Vietnam: Hanoi, One Night in
I like Hanoi a lot. It reminds me of New York. It's a mix of hustle and bustle and green parks and chill quarters. You weave your way through either pedestrian or street traffic, and you do it quickly. People notice your presence as you pass but they don't care one way or the other about it (unless, of course, they're trying to sell you something). But when you have a question or need directions, they are happy to help. And I fairly quickly mastered the art of crossing the street, which is daunting as the vehicles (mostly motorbikes) don't stop at all. It's like jaywalking in NYC (...on crack, because of the aforementioned fast-moving, non-stopping motorbikes)—you just have to keep an eye out and move quickly. Despite being in a developing country in which I don't speak the language, I felt in my element.
One needs a visa to enter Vietnam, either obtained at a consulate beforehand or on arrival at the airport. I'd understood that if you do it at the airport you also need to get pre-approval ($19 from a third party), but at the visa window the officer took my passport and form and then handed me another form to fill out. The latter was pretty much identical to the former except it had an outlined box for an ID photo. I chalked this up to an example of bureaucracy at its finest. That said, the wait wasn't bad. After 15 to 20 minutes, my passport photo and name showed up on a TV screen above the desk. I handed in my new paperwork and photo, which were promptly stapled together at that designated box, and $25 (They request USD specifically).
We stayed in Old City, which is the central part of town. Our hotel greeted us with juice and a list of survival tips for Hanoi, like crossing the street and shaking off pushy vendors.
We had dinner at a social enterprise restaurant, which I learned are common in southeast Asia. The restaurants hire and train youths living in poverty in how to run a restaurant, paying fair wages and providing experience for future service industry jobs. The meal was good and they showed us how to roll a spring roll, but the greatest thing to come from this meal was a new cocktail that we replicated later.
Both the restaurant and hotel told us that one should never hail a cab if avoidable (but if you do, make sure to negotiate the rate first) and insisted on calling them for us. We took our second cab of the evening to Hanoi Rock City, which was hosting a 4th anniversary celebration for the GingerWork parties.
Entering Rock City's neighborhood, I saw a distinct change in pedestrians from normal Vietnamese to uniquely-dressed individuals. I'm used to seeing this kind of specific and abrupt change in NYC; I was entering hipsterville and, as a lifelong resident, this makes me comfortable.
The venue is a DIY artspace (it reminded me of old Glasslands in Brooklyn, if that helps) with a room filled with balloons to play with, random tables and chairs strewn about, a coloring book station, and an electric glowing palm tree and string lights. There are two floors with bars on each and a dance floor and DJ booth on the second. Both bars sell whip-it balloons (nitrous oxide), which I'd never seen before, but they were popular (and I've since seen them at other bars in Vietnam).
For the celebration, there was a face-painting and costume station next to a professional photographer station as well as some performance art. The first performance was a woman hula hooping with a hula hoop emitting fire, which is always exciting. She was followed by a more-interpretive dance piece by a quintet of men and women. The final performance took place on the stripper pole on the second floor, and it was very impressive. A great DJ followed suit to round out the evening.
When leaving, the streetlights had already been turned out and there there were no Ubers to be had. We decided to hail a cab. Following instructions, we insisted on a price before getting in. It wasn't until I was in the car, sitting next to the driver, that I heard what he'd been saying in his protestations—that the price we'd insisted on was too much. And it was, by about double! We paid the negotiated rate, though. We insisted.