For me, Hanoi is the perfect integration of everything I love about the West, fused with the East. A typical weekend would involve leaving my Western style apartment, with it’s cute little kitchen and living room. This leads to a separate large bedroom with my double bed and large bay window, with a view of Truc Bach lake, a truly local site. Of course, all of this for the local price of just $400 per mont
I then take a walk around the lake, taking in the sights and smells, watching people walking their dogs (from the comfort of their motorbikes of course) and grabbing some Pho (chicken/ beef noodles in broth) for breakfast. I see women pushing their bicycles stacked high full of pineapples, lychees and flowers, watch them walk through the dirty streets in their flip flops. Every so often I see a group of men sat playing Chinese chess on the side of the road, without a care in the world.
I fancy something Western for lunch so tuck into a great big burger with French fries, or a pizza or a chicken burrito- my personal favourite. Yesterday I enjoyed more local cuisine of Bun Cha (barbecue pork with fish sauce), Pho Quan (fresh rice paper noodles) and Pho Chien Phong (deep fried crispy noodles).
I head to the beautiful botanical gardens to escape the crowds, the noise and the traffic and am always amazed at how peaceful this place is when it’s in the middle of such a thriving city.
Of course there’s a mix of us from all over the world, Australia, England, America, Germany, France, the Netherlands. Then there’s my Vietnamese friends who also join us, it is so easy to make friends in Hanoi with ex-pats and locals alike.
That afternoon I fancy a touch of luxury (it is the weekend) and so head on down to the local pool, in a Hotel by the side of West Lake. The pool is big, blue and surrounded by palm trees. When the sun sets it offers amazing views out across West Lake. I have spent many a happy afternoon here, surrounded by good friends and lovely sunshine, all for the price of $5.
In the evening I travel across town to where I work, because I have promised my adult students that I will meet them for dinner. They take me out to a fancy, Western style restaurant and buy the best items on the menu and refuse to let me pay. Teachers are well respected here. We talk about home and family and the differences between Western and Vietnamese culture. The conversation is truly interesting and I am again impressed at another new fact or lifestyle trait which I have learnt about the Vietnamese. At the end they insist that I take a photo with them, a common request in Vietnam. It’s a bit like being famous, but without so much intrusion.
Later that night I meet back with more friends and we enjoy icy beer hoi (the local fresh beer), while sat on plastic chairs, nibbling snacks from plastic table tops, amongst the sounds of sizzling barbecues, chinking glasses and motorbike horns.