Hanoi is packed with restaurants and street food stands, so much so it can be challenging to know where’s good and where might have you running for the bathroom all night. Luckily, I have an easy solution.
During one of Vietnam’s bank holidays a few months ago, we decided to hire a scooter and head to Hoa Binh for a night. We chose the place purely because of it’s easy accessibility from Hanoi, at just a couple of hours of easy riding. It was our first time hiring a bike since moving to Hanoi just over 3 months ago, and despite Graham having a motorbike licence in the UK, the trip didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped.
Settling into expat life can be a challenge, wherever you decide to live. Making new friends, keeping in touch with old ones, adapting to new food (this adaption may take place predominantly in the bathroom…) and getting used to the speed of the city. In Hanoi, that speed is fast paced. It seems everyone has somewhere they need to be, and they need to be there 10 minutes ago. When you mix this pace with a dire lack of public transport and low income, the result is streets filled with, what the Vietnamese like to call, motorbikes. To me, they will forever be called scooters. And the sound will remind me of hair driers and 17 year old boys from the town I grew up in, smoking and trying to get an adult to buy them some cheap booze. Having spent most of my teen years perpetually teasing anyone that ever mentioned in passing the notion of buying a scooter, a little piece of me died when asked for the first time in Hanoi “do you have a scooter yet?”.
It’s official, the Year of the Golden Goat is upon us. Hanoi is slowly returning to its usual levels of crazy and people are returning to work – I know because, as I write, I’m listening to the rumble from one of the many building sites that encompass my flat and have been blissfully silent for the last week. Restaurants are opening again, and we made it all the way through the week without running out of drinking water, though the bread situation became desperate. For those that are unfamiliar with Tet, it is the lunar new year celebration in Vietnam, which generally falls on the same day as the Chinese new year. It’s a huge celebration here, and also marks the start of spring.
Our journey to Sapa started with an overnight train from Hanoi, and would end back at the same station a week later. Hanoi station is, to say the least, confusing. Corridors seem to end for no reason and some of the platforms seem to lack any access at all. It was one of these platforms that we needed to find a way to. Leaving our bags in a pile with Helen, Graham and I went in opposite directions to try and suss out the way. I could see the train, with crowds of people loading their bags and finding their carriage: the normal bustle that surrounds a train as it readies for departure, with the addition of chaos that seems to come free with anything in Vietnam. Looking at my watch in desperation, I followed a Vietnamese man rushing to the end the platform I was on, though there was nothing at the end. Which I knew as I’d looked twice already. I watched him as he checked for trains, hopped onto the tracks and across to the other side, arriving at the platform we needed. Hello, Vietnamese shining health and safety considerations, I thought as I rounded the others and we followed the man’s unconventional route.