I've been wanting to go to Vietnam for years, but was never able to make it happen. So when 2009 rolled around and I knew I was going to be in Seoul for the holidays and my cousins were going to be coming too, I got super excited. I pitched the idea to Jung and he was really excited about it. It took some finagling and hushed planning on our part before our parents knew we were going to abandon them to go to Vietnam for a few days, but it all worked out in the end. =)
Although we would have loved to stay the recommended two weeks and do a more in-depth tour of the country, we had only five days so we had to make some sacrifices. We had heard that Ho Chi Minh is pretty commercialized, so we opted for Hanoi and Northern Vietnam because we wanted to go somewhere with a bit more scenery and rustic charm. My friends really liked Central Vietnam as well, but five days wouldn't be enough to squeeze in those cities as well.
We joined a tour for the first three days to Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh and stayed an extra two days on our own primarily to eat in Hanoi. I loved the tranquil Ninh Binh.
We then spent two days in Halong Bay. Here's the view from the top of one of the many islands in Halong Bay.
The infamous junk boats. Jung and I felt like we were on a Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
It's beautiful, but unless you're on the boat, the remaining time spent on the sleepy coastal town wasn't all that interesting. We were there for two night, but I think one night is plenty.
We spent two additional days in Hanoi by ourselves. Hanoi, compared to Ninh Binh or Halong Bay, has an anxious, chaotic energy to it and it takes a bit of getting used to. Here's a video that Jung took of a major crosswalk. There are functioning lights, but this is how cars, motorcycles and bikes (not to mention the pedestrians) cross an intersection. It's insane. It's basically organized chaos. Although you think they are going to collide into each other, they don't.
Here's another one of us actually crossing a street. Counter to your instinct in wanting to dash across the street to avoid collision, you actually need to walk very slowly so that the bikes and cars see you and can predict your movements. They actually do a surprisingly good job of avoiding you.
During the two days we were in Hanoi, we ate six times a day. I kid you not, we were on a mission. Our schedule pretty much consisted of going from one eatery to another and looking at sights that happened to fall along our route. hahaha. It was a lot of fun.
We rented bikes one day and just rode around the city. Our hotel said that they had bikes we could rent from them directly, but they were the crappiest bikes I've ever laid eyes on. Not to mention that the brakes on my bike were barely working. I told the guy, "I'm going to crash into a car if I go out there." He thought I was joking, but I was being serious. I really thought I'd for sure crash into someone or something. Jung offered to switch bikes with me but soon realized that spending a whole day riding around in the streets of Hanoi with a defective brake is not a good way to leave this world, so we went back to the hotel and decided to check out independent rental shops. They turned out to be way cheaper and had better quality bikes in stock, so don't book at the hotel if you can. Here's a picture of our bikes parked while we were eating. Our trusty companions on our trips, they kept us alive and well. We got attached to them by the end.
Our goal on this trip was to experience local, street foods. We had seen so many accounts of all the great street food that's to be had in Hanoi, so we were beyond excited. We came prepared with a long list of places we wanted to try and I think we did a pretty good job for two full days in Hanoi.
I absolutely fell in love with the food there. I think Jung would agree too. Everything, I mean, everything we had was just so good. It's ironic because I now realize my exposure to Vietnamese food was so limited before this trip. I thought Vietnamese food consisted of pho, spring rolls and banh mi sandwiches. But there's so much more, friends, so much more!