform their acts on and in water. The show is performed to live traditional Vietnamese music and tells stories of local folklore. Hanoi hosts one of the few remaining troops of these artists and is housed in the old city. It travels, but for the most part, this is one of the last places left to still see a show. I had seen a few pics, but I had no idea what to expect during the show. We had nice seats and settled in for the roughly one hour show. It was odd, quirky, a bit weird but at the same time mesmerizing, beautiful and artistic. I really cannot explain this show in a better way, you truly must just see it.
Growing up my favorite book was The Little Engine that Could. It is still my favorite children’s book. I gift it often to expecting mothers or new babies. I have “I think I can” emblazoned (gifts from Mom mostly) on several things in my home. I think from this one book as a kid and my parents never letting me give up has given me an affinity for trains. Not to mention, that I just think it is silly that there are not more trains in the States. Anyways, I digress. Train Street in Hanoi is a small thoroughfare between close buildings where a train runs. A lot of the buildings host cafes and shops. This caused such an uptick in tourists flocking to this small area that the city forced it to close. People were not frequenting the cafes but coming just for the train, which passes within inches of you, and the photo ops. We tried to go a couple of times but a guard would not let us pass. Finally, we noticed that if a cafe worker escorted you to a cafe it was fine to pass. The crowds were smaller than Chuck had previously encountered and we were able to sit, enjoy a drink and watch the train whiz by. It was an incredible experience that lasted under a minute. However, the memory that it left will last forever.
Hanoi was not my favorite city of this adventure thus far (even cutting my stay by a week) but after regrouping and deciding to make the most of it, I was able to see the beauty of it. Scams, night market closings (coronavirus), hostel and banking issues, and such were overshadowed by the history and beauty of the city. It did me good to be reminded to look for the silver lining in all things.