In the beginning of May, I realized I only had a short window of time that I could use my remaining vacation days. And I hadn’t planned a single thing. I had thought about taking a trip to Hanoi, maybe Chiang Mai or Bangkok, but I wasn’t so sure. So I started frantically googling different trips I could take, and decided on Southeast Asia. I knew a few people who went to Vietnam and really loved it, and I had always wanted to visit Thailand.
So, I set about planning my longest solo trip yet: A week in Southeast Asia. While for backpacking travelers, a week is nothing, it’s quite a long time for me to be on vacation. I usually take a few days here, a few days there, and just travel around.
But in a matter of a few days, I planning my entire week-long trip. My first stop would be Hanoi, Vietnam.
Day One in Hanoi
I flew out early Saturday morning after spending a night in Busan. The flight to Vietnam was only four hours. And since I moved back two time zones, it was only 10am when I landed at the airport.
Stepping off the plane, the first thing I realized was just how hot it was, and would be the duration of my trip. Korea’s climate is more similar to what I am used to having grown up in Pennsylvania. Vietnam is much further south, and the climate is a lot hotter.
I know, you’re wondering how hot was it? The high for the day was 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius), with a heat index of 126 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius). So I spent my first day feeling like I was going to combust if a ray of sunlight hit me.
I spent the first few hours walking around, desperately trying to avoid the sun in any way I could. By 1:30, the heat had gotten to me and I flagged down a Grab Bike to take me to my hostel. Now, for those of you who don’t know what Grab Bike is, it’s a service like Uber, except instead of riding in a car, you ride on the back of a motorbike.
Having only a backpack, getting on the back of a motorbike for a few kilometers was no big deal.
Fortunately, I was able to check in early at my hostel. I spent the rest of the day there, relaxing in the pool and meeting new people. They were mostly backpacking travelers from all over the world. I also met a few expats who are currently living in Hanoi. It was awesome to hear about their experiences teaching English abroad and what life is like in Vietnam.
What I saw and what I ate on day one
I took a bus from the airport to the bus terminal in Hanoi, which meant I was pretty close to a lot of tourist sites. Since it was still so early in the day, I decided to wander around and find something to eat for breakfast.
I eventually found a Banh Mi shop, which is a type of sandwich popular in Vietnam. They had a veggie option, and it cost me less than $1 USD for a pretty delicious sandwich. From there, I walked around until I found a temple, a pagoda, and a nice park.
After seeing all these sites, it was time for me to get to my hostel because it was hot and I was starting to not feel so good.
For dinner that night, I had a chickpea burger at a restaurant called Chops right near my hostel. This was easily the most expensive meal of my entire trip, but it was worth it.
I realized quickly that if I wanted to explore, I’d have to do it early in the morning. It was far too hot to spend the mid-afternoon anywhere but the pool at my hostel, which was fine with me. On my second day, I walked from Tay Ho down to a more central location.
My first stop of the day was the botanical gardens, which I stumbled upon by mistake. Getting into the gardens was cheap, and it was peaceful to just spent some time walking around.
After going to the gardens, I wandered around a bit more, taking in what Hanoi has to offer. I passed many restaurants, coffee shops, and street vendors.
Eventually, it was time for lunch and I settled on a cafe in hopes of using the WiFi. While there was a WiFi password, my phone wouldn’t connect, so I ate quickly, and left.
Day Three I spent in Ha Long Bay, which I’ll write about in another post!
My Final Day in Hanoi
On my final day in Hanoi, I decided to head to the Old Quarter. This area of the city was a little bit fancier. There are lots of upscale-looking cafes and restaurants, and upscale stores like Prada.
I wound my way through the streets, stopping at a cafe for what would be my last Vietnamese coffee. From there, I walked toward the lake, where I was able to take pictures and meander in the shade.
While walking near the lake, a group of young students asked me some questions for a school project. They needed to practice speaking English, so they were near a popular tourist attraction, hoping to talk with foreigners. I talked with them for just a few minutes, answering questions like “What do you like about Vietnam?” and “What is your favorite food?”
Then, I went to the temple. Visiting this temple was one of the more expensive things I did in Vietnam, because it was the largest temple I visited while in the city. It was interesting to see how the temples in Vietnam were similar to the ones in Korea, but the differences were also quite noticeable.
From the temple, I wound my way through the outdoor market, taking in all the fresh produce, street food, and souvenirs for sale. I had another Banh Mi before heading to the bus stop since it was my favorite food in Vietnam. It was time to go to the airport, take a nap, enjoy some WiFi, and head to Thailand.