So after the great adventure of getting here last night in the wee hours, I was awoken just 4 hours later at 7am. Seems everyone in my dorm room gets up early to get out there to explore or go on a day trip.
I groggily woke up after only 4 hours sleep. The room is actually very nice but it’s damn cold here in Northern Vietnam! I had to bundle up for bed last night and I was still shivering in the 13C temperatures.
I know, I know – it’s colder back home but, unlike at home, I’m not prepared for cold weather. I have exactly one long sleeve shirt and one pair of (thin linen) pants that make up my “warm wear” collection.
Anyway, I stumbled out of bed and went downstairs to the lobby area to see what my included breakfast was.
Now I’ve stayed in lots of hostels the last year and I’ve had both ends of the spectrum when it comes to what a hostel offers up as their free breakfast. Sadly, it’s usually just bread, jam and nutella.
I walked into the room and had to shake my head at what I saw – an omelette station with a girl dutifully waiting to make one for me!
I actually double checked to see if this was, in fact, included with my room rate and it was. The room rate, by the way – $6.
I had an omelette with everything in it along with some bread and fresh fruit and sat down to try to figure out the day.
I was joined by Gary, the resident volunteer here at the hostel/hotel (it’s really a hotel as there’s only one dorm room). He’s an older Canadian man who now lives here and I guess in exchange for lodging and food he offers up useful information about Hanoi.
He gave me a map and, while I munched down my amazing breakfast, he pointed out all the must sees and dos.
I thanked him and popped out for a little bit to explore the Old Quarter part of town my hostel was in.
First stop – an ATM.
Unlike my harrowing experience in Cebu last week, I had no problems, whatsoever with my bank card here in Hanoi.
Now, I’m going to say this and you’re gonna laugh, cause, well, inwardly we’re all a little juvenile…
I took out a bunch of Dong from the ATM.
I’ll just wait here while you chuckle.
In fact, I’m now a multi-millonaire! I have 4,000,000 Dong in my wallet! Of course that’s the equivalent of about $200 but, still, I felt pretty rich at that very moment.
Next stop – a new sim card for my phone so I would have a Vietnamese phone number. This is extremely useful as you get a data package and I’m able to use internet if there’s no wifi available (ie. lost in the streets, give me a digital map!)
I also went looking for some warm clothes. I just wanted temporary clothes as in 4 days I’ll be heading down the coast of Vietnam where it’s once again in the 30’s (celsius, that is – sorry Fahrenheit people, I be metric).
The way the Old Quarter is setup is pretty unique. Each street or area offers specific goods. There is a candy street, a aluminum street, a shoe street, a tombstone street (yes, you read that right) and, of course, a clothing street.
For obvious reasons, I was expecting the clothes to be dirt cheap – maybe a buck or two. I was pretty shocked to see they were in the $25-$45 range.
Granted, that’s still pretty cheap compared to what we pay back home but I just felt that the cheap clothes were right around the corner.
I ended up not buying anything and heading back to the hostel convinced that maybe later I would find that magical cheap clothes place.
The plan today was to just sit in the room for awhile and finally, once and for all, figure out what I’d be doing the next few days here in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. I also wanted to have an idea of what the next couple of weeks held for me as I headed down the Vietnamese coast.
That was the plan.
I was all alone in the dorm room when Huwi, a girl from Zurich, came in. She’s not your typical Swiss person as her English was impeccable and I would have pegged her as a North American for sure.
She’s a former competitive badminton player and now works part time for a Swiss airline so she’s able to fly alot cheaply (nice!). She’s dating a badminton coach from Ottawa who actually made the 2008 Olympic team and is on the tail end of her Vietnam trip going in the opposite direction as me.
This was her last day here and she wanted to take in some of the sites and since that was on my list of things to do anyway, I figured I’d join her and put off the planning for tomorrow.
Plus, I got to pick her brain about Vietnam which turned out to be a huge help!
We walked over to the big lake in the center of town – Hoan Kiem Lake. A short walk over the scarlet Huc Bridge and we entered the Ngoc Son Temple. It was my first temple here in Southeast Asia so that was pretty cool.
It was a little small and didn’t take long to go thru but for 10,000 dong (50 cents) it was a pretty good price.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is right nearby and, after passing the Martyrs’ Monument, we stopped in to buy some tickets later in the afternoon.
We had about 90 minutes to kill so we hit the Women’s Museum a few blocks away. Now, of course, I probably wouldn’t have gone in cause while I’m really interested in women – museums just aren’t my thing.
It was interesting that while a museum like this in North America would be all about empowerment with a girl power kind of theme, this one focused on marriage, family and different customs.
After going through the exhibits for about a half hour we figured we had enough time to squeeze in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison otherwise known as the Hanoi Hilton.
It’s located about 10 minutes away and I knew we were cutting it short on time but since it was Huwi’s last day here we went in anyway.
The girl at the front said it took about an hour to see everything. We did it all in about half that time. Amazing what the captives had to go through as there were some very vivid displays to look at.
At 4pm we were back at the water puppet theater to see the Dong Bao puppet show.
The show lasted an hour and we spent most of that time trying to figure out how in the hell they were doing the it.
I mean, the puppets were all floating on water doing intricate dances and motions and we just couldn’t figure out for the life of us where the puppeteers were.
Definitely a must see here in Hanoi!
After the show we stopped by a restaurant someone had raved about in a blog called the New Day at 72 Ma May just a few blocks from the hostel.
I chose their 4 course tasting menu for 100,000 dong ($5). It started with a nice chicken noodle soup and some spring rolls (of course). The main course I chose the beef with celery and onion from the choice of 5 they had.
Dessert was yogurt which I don’t really care for so I gave it to Huwi while I ordered the caramel flan for myself.
A good little meal and you certainly can’t beat the price.
As the day turned to night we walked over to another district to a coffee shop Huwi was fond of. I was full but she had a hankering for some tiramisu. Really, who could blame her as we all know it’s the best dessert ever!
We sat down and while she sipped her coffee and nibbled her dessert, she gave me tons of info on what to do and see and how to do it in Vietnam.
A huge help indeed!
Around 7pm we headed back to the hostel. We were both pretty tired but she had a party to go to as it was her last night. I passed as I was literally falling asleep on the bed as we chatted.
Sure enough, once everyone had gone, I was out like a light.
Overall, a great day considering I was expecting to just do nothing, I ended up doing tons of stuff and having a really good time with Huwi.
Happy Valentines Day!