Hanoi - I finally made it to the last stop on my travels through Vietnam. Unfortunately my arrival didn’t go off without a hitch. I was welcomed by yet another Grab scammer in Hanoi. Thankfully God aligned my path with a sharp woman by the name of Sunday that was working at the Serene Boutique hotel reception. When I called the hotel to seek guidance on a transfer from the airport I had a bad Wi-Fi connection and the Skype call dropped. I felt defeated and within a few moments I had a WhatsApp message from Sunday on the hotel WhatsApp account asking how she could help. Sunday sent the hotel driver for me and I was so thankful that she rescued me from having to go through the whole Vietnam taxi / Grab ordeal again. At this point I was completely over the criminal element in Vietnam. I just wanted to see Halong Bay and get gone!
I met a very friendly and hospitable lady named Monica in a Facebook travel group that I posted my Ho Chi Minh experience in. She messaged me and told me to let her know when I arrived in Hanoi so we could catch up. She was a US expat living in Vietnam and she was very sympathetic to my experience. I reached out once I got myself settled and she suggested we meet at Bun Cha since it was close to my hotel. Bún chả is a lot like phoa in that it is a broth based dish with noodles and grilled fatty pork. This dish supposedly originated in Hanoi. I asked her would the meat be in the noodles or if it would be separate. She laughed and asked me what on earth I had been eating since being in Vietnam. I told her not much and I had luckily made it through the first two weeks without phoa.
The evening came for me to meet Monica at Bun Cha and I asked Sunday to order a taxi for me so she could document who I was going to be transported by. The taxi driver kept saying Obama as we was driving to the restaurant. I kept saying Bun Cha to make sure he was taking me to the right place. I had no idea that this place was world famous because Anthony Bourdain invited Barack Obama here to have a meal and discuss the purpose of his visit to Asia and his interest in Vietnamese culture in 2016. After Obama’s visit the place took on the nickname Bun Cha (Obama). There were pictures of the visit on the walls and people were taking pictures with the pictures. Of course I had to get me a few clicks in too. After the fact I had to laugh because I’m sure the taxi driver thought I was crazy all the while I was thinking he was crazy. Sometimes I swear I live under a rock because I don’t watch much TV and I’m not a foodie.
I had such a great time chatting with Monica and her daughter, then the time came for us to part ways. We stood around for a second trying to figure out how I was going to get back to the hotel, because I didn’t trust taxi or Grab. Finally Monica convinced me Grab would be fine. I ordered a grab bike and I’m riding with the guy and he got turned around and made a weird stop. I had a flashback and jumped off the bike. The guy is looking at me like no not here and I’m looking at him like I’m not getting back on that bike. It took everything in me to get back on the bike. When we got to the hotel I walked in looking traumatized. I didn’t even pay the dude. I gave Sunday the money and she sent one of the hotel attendants to pay the guy. He was just looking at me thru the window like lady what is wrong with you? LOL
A couple of days later I pushed myself to take a walk around the area of my hotel. I noticed a Hanoi city sightseeing HOHO bus and thought to myself that would have been nice to do, but I never did it because I couldn’t take any more torture.
Halong Bay – AAAHHHHHH Peace At Last! When Dan “The Man” from Escape Sails came in the hotel to walk me to the tour bus I knew it was going to be a great day! He had such a calming and positive energy about him. He was a protector from the start helping me cross the street and constantly making sure I was alright as the only solo person on the tour! The limousine bus was very nice and comfortable. The driver took the new Hai Phong Expressway that opened in 2018, so the ride was only two hours instead of the normal three and a half. The travel time included a thirty minute stop at the half way point. Once in Hai Phong we received a welcome drink in the waiting area before boarding the speedboat that would took us to the larger boat in the bay. The day consisted of a ten course lunch, karaoke, a sample cooking class, optional kayaking and swimming. We had a sampan (bamboo) boat ride with a local rowing the boat and singing in the tunnel. After all of that they laid out a sunset tea with some tasty pastries for us to enjoy while watching the sunset.
Natalia and her husband shared my table at lunch. They had no idea how entertained they was about to be by my picky eating habits. We had a good time laughing and talking through lunch and by the time the tour was over we had connected on social media to keep in touch. The beauty of new friendships are my favorite travel souvenirs and these two people are definitely a nice addition to my collection!