Out and About in Hanoi

Johannesburg, South Africa – While the trips and the cultural experiences were all great, my roommates and I still found many opportunities to get out of the house and experience Hanoi in our little way. Between the restaurants, bars, markets, and other similar venues and events, we had plenty of potions to choose from and plenty of shenanigans to get into.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Several of us were excited about going to a youth street festival and seeing a different side of Hanoi and Vietnamese culture. There were supposed to be bands, break dancing, skate boarding, and other youth centered events. However, by the time we got there the festival was winding down, and there were only a bunch of old guys playing badminton, some young hipsters playing a combination badminton/hacky sack game, while the skateboarders were still skateboarding. There was a band warming up that sounded promising until the lead singer opened his mouth and started belting out death metal. For some reason, they and the band after them only had 15 minutes to perform, yet they treated the experience like a sound check. So, we heard the first 45 seconds of one song from each band about 10 times in their 15 minute block. By the time the third band was setting up, we were out of there.
  • Like most Asian countries, karaoke is kind of a big deal in Vietnam. We went for a volunteer in another house’s last night and had quite the interesting experience:
    • We had our own room, with everyone sitting on a U-shaped couch and a TV flashing lyrics and strange 80′s videos for each song at the open end. Unfortunately, the set-up prevented anyone from really getting up and performing to the crowd since you couldn’t look at the crowd and the lyrics at the same time (then again, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing).
    • The most memorable performance of the night was definitely the rendition of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On sung by one of the girls – I think it brought tears to everyone’s eyes, but not necessarily tears of joy. Not that my roommate and I handled a Backstreet Boys song any better, but the intense chest beat the girl had going on definitely won the crowd over.
    • As I mentioned previously, this was supposed to be someone’s going away party. Only, he never showed up. He was using someone else’s cell phone, and he didn’t receive the texts on where we were until the next day. So, he stayed in his hotel while the rest of us celebrated his last night. We did like the guy, I swear.

  • One of my favorite nights happened on a weeknight of all nights. Tired of Vietnamese food, I convinced my roommate to go into the Old Quarter with me after work to grab Western food. We ran into another housemate, and, after making a stop for dinner, we proceeded to grab a couple beers each from a mini mart and sat by the lake just drinking and chilling. There was also a Vietnamese guy playing Jingle Bells on the ukulele.
    • We frequented many restaurants, but the following two really stuck out:

    • Sumo BBQ – Thinking this was another KFC knock off, we decided to stop for lunch one afternoon. Within about two seconds of walking in the door, you could tell this was no fast food place. After going through a couple waitresses until we found one that spoke at least broken English, we surmised that we were in a Japanese/Korean steakhouse (staring at the other people seated near us as they ate also gave some good visual clues), and we simply needed to point at what we wanted on the menu since it was a buffet. I ended up with the menu, so I just started pointing at stuff and then pointing at some more stuff until everyone told me to stop. And that’s when food barrage occurred – there were salads, plates upon plates of meat stacked all over the place, sushi, some weird deep fried vegetable dish, and kimchi and other assorted pickled vegetables. It was a feast to behold, and it was all grilled to perfection at our table. Best meal I had while in Vietnam, and by far the most expensive.
    • Luna Cafe – Unable to think of anywhere else to go on one of those lazy early Saturday afternoons when everyone is hungover, tired and in need of coffee we decided to walk down the street to this little restaurant. I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce, but I was somewhat disappointed to find that spaghetti and meat sauce was actually spaghetti with meat gravy. I became even more disappointed when I found a giant, thick strand of black hair in my food (followed by at least two other people finding a hair in their food). I was hungry, so I ate as much as I could, but I never went back.

  • Likewise, there were many bars and clubs visited, but here are the most memorable ones:
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