Early risers! Shockingly easy street crossings! Interviews!
Let’s keep things honest: we’re not typically early risers. But all that changes when you’re a Philadelphian in Hanoi, living 11 hours in the future and breakfast time is when you would normally be finishing up dinner and debating whether to watch Downton Abbey or House Hunters International that evening.
So we awoke uncommonly early, ditched the complimentary hotel breakfast, and forged out onto the loud, crowded streets in search of the real deal: Phở, a traditional Vietnamese morning meal of noodles, herbs, and aromatic broth studded with either beef, pork, or chicken. We landed at Phở Gia Truyền where we slurped our delicious bowls from a knee-high table while perched upon teeny tiny plastic stools. It was exactly what we wanted in every way.
After breakfast we wanted to see Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as Sword Lake, which was within a short walking distance from our hotel in the Old Quarter. That’s when $h!# got real and we had to face the daunting task of crossing Hanoi’s streets, which have no stop signs or pedestrian walk-lights to sort out the thousands upon thousands of motorbikes and buses from those, like us, who are on foot. YouTubers had psyched us out properly with scenes such as this one here, and so we had a more than a wee bit of trepidation about the advice we’d been given to simply walk confidently and steadily across the road and to trust (both the motorcycle riders and in God) that the drivers would weave their vehicles around you. Since you’re reading this, you know we lived to tell the tale, but you might not believe us when we tell you that crossing the street in Hanoi, Vietnam was SO MUCH EASIER than in any major American city we’ve even been in. You just GO. No waiting for a traffic light, or having to worry about a car blowing through that light…you take a breath (and if you’re like us, hold hands with one another), walk at an even pace, and in the most beautifully organic of ways, all of the motorbike riders gracefully weave their way around you. You don’t interrupt them, and they don’t interrupt (or worse still, collide with) you. AWESOME.
With Hanoi street crossing added to our list of small triumphs (you can watch our video footage in the next blog post), we wound our way through the Old Quarter’s small streets (devoid of city planning (This city would have given Ed Bacon a migraine)) to Hoan Kiem Lake where we were immediately greeted by groups of college-age students who wished to take our photos and practice their English with us. Robin was a bit wary. Mark glowed with his newfound celebrity.
After the whirl of student interviews and a quick glimpse at the beautiful lake, heat exhaustion and jet lag kicked us like a mule, and so Robin’s request to “take a brief rest” at the hotel turned into a solid 7+ hour zonk-out.
Mark was (as always) incredibly patient, and dealt with the unplanned day in a closet-sized, windowless hotel room with much kindness and grace, though was visibly ebullient when Robin (however disoriented and surly) awoke that evening and agreed to leave the room in search of a late dinner. Despite the lack of planning the led us to stumble into the nearest blatantly touristy restaurant, we managed to score great entrees + drinks delivered with wonderful service and a good view for less than $5 USD per person at Aubergine Cafe. Check it out if you find yourself in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, and tell them the disoriented Wandering Griffins say xin chào.