The Always Evolving and Partially Unwritten Five-Year Plan

Christmas in Hanoi

This blog entry is part of our “Retro Series” in that we go back and blog about trips we have already taken but were to lazy busy to blog about.

Most people spend Christmas Day in their pajamas, curled up by the fire, opening presents and relaxing with their family and friends.

But not us. Well, not this year. We got up in the middle of the night and flew to Hanoi to spend the week of Christmas in Vietnam.

It’s funny because before going to Hanoi, I was convinced we were going to love it!  It was going to be the loveliness of old world Vietnam, with cool temperatures and beautiful Vietnamese conical hats.  After visiting, if I had to pick three words to describe Hanoi it would be crazy, noisy and dirty. And crusty. That’s four words. But I like the last one. So, I’m going to say, we didn’t love it as much as I thought we were going to, but we did use the week we were there to get some yummy food, see some cultural icons, and of course bizarre sights, usually involving motorbikes. It’s hard to write about every single thing we did, so I have come up with a list of  7 things I wish I had know about Hanoi before we went. It goes a little something like this:

1) Hanoi food will be mostly great with a little salmonella poisoning thrown in at the end

I love Vietnamese food for the yummy noodle dishes and fresh french bread. If you can stomach it, Vietnam has some of the best street food I have ever had. For our Christmas dinner we went to Pho 24, which serves up the famous Vietnamese dish Pho for super cheap. Pho 24 is everywhere there and is like the McDonald’s of Vietnam. Here is Dan chowing down on our Christmas dinner, a big ‘ol bowl of beef pho.

Pho 24

We also ate at a restaurant called Wild Rice that was expensive for Vietnam, where the food is ridiculously cheap, but was a nice break from the street food. One of the places that you must visit if you are in Hanoi is called KOTO. Not only do they have good food, but the bigger purpose behind the restaurant is amazing. They take disadvantaged and street kids and train them in hospitality so they will be able to hold jobs and be contributing members of the community. Genius. Oh yeah-the salmonella poisoning? That was Dan when we went to Halong Bay. Good times.

Us at KOTO

2. Taking Pictures with the locals is part of the fun

Combine the Asian people’s love for taking pictures and our lack of  blending in and you have the perfect recipe for celebrity status to be achieved. Dan is oh-so-good at this and they just loved him in Hanoi!

Dan and his new friends!

And again at the Temple of Literature with new graduates. (The Temple of Literature was actually pretty cool too.)

3. Make sure you book the right Hanoi Hilton 

Although it wasn’t a happy place, Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) was very interesting to see as a piece of history in another country that we hear so much about in ours. The Vietnamese government had a unique take on how the prisoners were treated while they stayed there and we actually laughed out loud at the pictures showing the POW’s celebrating Christmas with big smiles on their faces. This was even before Photoshop, so you know it had to be real.

Dan in front of the Hanoi Hilton.

4. There is cra-zy stuff happening everywhere

One of the best things about traveling is just sitting back and soaking the daily life in. And Hanoi gave us lots to soak in.

Did you need a vase or a teacup today?

I. have. no. idea.

Bamboo ladders. Who knew the stuff was so handy?

5. You might need to bring your own mask. 

Hanoi was a dirty city. Not dirty in the way Amsterdam is, but dirty in the way that it was hard to breathe after being out on the town all day. We have been to dirty cities before, but Hanoi everything, including the air was dirty. I totally understand the masks now.

Ewww...did we say pollution was an issue?

6. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum needs some new signage. 

I know it is a huge deal for the Vietnamese people, and I was actually super intrigued HCM himself, but we couldn’t get in. In fact, we couldn’t even get close. There were two guards that blew the whistle at you if you cross this yellow line about 50 feet from the door. They. Were. Serious. We were frustrated because there was no signage or anything telling what was going on with the mausoleum and all the other tourists seemed as confused as we were. Here I am, as close as we could get with my toes on the yellow line, making the guards twitch.

7. Skip the water puppet show 

Like Atlanta is known for Coca-Cola, Vietnam is known for their water puppets shows and I was really excited to see one. I don’t know if I’m spoiled or what, but the little wooden puppets in water didn’t do it for me. I mean it’s cool how they were in water and stuff, but I just didn’t understand the big dealo. I was so puzzled/bored during the show I didn’t take a single picture during the show! Meh. Watching the traffic dance was much more entertaining. (Be sure to read the post of traffic next time. It was so impressive, it got its very own post.)

Outside the water puppets show.

In the end, underneath all the noise, dirt, and grime, we did get to see a little old world charm in the daily routines in the Old Quarter. And we got to wear pants. And those famous Vietnamese hats.

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2 responses

  1. Janie M.

    Wow…that is definitely a memorable Christmas! I’m glad to know the 7 things on your list in case of a future trip. I will make sure to avoid those creepy little claw-looking things in the soda cans and make lots of new friends while taking pictures! 🙂

    April 18, 2012 at 11:48 AM

  2. jgmcrew

    They would love you in Vietnam Janie! It was a memorable Christmas for sure, but it looking forward to seeing you guys on the next one that rolls around! 🙂

    April 20, 2012 at 11:30 AM

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