Hanoi, Vietnam: Not My Cup of Tea
Have you ever been to a place that you had just built up in your head so much that you showed up and were instantly disappointed?
As we landed in the airport from Luang Prabang, Laos—such a relaxing and peaceful hippie-town, I instantly knew we were in for a major change of scenery. We hopped into the cab and watched the traffic zoom by us in every direction, motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, and people trying to hurry across the street without getting hit—I knew one thing was for sure, Hanoi, Vietnam was going to be extremely different from where we had just come from or had ever been.
We were nervous, but knew we had to go out and see Hanoi with our own eyes and determine for ourselves if it was a place we liked or disliked.
Before landing in Vietnam, I didn’t really have too much knowledge about the country, or Hanoi in particular. The main reason we were visiting was because we wanted to head to Halong Bay. My sister and I were traveling with a limited amount of time, and although I had heard great things about other parts of Vietnam, it was only practical for us to pick our absolutely “we must do this” item on our bucket list.
So there we were, in the middle of pure chaos in Hanoi, too intimidated to even leave our hotel, but eager to experience what Hanoi and Vietnam had to offer. We were definitely in culture shock. Not only was this our first time in Asia, but our first time ever in a city that was as chaotic as this one. Our hotel recommended a restaurant down the street called, Bun Bo Nam Bo, and we thought that while we were adjusting, this would be a good place to go.
When we got to the restaurant, we found one big table that everyone sat at together. We were seated beside two Australians who had been in Hanoi for a few days, and didn’t seem to have many good things to say about it. One even suggested that we just stay in our hotel room while there. Although we knew we weren’t going to take this advice, we were even more intimidated now.
Everywhere I’ve visited in the world, people seem to be welcoming, or at least friendly, and it was strange to be somewhere where I felt unwanted and unwelcome.
We woke up the next morning with an open mind. We were nervous, but knew we had to go out and see Hanoi with our own eyes and determine for ourselves if it was a place we liked or disliked. The fact that the weather was significantly colder than our other stops on the trip, and that it was raining, didn’t quite help our equation, but we bought ourselves some ponchos and headed out.
There were a few initial learning curves we had to overcome. First, how were we going to cross the road? The streets in Hanoi are so busy, and there are zero crosswalks or street lights. We sat back and observed how other people were crossing the road and realized we just had to walk out into the speeding traffic with confidence in hopes they would stop. I can’t say we really got used to this—but at least we didn’t have to stay on the same side of the road the whole time we were there.
Our next big learning curve was the way the locals acted towards tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I did meet some really nice and helpful locals while visiting, but the number of unwelcoming ones definitely outnumbered those. We would go into stores and instead of the usual friendly and aggressive sales people you find everywhere else in Southeast Asia, we would be lucky if the employees even looked at us, let alone helped us if we wanted to buy something. There were even times when we were ready to buy something and got ignored so we ended up just leaving empty handed.
I get it, we’ve all been frustrated with tourists in our own countries, but rarely do we act so rude. Everywhere I’ve visited in the world, people seem to be welcoming, or at least friendly, and it was strange to be somewhere where I felt unwanted and unwelcome.
You aren’t always going to love everywhere you go, and you definitely aren’t going to feel comfortable in every destination you visit.
The good news is that we got out and saw Hanoi despite not feeling comfortable doing so. We went to a water puppet show, drank egg coffees, ate pho, and people watched at little cafes as we tried to understand this culture and city. I can’t say we weren’t happy when it was time to move on to our next destination, but that doesn’t mean I regret spending time in Hanoi.
Would I return to Hanoi? Probably not, but that’s what travel is all about. You aren’t always going to love everywhere you go, and you definitely aren’t going to feel comfortable in every destination you visit. Travel pushes the boundaries, and teaches you things about cultures, and places you’ve never been before—and that’s the beautiful thing about it. I will definitely return to see other parts of Vietnam and won’t let my one experience in one of their many cities stop me from enjoying or experiencing everything else the country has to offer.
Photo credit: alanchng1978