3 Days in Hanoi, Vietnam

Whenever Alan travels to Hong Kong with us, we always try to tack on a short side trip. In the past, we almost always choose a destination somewhere in Japan. This time, we decided to try Vietnam, mainly because we both love Vietnamese food.

While deciding which part of Vietnam to visit on our short 3 day trip, we contemplated on Da Nang, known for their luxurious but inexpensive resorts, which sounded heavenly in 90 degree weather. We also considered Halong Bay for its picturesque views, and Hoi An for its renown UNESCO sites. However, in the end, we settled on Hanoi, the bustling capital of Vietnam, so that we could experience the true intensity of a third world country. Despite the initial culture shock when we first arrived, I have to say that this was one of our most memorable trips ever, and I’m so glad we chose this destination!

My cousin Alice joined us for the first 2 days, and we intentionally didn’t plan an itinerary on this trip so that we could immerse ourselves into the culture as much as possible. We ate on the street sides, rented a moped to get around, and took a cooking class to learn more about local ingredients. We also did a few touristy stuff, like watching the water puppet show and strolling around Hoam Kiem Lake, but our favorite parts of the trip were definitely our attempts to go off the beaten “touristy” path to live like the locals there.

Everything was so inexpensive there, especially when compared to the ever increasing cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area! Renting the moped for an entire day costed us USD $7. Eating a banh mi was USD $1. Bridgette got a brand new, dual layer North Face ski jacket for USD $25. Perhaps the most costly expense for us was our daily durian indulgence which, on average, costed us USD $10 for about 8 pieces.

Getting around on a moped was Bridgette’s favorite part of the trip. Thank goodness Alan is a highly skilled motorcycle rider, because it would be incredibly hard for an average driver to maneuver around such crazy traffic in a foreign country. Literally, there were many intersections with no lights or stop signs, and hundreds of cars and mopeds just driving around each other. The constant honking quickly became a familiar background noise as I held on for dear life while Bridgette squealed in excitement.

While on the moped, we intentionally didn’t set a destination, and just sort of wandered all around Hanoi. It was so much fun! We stopped for afternoon tea at one point, and then continued making our way through town to explore.

While Alan enjoyed several spa treatments at our hotel on our last day, Bridge and I signed up for a cooking class, which turned out to be my most favorite part of the trip. The cooking class was organized by the hotel’s Red Bean restaurant, and costed approximately USD$70 for the two of us, which is pretty pricey based on Vietnam standards. But, it was a spontaneous thing, so we didn’t have any time to look into other resources.

Our chef and instructor, Ain, was a lovely Vietnamese girl that spoke very good English. She took us to the Old Quarters early in the morning to buy ingredients at the local markets, patiently explaining to us all the different herbs that we would be using. Vietnamese food in general is super flavorful, and it was fascinating to learn how many different herbs are used in a seemingly simple dish! Taking these cooking classes definitely gives us a newfound appreciation to the food that we eat.

Maneuvering through the crowded markets was no simple feat, even with Ain at the helm, so after we gathered all our ingredients, we took a little break to enjoy some ice cold lemon tea. It was very refreshing!

While enjoying our lemon ice tea, I noticed a group of nicely dressed ladies at the next table. They were in fancy dresses and high heels, but were also crouched down on the same tiny stools and tables that we were seated at. Ain explained to me that it was likely their day off, and so they were all dressed up for a “ladies’ day out” together. Ain went on to tell me that it was already a treat to be able to hang out together like that, drinking ice lemon tea, chatting, and laughing together. I was astonished at how content they appeared to be, and it immediately reminded me that what truly makes us happy in life is contentment. Living in the Silicon Valley, we are in an incredibly spoiled bubble. A ladies’ night out with fancy dresses and stilettos could mean a fine dining experience that costs anywhere from USD $150-$300 per person. The lemon ice tea in Hanoi costed each lady around USD 25 cents. Yet, despite the seemingly uncomfortable seating and the extremely hot and humid weather, they were all engaging in the most joyful, authentic way. This made me reflect upon the fact that when we are able to find contentment in the simplicity of our everyday life, we do not need a lot of money to live fully and happily.

After our nice little break, we continued walking back to the hotel with all our freshly purchased ingredients. Once we arrived, Ain set us up with aprons and Chef’s hats, and began to instruct us on the prepping of each item.

It takes many, many hours to simmer the broth for pho, so Ain told us she had to prep it very early in the morning. Since we weren’t able to be involved in that part, Ain just walked us through it verbally but it definitely sounded like a whole lot of work! We had a new appreciation for pho!

Bridgette really enjoyed the cooking, especially because all the ingredients were so new and uncommon to her. On the menu were Pho Bo (Vietnamese traditional rice noodles with beef soup), Nem Chien (deep fried spring rolls), and Bun Cha (Vietnamese grilled pork). After 2 hours of hard work, we were ready to enjoy the meal together, and let me tell you…it was phenomenal!!

3 days was definitely too short for Hanoi, so we will definitely make plans to go back in the near future. Next time, we want to stay longer and experience a lot more of Vietnam!

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