Hanoi, Vietnam

The last time I posted, I was in Ho Chi Minh City. Two flights and an amped-up wardrobe later, I’m in Hanoi. To quote my mother, circa two months ago, “You’re going to Hanoi? Isn’t that in North Vietnam? Are you even allowed there?”  Indeed I am. We may have lost the war, but not our rights as frivolous, money-spending tourists.

But before I got to Hanoi to blow my hard-earned Korea money, I detoured to Hoi An, a town on the central coast about halfway between HCMC and Hanoi. What is there to do in Hoi An, you ask? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot. Unless you are me, or any other clothes-conscious human being in which case, Hoi An is nothing short of the happiest place on earth. Passing by shop after shop of silky fabrics and bright colors, I thought I had reached nirvana. Or heaven. Something along those lines. I held off on shopping on the first day, and instead grabbed dinner with new friend James. To wind down from the day of traveling, we each ordered a bottle of wine and a couple mojitos. The rest of the night passed in a blur, though I do remember coming back to my room just before 10 p.m. (I think that just about sums up Hoi An’s nightlife, doesn’t it?), turning on Sex and the City and promptly falling asleep.

The next morning I met James at a cafe down the street and promptly ordered some coffee to sooth the bombs that were exploding in my head. While eating breakfast, I saw Korea friend Rachel walking down the street! I knew she was planning to get to Hoi An that day, but I didn’t expect to see her straight away. We spent the afternoon going from shop to shop, being sweet-talked by store owners, choosing fabrics and styles and having measurements taken. By the time we met up with James and some of Rachel friends for dinner, I had more than a dozen villagers working on my orders, ten on my winter coat alone.

The next day was a race to pick up everything, have it refitted and cram it all into a spare duffel. I ended up leaving Hoi An with a winter coat, three dresses, a skirt and a pair of suede ankle boots that I designed myself. Like I said, this place was heaven.

It was a bit of a struggle to get to Hanoi, as my 10:05 p.m. flight was delayed more than an hour due to technical issues, not getting us to the Vietnamese capital until half midnight. It didn’t help that take-off was a bit bumpy. I spent the first 20 minutes clutching the hand of a very nice Vietnamese guy, convinced I was going to die. Thankfully, he didn’t mind, and ended up being a wonderful seatmate. Once I released his hands, he showed me pictures from his recent wedding and honeymoon, then asked if I had a boyfriend. When I said no and tried to explain that it’s hard to see someone when you’re constantly on the move, he said, “Some girls…like girls. You?” Because obviously, if you haven’t got a boyfriend, you’re a lesbian. (I tried the opposite today, and told the moto driver that I was traveling with my boyfriend. Then he asked me how many times a night I slept with said boyfriend. There’s no winning this one. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.)

I shared a taxi into town with a couple of Aussies, the only other westerners on my flight. After they were dropped off at their hotel, I showed the cab driver where I needed to go, only to find that at 1:30 a.m., most decent places to stay have closed for the night. Imagine that! After driving to several Lonely Planet-recommended places and finding the same thing at each one, we returned to the hotel where the Aussies were staying, only to learn that my new friends had snagged the last room. The guy at reception motioned to his friend on a moto outside, who took me to another guesthouse, where I’m paying an outrageous $28 a night for a room. But it’s only for two nights and there’s free Internet and breakfast, so I’m sucking it up.

The only major bummer so far has been my burn, which I accidently hit against the moto last night as I was climbing off, peeling back all of the healing skin and leaving me hobbling around Hanoi. Showering this morning was excruciating, but after I cleaned up and dressed the burn and popped a couple Tylenol, walking around was bearable.

I’ve already checked out the Old Quarter and the area around the lake in the middle of the city. Was planning on seeing the prison where John McCain was held during the war, but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow. Today seems like a nap and cafe day, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Vietnamese coffee is easily the best I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if I’m finally developing that inevitable taste for coffee that all adults seem to have, but I’ll give the old Maxwell House a shot when I get home.

I think it’s time to part ways with the free Internet and take the elevator up to the third floor. I haven’t been on an elevator in nearly two months, so the idea is fairly exciting. Almost as exciting as napping, which will be plenty useful after several restless, five-hour nights.