Laden down by a rucksack each and a shared suitcase filled mainly by Naomi’s straw hat (more hat updates to follow in due course), we trudged from Hackney to Heathrow to board our Vietnam Airlines Dreamliner all the way to Hanoi.
We touched down in Hanoi on September 2nd, which happened to be a national holiday commemorating the Vietnam Declaration of Independence from France in 1945. This meant we wouldn’t be meeting with the Washington Language Centre until Saturday, so we had the day to catch up on some much needed rest after a sleepless flight from London and a tedious queue for a work visa. This was a great relief as Naomi had been battling a cold that developed a few days before the trip.
After a power nap (that turned into 4 hours) at the Classic Street Hotel, we enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese dinner at New Day Café, a 5 minute walk away. For the time being we are situated in the Old Quarter, Hanoi’s historic heart, which is a little grittier than it sounds. The Old Quarter was once a bustling area where merchants gathered to sell their products, consisting of small meandering streets named after the goods that were specifically traded there e.g. Hang Bac (silver product) and Hang Ma (paper product). Today, waves of motorbikes compete with pedestrians wandering through the maze of streets, hotels and shop fronts. It’s still a little daunting knowing that we will be navigating through these streets on our own mopeds in just a few days time, but honestly, the traffic wasn’t as chaotic as we had imagined and we soon found our confidence in crossing the roads while ignoring the constant tooting of horns.
We were surprised by how many locals were walking the streets and eating out alongside us, squatting on the tiny plastic stools that litter the pavements and spill out onto the street. We enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese meal totalling to a bargain £3 per person (including a local beer) while we people-watched and let the reality of finally being in Vietnam sink in. After dinner we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake and took in the Independence Day celebrations. It was swarming with BBQ’d sausages, cotton candy, a ferocious tug-of-war and lots of locals taking selfies. Lawrence was even roped in to one when we paused by the lakeside to take in the view. It was clear how much of a novelty Lawrence’s curly blond hair and beard was with the Vietnamese. He is the new tourist attraction in town, openly gawped at by mesmerized children, and slightly more subtly by the adults.