We Accidentally Skipped Hanoi

Our 10 days in Vietnam started with disappointment. Not at the country itself, just with our luck. 

We arrived in Hanoi at night and stared wide-eyed, though exhausted, out the window of our cab at the light show of Hanoi. Twinkly lights wrapped around tree trunks on each side of the street and lit up the entire city.

We saw young guys sitting on tiny plastic stools sharing beers and cigarettes, a woman sitting on her vine-covered balcony, and young kids blasting music in a city park competing with the cacophony of car horns. It was late for us (10 pm, we must be getting old) but every street looked lively in a laid-back way. Everyone was awake, outside, and just hanging out. 

But we were beat. Rather than join in the city nightlife we opted for bed and an early wake-up call to see Hanoi for real—outside of a cab. Unfortunately, I woke up with a headache that I tried to fight off with a couple more hours of sleep. When I woke up again the headache had mellowed, so we set off in search of coffee, knowing that caffeine is always the answer.

Andrew did some food-searching magic on his phone (he is now a full-fledged dedicated foodie) and led the way. We turned into a tourist shop full of crazy patterned pants and walked all the way to the back where Andrew confidently led us up two flights of narrow stairs and into a coffee shop. (What is with the Vietnamese coffee shops? They always seem to be hidden away in the back and up some stairs.)

Low stools, barely six inches off the ground, were scattered all over the place with young Vietnamese people sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. We settled into two stools against the wall and ordered cà phê sữa—robust, bitter coffee poured over sweetened condensed milk and ice.



While Andrew excitedly talked about the coffee, (he’s into coffee now as well as food) I noticed my cup was sort of moving. As I reached to grab it, my hand almost knocked it over. Then I looked back at the menu and found I couldn’t focus my eyes. My body was basically screaming “you have a migraine coming on, GTF out of here. NOW!”

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Sweet Andrew paid quickly, led us back down the narrow stairs, through the honking crowded streets and back to the hotel room. The blinds were closed, all noise was shut off, and that is where we stayed. Two Excedrin, nine hot compresses patiently applied by Andrew, and eight hours later, I woke up feeling weak but okay. 

We walked just down the street to a “restaurant” known for pho. Restaurant in quotes because it was just a food cart in a garage filled with more of those low plastic stools. But the pho was warm and delicious. Just what I needed. I sipped on broth until I was full enough to go back to bed.

And that was our entire day in Hanoi—one cup of coffee, one bowl of pho, and a dark quiet hotel room. Andrew could have bailed on me at any time to take in the sights alone, but he’s just not that kind of guy.

It was really disappointing to miss the sites I had circled in our guidebook, (most notably Hỏa Lò Prison where U.S. POWs were held during the war) But, there is always a bright side. Now we have an excuse to go back to Vietnam. Who wants to join us?