asia | vietnam| hanoi : Son Tinh Camp : Red river 
it takes me quite a while usually to write about a travel experience because I want to share more than just pictures and stories; I want to share the lesson(s) I have learned. Vietnam is no different, except that maybe it took me nearly 7 months to be able to articulate what I learned. but I’ll start at the beginning..
having just arrived a few weeks earlier, leaving australia to go to vietnam ignited conflicting emotions. i was excited to see my travel friends – who had just recently moved to hanoi. and even though i knew i would be returning to oz in a month or less, i felt something i hadn’t felt in a while – sadness about leaving someplace too soon. experiencing new places, cultures, people and food is part of the reason i travel. and yet, i wasn’t sure about vietnam.
i had never had a burning desire to travel through southeast asia – not like i’ve experienced with other places. but here was an amazing opportunity to explore a new country with my favorite travel couple, who i hadn’t seen since last fall in aachen. how could i not go when i was so close? with an uncertainty in my gut i focused on the possibilities of vietnam and booked a flight to hanoi via singapore.
never having been to the singapore airport i was slightly concerned that i had a 9 hour layover…but once i was there, i made a note to get a longer layover the next time. the singapore airport may be my favorite airport in the world. and before you start thinking, ‘why is she talking about an airport?,’ know this – when asked where of all the places i’ve lived/travelled i felt the most at home, i answered airports. don’t worry, nicaragua is still my home in my heart…but there is something about being in an airport that comforts me. i know the rules, i know how the system works, i can navigate and survive in ways i don’t always feel i can in the world. i move through airports with comfort and ease – never running or full of anxiety [even when i’ve been detained].
but seriously, singapore airport is ridiculous. they have: a koi pond, an outdoor sunflower garden where you can breathe fresh air [well, outside air at least], a movie theater, 24-hour food options [if you’ve ever been stuck at lax overnight, you understand how great this is], free wifi, and, if you’re really in need, a 24-hour transit hotel where you can sleep for a couple hours and shower for a low cost. singapore international airport greatly reduced my uneasiness.
when I landed in Hanoi, however, the uneasiness was replaced with anxiety as I attempted to get through customs and immigration. after over an hour dealing with border control and paying another 50$, I was admitted into Vietnam, and met by my good friends’ embraces and…popeye’s chicken. globalization.
but here’s the thing about travelling – one minute you can be experiencing the most frustrating scenario you could imagine and the next you’re eating popeye’s with amigos de viaje in vietnam. a constant reminder for me that it’s better to let the SPEED-BUMPS of the past go and focus on the good happening in front of you.
once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.
my initial feeling as we drove into Hanoi was complete sensation overload. I was told during my visit that there are something close to seven million people in Hanoi and nearly 4 million motorbikes and scooters. the traffic on the road was hectic, the air was thick with smog creating a perpetual cloudy day effect, and there were people everywhere. I honestly can’t remember the smells that greeted me, but I reckon they were a mix of malodorous and pleasant as a result of the parks and farmlands sprinkled throughout the city.
over the next three weeks I tried as many different types of food as I could, visited some popular tourist locations, and met lots of german expats and locals via my friends, who had already begun cultivating a community in their first month in the country. I also got to know a local through couchsurfing who showed me some of the lesser known gems of Hanoi, including the best dish I had the entire time I spent in vietnam.
when it comes to food, i am overwhelmingly under-qualified at describing the sensations and taste and utter genius of it. i admire food critics in this way.
so i apologize for not being able to paint a picture for you [but you’re not reading this for a food review anyway]. i will say this: pho ba and pho ga, bun cha, mi xao ga and mi xao ba, pillow cake, and countless others i never actually got the name of before digging in, are included in the food i miss the most from hanoi.
i surprised myself by being able to pick up a few vietnamese phrases and, in less than three weeks, was semi-confident ordering my own dishes at restaurants, greeting people, and [sometimes] saying thank you. this was huge for me because i fully expected not to learn any vietnamese in three weeks. i am still improving my spanish and, being around my german friends, hoped to get some practice time in with my german while i had the opportunity.
you might imagine what it was like in the apartment with the three of us practicing four different languages [spanish, english, german, and vietnamese] – correcting each other and offering reminders if one of us got tripped up. and if it wasn’t true before, this experience definitely would have put michi and judith at the top of my favorite travel couples list. their hospitality, patience, and willingness to grow and learn is unbounded.
i expect if and when i return to vietnam my first stop will be hanoi to say hello to the few people i met who made a huge difference in my journey. and i will always be grateful for hanoi because it taught me what can happen when i remove self-imposed limits on what i can withstand and achieve*.
*I do think it will be a long while before I try driving a motorbike again – crashed it after only 200 meters.