The next morning we connected with our newest member of Team Canada (via Argentina), Juliana – who would be traveling with us for the next two weeks.
While still in the throes of jet lag, she bravely joined our sweat brigade as we moved through the “holy shit’ streets of Hanoi.
Heading out with intention and purpose, we strode across traffic as if we had our own private lane, bypassed vendors with nary a look or acknowledgment, and held the line walking down the street, refusing to flinch as taxis came within inches of our toes.
But, no matter how determined we were, this cat had the answer which we refused to accept:
You can’t beat the heat.
So, after making it only six blocks, we accepted the inevitable and dripped into one of the seemingly, hundreds of neighbourhood cafes to sprawl out with a drink.
Having drunk a ton of iced coffee, with condensed milk in Lao, I’d become accustomed to the sweeter taste of the drink. Plus, drinking hot black coffee on its own, I’d made peace with the slightly sweeter taste of the beans.
However, while I considered myself a regular coffee drinker – Juliana approaches coffee as a vocation. I can’t prove it firsthand (but by all means clear it up in the comments, Juliana), but I’m pretty sure her espresso machine is the second hardest working appliance after her furnace.
Coffee is espresso. Coffee is hot. Coffee is not, “whatever the hell this was”: said the look on her face after a sip.
And so began Juliana’s odyssey for the next two weeks – where to find a rich espresso? However, with one of her addictions hanging desperately in the balance, Juliana bared down, and industriously replaced it with a whole new beverage: Mango shake.
With some balance restored, and feeling a little cooler, we headed out to the street to visit the nearest attraction: The Citadel.
After a few steps, the heat wrapped itself around us again and we slowed down.
Seeing our pace slow, a nearby hustler chatted us up with the usual sidewalk sales pitch: “Where U from?” “Aaah Canada” “Cold”.
Normally, I’d toss off the talk and move along, but Rose was in negotiations with the guy already over a price, for something, of which I only learned after looking down at his business card: he was a motorbike taxi.
At first, I thought it was crazy. But then, after the three of us each took off on the back of a bike, I realized it was crazy.
And, a ton of fun.
We zinged through the streets, now looking at them from the other side, missing pedestrians by inches, and vendors by less while merging through every intersection with one horn on the thumb blasting our presence to everyone driving near us.
Traffic felt like being in the middle of a school of fish – there were no straight lines of bikes or cars in designated lanes, instead, they just floated around, moving in and out to jostle for position, even if it was only two feet:
En route we stopped at the city’s oldest university: The Temple of Literature, which is dedicated to the study of Confucianism, represented by these tortoises: each with a Confucian saying, such as: “When the temperature gets too hot. Get on the back of a bike and ride.”
Wise man: moving through the streets on a bike is a good way to have a constant flow of air on your face.
Afterwards we paid adieu to our hogs and bikers:
And greeted the next member of Team Canada: Matt (or Matty) who would also be with us for the next two weeks:
(This is the first photo I have of him – an action shot, which provides a bit of foreshadowing into our Hanoi evening).
That night, Rose arranged a food tour of Hanoi with some local university students who offer their know-how and guidance around menus and parts of the city, in exchange for the chance to speak English.
We headed out with another backpacking duo who Rose and I met at the airport, shared a taxi with and invited to join us on our gluttons tour.
First stop: Pho.
And, the first morsel of knowledge – we learned that Pho – rice noodle in broth, traditionally with beef – originated in Hanoi, and the two girls brought us to what they considered, the best version in the city, which I was suspicious of at first, because it was a restaurant.
I thought the best Pho would surely be from a sidewalk vendor. Regardless, it tasted really, really good, and became the foundation for the rest of our night.
With guides in tow, they led us through block after block jammed streets, a night market here, a packed sidewalk restaurant there, and navigated us through the standard traffic wall of a million bikes by raising their hand, like Iron Man (but sadly no laser blasts), to tell people to step tha F**k back.
A kind, and bold gesture, which sort of worked. By final count, as many people blew by her hand as stopped, but at least it reduced the volume of bikes we had to sidestep.
However, all of this was leading to the main evening’s event – the Beer corner. The same neighbourhood Rose and I found ourselves upside down in the previous night.
Amazingly, the crowds were even more insane. All eight of us managed to squish into a tiny spot in the middle of a big crowd, sitting on the beer corner’s best stools, which were only tall enough to milk a cow.
Then our guides advised us on some things to eat, like this:
And, also that animal’s colon: chicken gizzard. Surprisingly, the gizzard wasn’t that bad, and went well with beer.
As we ate and drank ourselves full, we watched the scene in front of us as cops would shut down a line of chairs at the front of each restaurant that pushed too far out into the road. But as soon as the cops had gone down the road far enough to bother someone else, that restaurant re-opened the line of chairs to more people.
The scenario repeated itself a few times at different spots. It was pretty funny to watch.
I’d said earlier that day, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to walk drunk through the streets of Hanoi. Thankfully, I didn’t get to find out. But I did find a slight buzz made all the coming and going traffic, shouts from vendors, and honking horns sound a lot more musical.
Next stop, UNESCO world heritage site: Halong Bay for a three day, two night boat cruise through limestone hills.