In Hong Kong, Spring Break is the equivalent to Easter Break. While all my friends at home were enjoying time off a number of weeks ago, I was still in the thick of a week of classes. However, when my Easter Break came around last week, I’m sure that my activities may have made a few of my friends a little jealous. In late January-early February, knowing that we had a week off the first week of April, my friends and I booked tickets to Vietnam. As I have mentioned in my posts many times before, I gravitate towards countries that have amazing food. Vietnam is in my top 5 favorite countries for food, if not top 3.
Let’s get into the meat of it!
The trip definitely had its bumps. Many of which came at the beginning. Once we arrived at the airport in Hong Kong, one of my friends who thought she didn’t need a visa to get into Vietnam, discovered that she did in fact need one. After everyone but her had made it through security, we started making bets as to how close she was going to cut it before the flight. She made it with about a 25-minute window left. A close call for sure! Once we arrived in Vietnam, the stressed intensified.
Of course, with purchasing an expedited visa, there was an assistant waiting for my friend at the airport in Hanoi. He assisted her in the application process and sped up the time of getting her visa. Now, let me include some more details. We landed around 2:45pm in Hanoi. We had a private bus scheduled to depart at 4:00pm. Having completed my visa application weeks before, I was under the impression that I just needed the visa stamped in my passport and I would be on my way. Essentially, that is what happened. However, what it took to have that happen was far more time consuming than I had predicted.
(At this point, all my friends had made it through immigration and customs. This included the girl who got the expedited visa.)
I waited as only one name was called to retrieve their passport from the immigration desk about every twenty minutes. There was a great sum of people that were in line ahead of me, making my stress levels go off the charts. I noticed something with about twenty minutes to go before the bus left the airport without me. The same guy who helped my friend with her application, was now assisting other people in front of me. Observing the transaction process, it became clear to me that his services were not cheap. I decided to give it ten more minutes before I made a rash decision. Of course, those ten minutes felt like ten seconds.
(At this moment, I had ten minutes before the bus left.)
Approaching the guy with as much of a charm as I could muster while under some of the most intense stress I’ve experienced, I politely asked him how much it would cost me to acquire his assistance in expediting my visa process. He asked what my name was and where I was from. With those details, he said “Yeah I can help”. Within five minutes, he had retrieved my passport with the visa stamped inside, helped me get my picture taken, and got me through immigration/customs. When he handed me my documents, I was anxious to hear how much he was going to ask for his services. With a very kind look on his face, he said “All set! No charge for you”. It’s people like that who make me think this world isn’t so crazy after all. Really makes you want to pay it forward!
(Some clarification: the bus driver did not speak English. Therefore, he did not understand when my friends asked him to wait for me. He was getting antsy to leave as close to 4:00pm as possible.)
Sprinting through an airport is definitely not high on this list of things you should do, but with three minutes to go before the bus left, I thought “desperate times called for desperate measures”. I made it to the bus with one minute to spare! My friends were telling me how stressed they were that I may not make it. They could tell by the look on my face that their stress was pretty insignificant compared to mine though. Now, let me tell you a little bit about this bus.
I had been the one who really pushed to book this bus prior to arriving at the airport, because none of us had experience with public transportation in Vietnam and the drive was two and a half hours to Ha Long Bay (our first destination). That made me possibly missing it a little more ironic. That’s beside the point. This bus was the perfect cure for my stress. We didn’t realize that it was a luxury bus service that we had booked. We are talking reclining leather seats, LED ceiling lights, a gorgeous clock built into the wall, blankets, waters, the whole nine yards. In addition, the service was door to door. Dropped us off right in front of our Airbnb! Such a blessing.
Our days in Vietnam varied. We spent a few days in Ha Long Bay and then returned for a few in Hanoi. A cruise in Ha Long Bay took us to some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We even had an opportunity to get out on the water and kayak as well. For me, that was one of the highlights from the trip besides the food.
I’ll get into the tour a little bit here. We were picked up around 08:30 by bus to head to the marina about twenty minutes away, if my memory serves me correctly. Once there, our guide ran us through safety protocols for the day and got into logistics a little bit. After a short while, we were out on the boat. It was another pleasant surprise! The boat had tables with intricately designed table cloths, nice bench seats lined with pillows on them, a clean bathroom (which I rarely have found on many boats), a little gift shop (that was actually a basket of souvenirs for sale), it even had a deck with tanning chairs to catch some sun!
The tour took us to see several famous Islets such as Stone Dog, Incense Burner, and Fighting Cocks. See my Facebook and Instagram for more pictures. In addition, we were taken to Sung Sot Cave (one of the largest caves in Ha Long Bay). Which I also believe is the second largest cave in Vietnam! It was absolutely MENTAL. I was blown away by the intricate patterns inside the cave. Very beautiful!
We were also taken to an island where we were able to swim for a little bit and hike. The view from the top of the hike was breathtaking and very worth the intense staircase up, haha. It was then time for our return. Luckily, we had met some travelers from Australia on the tour who made the long ride seem very short! I loved sharing stories about traveling and comparing our cultures. Look forward to meeting them sometime again!
Once we got to Hanoi, the fun continued! Our first meal was actually at the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain took President Obama in 2016. Boy did they capitalize on that… The “Combo Obama” consisted of their classic Bun Cha (grilled pork with vermicelli noodles in broth=absolutely amazing), a seafood fried roll, and a Hanoi Beer. We even saw the table they sat at, that is boxed in a glass case. As an avid watcher of Anthony Bourdain (I’ve seen the episode where he takes Obama to this restaurant), I enjoyed it so much more!
My friend and I also had an opportunity to take a cooking class in Hanoi! I cannot stress enough how much I loved this! We were taken to a local market to buy all the fresh ingredients, which always gets me excited. Love to see the differences in markets at home and abroad. The FDA would have had a heart attack if they saw what was going on there. We then prepared 5 dishes: beef pho, bun cha, spring rolls, papaya salad, and egg coffee (sounds odd I know… however, it’s very light and sweet. I ended up liking it surprisingly). It was funny to see some adults much older than me lack basic knife skills. You wouldn’t survive in my house if you aren’t willing to lend a hand with meal preparations.
We also did some other touristy things. Explored Train Street (train tracks that go straight through neighborhoods), the prison where John McCain was held after his capture (a very moving experience), and a number of places around the city. Adventuring with friends continues to be such a valuable time for me and I can’t wait for what’s to come! I left a few stories and details out for a reason. Some need to be told in person and I look forward to the opportunity to tell them soon! Only about a month left. Little confession… I don’t want to leave 😉