Hanoi – #1 City. Great People. Cheap Food. Cheap Beer. No Health Codes. Total Chaos. Nicolas Cage Still Stinks.
Hello My Friends and Family,
Well, The Lexpedition is back on track! All aboard the crazy adventure train! I borrowed the title of this post from Blur’s amazing ‘Song 2’. Wooo Hooo!
Greetings from Hanoi! I arrived into this amazing city on New Year’s Day and have been having an absolute blast ever since. In all my travels, with all the countries and cities I have visited, I hereby proclaim that… Hanoi is my favorite city on the planet!
Hanoi is so raw and authentic and chaotic and vibrant. The food is super cheap and tasty… $1.50 will get me a bowl of Pho Ga (steaming rice noodle soup with chicken and vegetables) AND a cold beer on just about any street in the Old Quarter. Yum Yum! The Hanoians are hard working, industrious and generally very friendly and helpful. I walk around the bustling Old Quarter just amazed at the diversity and quantity of local street food stalls, vendors, shops, motos (motor scooters), and Hanoians transporting unbelievable loads on their shoulders, backs or motos.
Sure, some of this is geared to tourism, but in a city of six million people, a great deal of this ‘infrastructure’ exists solely to feed and clothe and service the needs of the locals.
Lots of people (including the Lonely Planet guidebook) warned me about scams or pickpockets or thieves, but I have seen ZERO evidence of any of this. Maybe it’s because this isn’t my first rodeo and I know what to watch for and how to navigate, but I am very happy to report that I have felt no threat, no hassle, no coercion, and no difficult situations in my 6 days here.
Anycrap, I love Hanoi! There, I said it.
- They say it’s cold and rainy back home in Louisville (KY) today with snow returning in a few days…. It’s not my problem… ’cause I’m in Vietnam.
- I heard that Oprah Winfrey just launched her own new network, and I believe it’s gonna be only slightly bigger than her bloated ego… Big deal… But it’s not my problem… ’cause I’m in Vietnam.
- The new U.S. Congress is back in session, looking to balance the budget, bail out the banks, extend and pretend, and blah blah blah… it’s not my problem… ’cause I’m in Vietnam.
- I hear Nicolas Cage is getting ready to unleash another crappy movie on the perpetually disappointed masses… It’s not my problem… ’cause I’m in Vietnam.
- People say I use too many bullet points… It’s not my problem… ’cause I’m in Vietnam.
- It’s not my problem… ’cause I’m in Vietnam.
Even though I have been here in Hanoi for 6 days now, I will now attempt to boil down my adventures and thoughts into a few choice paragraphs. Like trying to squeeze 7 pounds of sand into a 5 pound bag… It’s just really hard to do is all I’m saying. OK let’s go!
Actually, let me start with my plane trip from Louisville to Hanoi. Flew Delta Airlines from Louisville to Atlanta. My generous brother and monster frequent flyer Dominic made a few calls for me, and I got bumped up to first class on the flight to Atlanta. Sat next to a cool guy named Randy, from Atlanta, who was thoroughly jealous of my big adventure.
And Dominic told me who to go see in the Atlanta airport in the Delta Crown Room, and she let me in. So I spent a few hours of my layover drinking coffee and napping in comfy chairs with free wifi and snacks. Like I was important or something. And a cold beer before I hopped on my 15 hour flight to Seoul. Thanks Dom-O the Dom-O! And thanks Michelle, wink wink.
Then Korean Airlines from Atlanta to Seoul on a giant 747, my favorite aircraft of all times. Sat next to a nice woman named My (born in Saigon, living in Atlanta, returning to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to visit her family and attend a wedding… Got that?) My napped on her seat and the empty middle seat between us for more than half the flight. She shared her chocolate and trail mix with me and almost threw up a few times when we hit turbulence. I shared my wit and rugged good looks with her. I also let her have my barf bag as a back-up. Lots of girls throw up or fall asleep when they are around me, but that’s a different story for a different time. Let’s move on.
My and I (that rhymes) had some Korean food at the ultra-modern Seoul airport before she hopped on her flight to Saigon and I jumped on my 5 hour flight to Hanoi. Arrived into Hanoi airport, picked up my Visa, went through customs and was met by my waiting hotel representative holding a sign with my name on it. I’m important here!
Blah blah blah. Woke up on January 2nd to eat (complimentary) breakfast at my hotel and walk around the Old Quarter. Sweeeeeet! Still jet-lagged but very amazed at the chaos and vibrancy of this town. Drank lots of coffee.
My first real conversation here was at breakfast with a very nice and interesting family from Eugene, Oregon. They were finishing up a 2-week trip to northern Laos and northern Vietnam to export fine fabrics and handicrafts back to the USA for their online business. They told me where to go in northern Laos to get off the beaten track, and they said that Laos is their favorite country on the planet (I have heard that from MANY people over the years.) I can’t wait to get there! You can check them out online at www.hilltribeart.com – Pretty cool stuff! Thanks Ari and Zall, Maren & Josh. Good luck. Maren actually told me she was jealous of me and my adventure. That’s saying a lot when it comes from a woman who just spent 2 weeks exploring the hill tribes with her family.
OK… Where was I??? Oh yeah, Nicolas Cage. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it til he takes acting lessons or people stop paying to go see or rent his uber-crappy movies… Nicolas Cage is, by far, the worst actor on the planet. The only possible exception to his infinite craptacular list of crappy performances in crappy movies was in his early role in ‘Raising Arizona’, which actually is one of my Top 10 movies of all times. But I suspect the only reason he did well in his role as H.I. McDunnough was because he portrayed a dim-witted criminal oaf, which I believe he needed absolutely no rehearsal for. I think he just showed up each day on the movie set and the director said, “OK, in this scene, Nicolas, you are a lifeless blob with slow reflexes, limited charisma and presence, and minimal intelligence…. and… Action!” Of course, Cage nailed it and thought he was cool. My hat’s off to the Coen Brothers for casting the perfect moron for that role…. Bravo!
