Day 54: Hanoi
A rubbery omelette breaks the crepe streak–the compromises of sleeping in a room free of thirty-six pollution-lined nostrils emitting drunken snores. The city melts behind rain-streaked windows. There’s a community computer in the breakfast area and we nestle in to swap photos from our road trip. We plug our phones in and our pictures pop up on the screen–evidence of two ‘yes’ people with terrible planning tactics and a tendency to blur the line between fun and stupid.
Then we trudge through the rain to the travel agency. My passport has a arrived! The ink from the visa stamp still glistens. It expires in seven days. But we’re short a passport; Flo’s won’t be ready for a few more days, we’re told for the third time. We escape the office before a flurry of blasphemes escape Flo’s mouth. His was sent off before mine, and he is supposed to be flying to Indonesia today to meet his friends. This is what happens when we make plans.
We eat some terrible food down the street and then sit in a cozy place to use the wi-fi. The drizzle makes us want to go shopping for new shirts that don’t have Ho Chi Minh Trail dirt embedded in every thread and then go see a movie. Instead, we go to the hostel and nap.
When I wake up, I sit in the common area to write and Flo joins me shortly after. Dinner is on the balcony where we smoked shisha last night. A four month old doggy with a red collar and filthy white button up shirt races from one end of the restaurant to the other. He sits in my lap as we imagine landing spitballs on the passing hats below.
After seafood dinner and melon shisha, we stop by the live music place, but it’s closing. So we hang at the hostel bar, playing DJ from the communal laptop. The owner buys us a beer and we clink glasses, then dance to Eric Clapton like no one is watching until no one is watching.
Day 55: Hanoi
Laaaaaazy morning. Breakfast stops being served at ten, and we’re the last people to get in on the bland complimentary omelettes before the cut off.
We catch a taxi to the Fine Arts Museum (no stops at the mechanic!) and loll through the building, banishing boredom by laughing at the “avante-garde” pieces that could have been painted by a ten-year-old with his eyes closed.
“Just give me a pencil and twenty minutes,” Flo says, waving off an ugly picture.
At the bottom of a staircase, a sign reads “Special Exhibition of Ceramics and Porcelain”. Directly behind it, framed by the open doorway, is a toilet. The layout could have been thought out more carefully. Another sign to the left of a window points right–“Exit”. We couldn’t agree more.
Walking down a street of pho restaurants, our hunger is tested, but our will power won’t allow us to give in to noodle soup again. The next corner is full of little red plastic chairs and tables. Locals drink beer out front; their dirty, bone-filled plates scattered like a fish graveyard. This is promising. The tastiest meal of Vietnam is right here–fried whole tilapia and fried rice with beef and pickle. Noodle soup just got served.
With full tummies, we pound the pavement with curious eyes. We’re used to streets that provide a magnitude of shopping variety. Here, each one is dedicated to a single thing; one avenue features a million tool shops, another is lined exclusively with kids’ stores. A glittering road is loyal to the sole sale of mirrors.
We arrive at a massive complex: the Ho Chi Minh Museum, but there is no way we’re going to die of boredom today. I spot a stranded bicycle taxi and order Flo to sit in the seat while biking in circles, chattering in a mocking accent that would get me a chopstick in the eye if anyone heard it. Then we saunter over to the botanical gardens. On the outdoor gym equipment, I make pull-ups look as cool as licking my own elbow. A giant fish in the lake ogles a badminton match between four miniature, wrinkled locals who play like they are determined to make the team next year whether they have to get hip surgery or not. We taxi back to the hostel, and, in an attempt to escape this wild city before our minds seize up, we book a bus to the famous Halong Bay for tomorrow morning. We need a post-holiday trip from our vacation, you know? And then Flo naps and I write on the balcony over a cacophony of weird music and smoke rising from the street below where geishas dance. Flo comes to give me a hug and say goodbye, and from the balcony I watch him nudge through the cavorting crowd and disappear in the street smoke.
He’s back from the gym an hour later and then we put on our least dirt-streaked clothes and go around the corner to another live music bar called The Doors. We’re half an hour early and all the seating is taken, so we stand at a tall table against the back wall. The floor is empty. Flo brings over a couple shots of Jägermeister and beers from the bar. It could be the Jäger, or it could be the anticipation of tomorrows travel plans–we’re giddy and our conversation is animated as the dance floor morphs into a shoulder-rub fest and the band starts up. It’s a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute. The music calls for earplugs and the only time the singer shows his face is when he looks up from the lyrics on his phone to check his band mates. The crowd is dancing and drinking and smoking while Flo and I chuck balled up napkins at each other. Five songs in, Flo suggests we go somewhere else.
“Get out of my head,” I say.
We high five. This place hasn’t paralleled with its Lonely Planet reviews. Waiting for the song to finish, we play suicide charades and laugh with the Brits next to us, then exit between songs and find a busy restaurant to get a snack. I order mango salad.
“Times two for her,” Flo jokes.
I love spicy, but I have too much pride to tell her one spicy is enough. Within five bites my face is puce and round as an overripe tomato. I chug my beer to calm the flare on my tongue but my head nearly explodes with the pressure and my pride is gone before you can say Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Back at our hostel, my face has calmed to a round-cut ruby and we talk logistics about our trip to Halong Bay tomorrow. The bus leaves at 8am, and after looking at the tours available, we decide to forgo booking one. We’ll do it the way we’ve done everything else on this trip.
We’ll wing it.