Day 11 – Train to Hanoi/Hanoi

Unprecedented / Day 11 of 64 / 20 May

I woke up on my own today. It was 8am. That’s weird. The last time we were on board the train they woke us up at 7am for our provided meals. This didn’t bode well. I got up to survey the area as well as brush my teeth while I let Ryan sleep in. After searching to no avail, I decided to ask some of my neighbours if we somehow missed our breakfast.

In the room beside ours, I met Andre from Prague who had been travelling through Vietnam on his own for the past fifteen days. Turns out he was also supposed to travel with a friend, however, said friend bailed and he ended up travelling solo. According to him, there weren’t any meals provided on this train. I thanked him and retreated back to my cabin with bad news for Ryan. We were starving since we barely ate dinner the night before. We had bought two Banh Mis from outside the train station (one of which they conveniently forgot to include meat in) to serve as our in train snack, but we finished it before we even left the station. Defeated, we could only starve as we awaited our arrival in Hanoi.

We arrived at Hanoi Railway Station [Ga Hà Nội] at 12pm in the blistering heat. We were deliberating whether to call a Grab to the accommodation but decided we should walk further away from the crowd before doing so. We ended up walking the whole way.

Not featured: spooky toilet

Our accommodation this time was a tiny shack on the third floor of the Caballos Hotel (10 SGD/night). Just a five-minute walk from the Ho Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street. The location was great and the accommodation was dirt cheap. Our only problem was that the room had no AC but we’ll be fine. Or so we thought.

After dropping off our belongings, we headed out to a nearby food joint that was recommended by a friend of mine who lives around Hanoi. We had Bun Cha at 23 Bát Sứ Street, grilled pork and noodles dipped in a fish sauce broth. Honestly, it was one of the best meals we’ve had so far in our trip. If you are ever in Hanoi do give Bun Cha a shot.

Bun Cha with spring rolls: 110000VND / 7 SGD.

With our bellies filled we headed across the street to procure some beverages at a Circle K convenience store (their equivalent of a 7-11). While we were there we overheard a British couple thinking about locations to have their lunch. Being the friendly folk we are we recommended the meal we just had and they thanked us before heading over. Good deed for the day, checked.

It was now roughly 2pm in the afternoon and we thought we’d find somewhere to wait out the sun. We found a generic cafe with AC and chilled there for a couple of hours.

No roads are safe.

At 4pm we headed towards the Hoan Kiem Lake [Hồ Hoàn Kiếm]. It was the weekend and it was supposedly full of fun sights and activities. And it was all that plus more. The entire street encompassing the lake was blocked off for vehicles and only allowed for passengers to walk. Littered across the street were various dance and instrumental performances ranging from huge Kpop flash-mobs to a nose-blowing recorder player. Capteh was also apparently a huge sport here in Vietnam. As we later found out from our friend, they even have capteh tests in schools to find the most adept capteh players, further illustrating how serious of a sport it is here.

There was a massive gathering of teenagers in one stretch of the street who were all split into circles ranging from five to 30 people, each circle playing a different game. Some were unrecognisable but the ones we could recognise were Werewolf and Exploding Kittens. We found out that every weekend, this Facebook group would meet on the weekends on this very street to play games and sometimes even with random strangers. It was an open session and anyone could come or go, no pressure. I thought this was such an amazing idea and I so wished there was such an opportunity for this to happen back home. What better way to meet new friends and have fun playing group games that would otherwise be impossible without a crowd.

Grannies giving each other back rubs in a massage line.

Soulful guitarist.

Public gym with free weights, quite amazing.

At 6pm we met an old friend of mine, Ngoc — who was a local to Hanoi — and she decided she’d take us to some good spots around the city. Right off the bat, we went to grab dinner at this corner shop that served Xoi Yen, a traditional Vietnamese glutinous rice dish served with fried shallots, roasted pork, Chinese sausages and pate. All her food recommendations thus far were spot-on.

We then proceeded to Tạ Hiện Street at the Old Quarter [Phố cổ Hà Nội], which was filled with night markets, bars and loud music. We walked around for a bit, weaving through the countless grabby-arms of persistent bar promoters, and eventually, we stumbled upon the St. Joseph’s Cathedral [Nhà thờ Lớn Hà Nội].

Grabby-hands alley: Tạ Hiện Street.

We sat down at a nearby Starbucks to chat and catch-up. At around 10pm we walked her back to her scooter and she scooted off home as we ourselves walked back feeling satisfied at a day well-spent.

And then we arrived at a sweaty hell-hole which was our hotel room. Who knew saving 3 SGD per night for a room without AC would cause us so much suffering. In the day when we opened the door the room felt cool and breezy. But as we were going to sleep and had to close the door, the room became a steamy oven with two men getting slow-cooked on a bed of sweaty linen. Even after coming out fresh from the shower, the water droplets on our bodies were quickly replaced with sweat.

Thankfully, Ngoc — who had seen the condition of our room through a picture —  decided, through the grace of her heart, decided to let us stay at an apartment her family was thinking of loaning out to Airbnb. I never believed in miracles til that very moment. With good news in mind, we went to beds moist and uncomfortable.

– Sam

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