I was met with surprising calm when I landed in Hanoi. Everything seemed great – an airport full of cheerful faces, colorful architecture, smooth moving lines at the immigration and baggage claim, easily available transport – no interruptions. I landed on a Friday so I had the weekend to get ready for the next three months. I felt ready, well almost.
It was between 40-45 degrees Celsius (110 degree Fahrenheit) the week I landed. And soon enough, I realized that I will be in this perpetual sauna for the 3 hottest months of the year! Naturally, I spent most of my weekend indoors, chickening out (in?) every time I convinced myself to step outside for a brief second. But I gave in to my hunger (not of adventure or discovery, but for literal food) and ventured out to get some sustenance. Best idea ever!
Hanoi is littered with small local eateries that are flooded with people at all times. It’s easy to follow the smell in a cartoon-like fashion and find yourself outside a shop that sells Bún Chả (pronounced Boon Chaa) – the epitome of Vietnamese comfort food that you can find here. It is a side of rice noodles and vegetables with this heavenly grilled pork soup/broth, which is full of all the flavors of joy and happiness *insert twinkly eye emoji*.
Another thing to get used to here is the currency. The exchange rate is 22,737 VND to the dollar. So a 100-dollar bill gives you over 2.2 million VND – that’s a bit unsettling. Also, most of Hanoi does not take cards, which means you’re carrying a swollen wallet everywhere you go. At the grocery store, I tend to be very frugal. Paying 500,000 in cash seems to be a bit much, but it is actually just over $20! The grocery stores here are surprisingly big and initially I needed help locating basic supplies. I had assumed I could get by without knowing the language, with a combination of frequently used English words and a lot hand gestures. Well, to be fair, I was in the less touristy area of Hanoi so I shouldn’t have been too surprised. I was directed to the salad aisle when I asked for salt and to the dog food aisle when I asked for detergent. That is when I discovered the magic of google translate.
I have felt invincible since (unless my phone battery is about to die of course). NOW I was ready for the next three months.