If you’re a solo traveler in Hanoi, all you need to do to beat bouts of loneliness is sit down on a bench at Hon Kiem Park. Within five minutes, someone will plop down next to you and ask to practice English.
Every time I sat down at the park, I met someone new. My first time in the park, I was accosted by a group of giggly high school girls asking to record an interview with me for an English class video. The same day, I met a precocious teenager with impressive opinions on international politics, communism, and the media. And the day after that, I met a group of motivated college students wanting to practice their business English. I didn’t meet too many people in what my friend and I called the “brostel” (hostel full of bros), so whenever I wanted to talk to someone, I walked over to the park.
Even though I went to Vietnam with a friend, a seemingly neverending visa debaucle forced me to stay in the city for a few days by myself. If there’s any Vietnamese city to be stuck in, I think Hanoi is the best one.
From the moment I saw the small, quaint side streets in the Old Quarter and the coffeeshops that outnumbered 7-11s, I knew I would love Hanoi. The city’s French influence is really obvious.
One of my favorite parts about the city was the cafe culture. Cafes with wicker chairs sprawl onto almost every sidewalk, where young and old Vietnamese sip iced coffee or green tea from tall glasses and scatter sunflower seeds on the sidewalk. One of the Vietnam’s specialties is weasel coffee, which gets its distinct flavor from traveling through the weasel’s digestive system. I don’t think it fully lived up to the hype, but it had a strong, dark, rich flavor– almost like….nevermind.
I spent most of my time in Hanoi wandering around narrow sidestreets in the Old Quarter, taking in the architecture in the French Quarter, and watching the city while sipping on strong cafe dam at a cafe.
I decided to check off one of the main tourist attractions by heading to the Temple of Literature. The Temple was the first university in Vietnam and features five courtyards surrounded by gorgeous temples and old academic buildings.
I also checked out the Vietnam Women’s Museum—a wonderful three story building with exhibits on women’s roles in the community, war, and fashion.
And because no post is complete without mentioning food… One of my first meals in Hanoi turned out to be one of my favorites from the trip. Bun Cha consists of small white ‘bun’ noodles served alongside a perfectly spiced pork broth with rich pork meat patties. The dish is usually served with light spring rolls.