After five years of on-and-off, back-and-forth travel in southeast Asia I have finally arrived in Vietnam, the Land of the Blue Dragon (whatever that means). Oh wait, turns out that’s a book and not based on a myth. How unexciting… Anyway, where was I…
My plane landed in Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport just before 3am so first impressions there weren’t much — other than the fact it is a surprisingly small airport for a capital city. As our flight was over an hour late the few remaining staff there were impatiently waiting on us, and as such they processed us through immigration ridiculously fast. In fact they even starting shutting off the lights before we were out of the airport. Of course I was busy tweeting rather than hailing a taxi when next thing I know the outside of the airport was plunged into darkness as well, except for a few parking lot lights off in the distance. It was only then that I looked up from my phone and lo and behold there was one last taxi still patiently waiting for me.
Armed with an address and a whopping zero words of Vietnamese in my vocabulary I hopped in the taxi and we were off. While driving along the highway I got my first taste of Vietnam and I was a little surprised. The only vehicles on the road this late at night (at least until we got into the main part of Hanoi) were military trucks. I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d been thrust back into the communist era Soviet Republic, especially once I started noticing red flags and signs featuring the hammer and sickle.
Turns out Vietnam is still communist. Who knew? Not me.
Usually for first-time trips I research the country I’m visiting on the flight in but this time since an old friend of mine from the States lives here now and is — yup, you guessed it — Vietnamese I was too lazy to bother. “Ehhh my buddy will tell me what I need to know.” Yup, this is the most ill-prepared I’ve ever been for a first experience with a new country. Either I’ve just stopped caring in my old age or my apathy is finally starting to show…
After a couple hours sleep I hopped on a motorcycle and started exploring.
Thanks to all my time motorcycling around Indonesia I’ve become quite skilled at driving with one hand (or none, if need be) while taking photos. That having been said, these are all cellphone photos taken at high rates of speed so they are not the most glamorous. Oh and before you ask, no, it was not a bad weather day. Hanoi skies are always gray, never blue — too much pollution.
How & Where To Purchase A SIM Card
The largest and most popular mobile network in Vietnam is called Viettel and — surprise, surprise — they are owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence (no, that’s not a typo, just how it is spelled here). Since there is no SIM store at Noi Bai airport visitors must instead search for a SIM store in Hanoi. But as you can see below I use the term “store” lightly.
Now that I had a SIM card it was time to get some food in me. Of course the first dish any newbie to Vietnam has to try is undoubtedly pho, which is pronounced “fa” (fə) not “fo” (see, my play on words up above is verbally correct). This noodle soup, primarily served with beef but also available with chicken, is the most iconic of all Vietnamese dishes and now known worldwide.
Pho varies at every place you try it, which is good because you can hardly walk 20 steps without seeing a place that sells the delicious soup. Therefore you have no excuse not to eat a lot of it!
All-in-all it was a interesting yet productive first day in Vietnam.
It was only as I was pulling back in to my lakeside luxury apartment on Hồ Tây (West Lake) that I noticed this carefree local stripped down to his underwear and standing in the lake with a fishing pole. Definitely my favorite photo of the day! 😉
This photo also serves to show just how polluted Hanoi is. See that bank of buildings on the opposite shore to the left side? Those are 200 metres away. The far side of the lake visible on the right side? 1,500 metres. That’s less than a mile for my American friends yet the air quality is so bad it’s hard to see that far!
Over the following few days I took my first motorcycle trip in Vietnam out to Nam Dinh and celebrated Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Expect those posts to be published by this weekend. Have you subscribed to receive new posts by email yet? Or if you don’t like that many emails then please sign up for the HoliDaze monthly newsletter instead. Thanks!