Day 360 – 24 February, 2016
Hanoi. I would love to tell you that I loved Hanoi. I would love to tell you that I spent night after night frequenting the historic district, sampling Bia Hoi (the local fresh brew) while sitting on the small plastic patio chairs and watching the world go by. Or that I went for a daily jog around Hoan Kiem Lake, taking advantage of the autumn temperatures. But the truth is I don’t know how I feel about Hanoi because I barely saw it. In retrospect, I was indifferent but I don’t think that has any reflection on the actual city itself, but more my state of mind while I was there.
Imagine how you feel after a short holiday, when you need a vacation from your vacation. Maybe you need to get a good night’s sleep and getting back to a routine that doesn’t require constant vigilance isn’t such a bad thing. You know where you’re going to sleep at night and that your bed (likely) doesn’t have bed bugs. You can make yourself dinner with familiar foods or if you go out somewhere, you can read the menu and ask questions in your own language if you don’t know what something is. You know what method of transport you will take to get to work this week, in your own car or public transportation or by foot, and you know how to get there. You know where the ATM is and that it will give you the currency that you want and will (likely) accept your card. You can drink as much water as you want because you (likely) will always be near a toilet unless you too take 6 hour bus rides where the driver refuses to stop. You know where you’ll get your laundry done, whether it be by your own hands or your trusted cleaner down the street, and that your clothes will (likely) not come back smelling like cat urine. You know that 99% of the time you will have access to the Internet and that it will be fast by comparison to many parts of the world. And you know when you go into a store to buy something or when you hail a taxi, the price is fixed and there isn’t a price adjustment based on the color of your skin.
All of these things are what make travel fun and adventurous and addictive. These are the things that make the best memories and stories. But sometimes you just need a break…. I didn’t want to think about anything for a few days. I was hanging on by a thread, the culmination of several weeks of roller coaster-type emotions. I missed home. I missed my friends. I was sick of dorms and the small talk, “where are you from? Where are you going? Where have you been?”
I was staying at a Japanese-style hostel with the loveliest staff and a first-rate breakfast. My room had 8 dorm beds, but each one was hidden behind privacy curtains, with the most comfortable mattresses I had felt in ages. Stephie and I had sadly parted ways for the last time so I crawled into that little private cave and I barely left for my entire stay. I downloaded movies and binge-watched HBO’s Girls on my iPad. I chatted with Martyn for hours every day via Facebook. I read my book and tried to play catch up on this blog.
Hanoi appeared to be a nice city when I ventured out for my one meal in the mid-afternoon. I did walk around the lake. I did poke my head into the water puppets. I did briefly visit the propaganda-heavy Hoa Lo Prison Museum. But mostly, I saw the inside of my curtained bed, trying to regenerate some of that patience and energy required for long-term travel.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful every day that I have the opportunity to travel and see some amazing places and I love what I am doing. But travel has become my job, albeit a fun one. I’m paid in experiences and memories, rather than a paycheck. Even this job needs to take a vacation from time to time.
I need to go trekking to Sa Pa and I want to return to Halong Bay in the summer months so this will not be my last visit to Hanoi!