Two weeks ago today, I got my passport back from immigration, and got ready to leave China for good. I would be lying if I said I did anything other than hit the ground running. We went out for dinner in the Old Quarter the night I arrived, started work 4 days later, and started motor biking around the city within 10 days (don’t worry, we’ve bought proper helmets and face masks to save us from the pollution). We’ve also been to dozens of cafes and restaurants around Hanoi, and have gotten to know the city quite a bit! The last 2 weeks have been filled with adventure, experiences and newness; exactly what I crave in my life.
There’s so much for me to write about, but for today, I’ll start with a short introduction to the city where we are living!
People have been settled in the Hanoi area since the 3rd century BCE. More than 2000 years ago, people began creating communities along the Red River, which flows through the city. With so many little lakes and rivers flowing through the city, it’s no surprise that the area has a long history. The settlements eventually grew, and in 1010CE, Hanoi (called Thang Long at the time) became the capital city of Vietnam.
Vietnam was a French colony for many years, and was later occupied by the Japanese during World War 2. The American invasion in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s also had a profound affect on the city, with many buildings and bridges being bombed. For a while, after the war, Hanoi wasn’t a very welcoming place for foreigners, which is understandable. It’s come a very long way since then.
Our experience in Hanoi has been magical so far. People are very friendly, polite and helpful. People have offered us directions when they saw us looking for something, and all our Grab drivers have been very nice. English is also WIDELY spoken here; much more so than in Suzhou. Although many people study English in China, it seems that very few are willing to speak it with foreigners. In Vietnam, our experience has been quite different.
A Lively City
Hanoi is known as the introvert city, and Ho Chi Minh City is known to be extroverted. Anyone who thinks that Hanoi is introverted though, should really visit Suzhou! This city is SO alive! There are cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars everywhere. People seem to love being out, walking around the little ponds and lakes all over the area where we live. On any given night of the week, there will be groups of people enjoying beer and a great meal at the tiny restaurants that are scattered across the city.
We went for a little cruise on the motorcycle Sunday night, after dinner, and couldn’t believe how many were out cruising around the lake as well! The roads in Hanoi are almost always chaotic, but as long as you stick with traffic, and move with cautious confidence, it all seems to be ok. Traffic doesn’t move quickly, but it does move at least. Having a motorbike saves you a lot of time on the roads, so we didn’t wait long before getting one!
I’m planning several posts about Vietnamese food in the future, but so far, we’ve been enjoying a lot of the international food that we missed so much while we were in China.
Vietnam is much more open than China, and as a result, they seem to be more adventurous here. In Suzhou, many of the ‘international’ restaurants had to make major changes to their menus in order to appeal to local tastes. One chef we knew in Suzhou actually left his job because they wanted his food to be more ‘instagramable’. He made incredible home-cooked style Italian food but the restaurant wasn’t doing well enough because appearances is what sells. He actually left the restaurant because he didn’t agree with the mentality, but the reality is that restaurants need to do this in order to survive in China. As a result, you get less authentic cuisines.
It’s also more difficult for foreigners to open restaurants in China. Rent is expensive and there are a lot of hoops to jump through to make it happen. This doesn’t seem to be such a problem in Vietnam because there are international restaurants EVERYWHERE, and they all taste and feel authentic.
Some of the cuisines we’ve tried so far:
West African – Sierra Leone
So there you have it, my first post about Hanoi (since we moved here, anyway!). We visited this gorgeous city back in 2017, and I knew I wanted to live here right away. I’m so glad we listened to our guts and made this move. So far, it’s an incredible adventure!