If you put a gun to my head and made me pick between another trip to Egypt, a Windows-based computer, or having to watch another Nicolas Cage movie (excepting ‘Raising Arizona’, of course), I would grudgingly take the computer. I can’t tolerate the rickety Windows platform after being a (snobby) Apple guy for 5 years now, but you couldn’t pay me to go back to Egypt again. So give me the crappy computer. No way in Hell you’re gonna make me watch another Nicolas Cage fiasco. Go ahead, shoot me. Absolute worst case would be if you stuck me on a long flight to Egypt and the plane was featuring a Nicolas Cage Movie Marathon. Not enough beer on that plane, I can assure you. True or False: I like Nicolas Cage? False. (See above.)
Hello, Lex, get back to your stupid Hanoi story! OK. On my first full night I went to Bia Hoi Ha Noi, where they serve fresh beer and bad hygiene. Side note… The locals pick their noses a lot. A LOT! And they don’t care if you watch them. They just keep digging and digging. And then they serve you food. I am not making fun of them, I am simply relaying the truth. If I were digging in my nose back home and you saw me, I would stop immediately and be embarrassed. If I were your cook or waiter, and you saw me going to town in my nose, I hope you would get up and walk out. No such stigma here. But they eat dog. Not judging, just telling you what’s what.
Two local men, Mr. Frank (77 years old) and Mr. Dat (46) joined me at my table and we limped along in English over a few beers. Bia Hoi is Vietnamese for ‘fresh beer’, and it’s basically cheap watery draft beer, usually from an unrefrigerated keg, and served in semi-clean glasses. The Bia Hoi joints get fresh kegs daily, and the beer flows until the keg is empty. Next day new keg. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. A pint of Bia Hoi costs about 4,000 Dong, about US$.20 (that’s 20 measly cents.) Or you can splurge on a big bottle of Bia Ha Noi or Bia Saigon for about US$.75 – my kinda town!
Tangent… The currency here is the Vietnamese Dong. Right now you get about 20,000 Dong for a Dollar. But no matter how many Dongs you have, you can’t get King Dongs here… Only Twinkies. Or Snickers. Your Dong goes a long way here. 🙂
After Bia Hoi Ha Noi I walked 10 minutes back to my ‘neighborhood’ and sat down on another minuscule plastic chair at Bia Hoi Junction, so called because 3 of the 4 corners of the intersection have Bia Hoi joints. Sat down with Hagen and Dirk from Germany. They were finishing up the last day of their 2 month adventure in Southeast Asia, and I was on night 1 of my monster adventure. We were joined by Clay from Texas, who had just finished riding his bicycle from northern Laos across Vietnam to Hanoi. I will probably never see Dirk or Hagen again, but we had a blast that night.
It’s amazing how quickly I fell back into my travel adventure role and how much fun it is to meet people who view traveling around the world as a passion and a privilege. Clay and I hung out again the next afternoon and night, and I met Ben and Dusty from D.C. later that night. Then Clay left town and I hung out with Ben and Dusty and Rica (from Manilla) last night, hitting a few local places and enjoying some late nite street soup. Rica left town today. I might see Ben and/or Dusty again in Cambodia or Ladakh. Maybe not. No matter.
I meet cool, passionate, adventurous, easy-going people while traveling. Maybe we share a beach or a coffee or a beer or a bus seat or plane ride or an Internet cafe. The connection and conversation is generally pretty instantaneous. After a short time we often feel like we’re old friends. Maybe we hang out for a few days. Maybe a few weeks. But at some point, they go their way and I go mine. Fleeting and impermanent, like life. Hello. Good Bye. Good Luck!
Well, it looks like I failed miserably to keep this concise and focused. I guess that’s just how I roll. But at least you know where I stand on the Nicolas Cage issue. So I’ll stop typing and finish with a few choice Hanoi photos.
Here is a very busy intersection here in the Old Quarter. I love the wide range of transport and commerce in this picture. And crossing the street is fun.
I love walking around the big market a few minutes from my hotel in the Old Quarter. You can get just about anything you want here (except sanitation.) Here is a bucket of chicken or some other small bird. Not sure exactly.
Vietnamese soldiers on bikes in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. Pretty cool picture, I think.
My new friends Rica (Philippines/London) and Dusty (Washington, D.C.)
Here’s a children’s clothing store a few blocks away from my hotel called ‘Princess and Sushi”. Their motto is “…where style begins at birth”. Whatever the Hell that means.
A chicken vendor in an Old Quarter market. From live chickens to finished cuts, she did it all. Blood everywhere, even on the money changing hands between her and her customers. Chicken Lady kept her dirty bloody money in her dirty bloody boot. Refrigerator? Negative. Washing hands after handling money? Negative? Chickens screaming and fluttering? Yes. To-go bags? Check. Salmonella? You betcha!
The slightly cleaner fish vendor just around the corner from Chicken Lady.
And finally, here’s a blurry picture of some dude riding on the back of a moto while carrying a very large piece of thick plate glass. At least he wasn’t getting any bugs in his eyes.
OK, I guess that’s it for now. Gotta go drink some more coffee and watch the day unfold in this great city. Sorry this post was soooo long. I’d make it shorter if I had more time.
Peace out from Hanoi.
Director Of My Adventures
Inventor Of The Spice Rack