Something I wrote in 2016, after a trip post-college graduation
I’ve met up with future Microsoft colleague Daniel Park in Hanoi, Vietnam to explore the country. It’s nice having someone who has a plan for what they want to do and tag along for once. Much less thinking-intensive when I can just follow. We are leaving on an overnight train to Hue tonight from 10pm-10am, and spending the prior few hours without a room in a café in the biggest mall in Hanoi. It’s the biggest, but by far the least busy mall I’ve come across in Asia. In Japan, Korea, and Thailand there were droves of people enjoying cafes, watching movies, and shopping. Vietnam offers a much different atmosphere. There are few people window shopping; most people are here with their children to enjoy the water park or ice rink, but no store seems to be selling anything. Definitely not what we’ve experienced where we are staying. We’ve spent the majority of our time in the old quarter, where streets specialized in selling something specific: pho bowls, beef dishes, banh my, and there is hectic traffic at almost all times of day. Vietnam seems much more rooted in their history than the other places I’ve visited who have shifted to accommodate the tourism industry. Of course there are a number of hostels for the numerous backpackers that make their way through Hanoi, but the vendors still sell their wares, food stands make the same traditional dishes, and if all the tourists disappeared tomorrow there would be almost no difference in how busy the streets would be.
The highlights would include the food tour and the visit to the National Museum of History of Vietnam. In the museum, we learned of the violence that has ravaged this unfortunate country since the late 19th century. French colonialism, Soviet communism, American capitalism, all of these have contributed to the modern state of Vietnam. I learned of torture used on political prisoners, poverty forcing children to starve, and heinous acts of oppression against the native people. It’s a growing country that is facing some pains, but what has impressed me most is the spirit and tenacity of the Vietnamese people. They have never lost their sense of self or bravery.
The food tour was on a much lighter note; we started at the travel agency and ate
1. Bun cha – grilled pork noodle soup
1. Nom thit bo – green papaya salad
1. Banh cuon nong – hot steamed pancake
1. Variety of fried foods – banh bao san (fried dumpling), nem chua ran(fermented pork), etc
The list is really too long to continue. The cuisine was delicious and I was taken inside restaurants that were hard to find, some operating out of a family’s actual home, and other unique locations. Our tour guide, Mia, seemed genuinely excited to share with us the food of her people. I’m excited to see what Central Vietnam has in store for us. Hue and Hoi An, here we come!
Thanks for reading 🙂