or: how I developed a caffeine addiction
In travel, you mostly only hear about amazing sights or thrilling activities. But I assure you – our everyday is not that glamorous! A Day in the Life is where I capture the small moments that make up a typical day and give you a peek at what life really looks like in pictorial snippets, as well as some of my recommendations and idea for cost.
I feel like every time I do one of these A Day in the Life posts, I start off saying that we wake up really late in the morning. Let me explain real quick that we are usually up past 2 am because of D’s working hours. One of the drawbacks of traveling in Asia is that our sleeping schedules get seriously screwed up when we have to match up working hours to USA time. It’s really not a big deal because I’m a night owl anyway. But Hanoi has been the worst yet.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As all days begin, let’s begin with the beginning:
We wake up at almost noon. Yikes, practically half the day has already passed us by. Can we get any lazier??
We’re staying in a little boutique hotel right in the middle of the Old Quarter. The hotel serves a complimentary Vietnamese style breakfast daily but we have never once woken up early enough for it. Instead, we quickly get ready so we can go seek out our own.
We open the front door and step out into the street. Immediately we are enveloped by the sounds of the city. For breakfast, we generally alternate between two places, depending on what we’re craving. Today, we want rice and for that, there is only one place we even dream of going to. And that’s Xoi Yen, just a couple of blocks up the street.
Xoi Yen, a sticky rice restaurant, is practically an institution in Hanoi and is always crowded. At the front, a couple dozen employees in identical jackets furiously fill orders to keep up with the non-stop flow of customers. This place is so popular that there’s even an imposter right next door, with the exact same name and menu. But don’t be fooled (like we were our first time). The real deal is the one at the street corner where the employees wear branded clothing and serve the food in branded bowls.
The menu is simple, consisting of only glutinous sticky rice and various toppings. By now, we’ve tried almost all the toppings, and today we get a bunch of our favorites to share: boiled chicken, pate, and braised hard boiled eggs. We throw in a beef paste for something new.
After breakfast, we do what the locals like to do best and head to a café.
Hanoi is a city that never rests. The streets are always busy with scooters and cars. The air is always echoing with the sound of horns. But if you look closer, the cafés are always packed at all hours of the day with people just leisurely sipping on coffee and chatting. I love the café culture in Vietnam.
In Old Quarter, there’s a café practically every few meters. For the first week of our stay, we visited a new one (or two) everyday. But today, we go for the familiar and walk across the street to our favorite one. The owner is friendly, the coffee is strong, and the prices are right.
On this day, there’s a chicken tied to a tree next to us. In Hanoi, there’s always something interesting to look at!
I’ve never been a coffee drinker. The taste kind of grosses me out. But Vietnamese coffee is a magical creation. First of all, it’s brewed with a French drip filter which makes it intensely strong. And most importantly, it’s made with sweetened condensed milk (aka. nectar of the gods). This makes the coffee so good that upon my first sip, I declared myself a Vietnamese coffee aficionado.
I sip my coffee slowly. Mmm… so good. Yes, tired… need caffeine! Immediately, I can feel my heartbeat rising and my body getting all jittery.
We hang out at the café for a while until D decides he’s getting hungry again, so we go walking around town. I’ve already talked about the Old Quarter in my last post, so I will share just one more picture. I can never get enough of the street scene here!
Street kitchens dominate the food scene in Hanoi. In fact, half the time, you’re forced to walk on the street because the vendors have already claimed the sidewalk real estate. A general good rule of thumb is to go where it’s crowded. We’re intrigued by a group of people sitting on stools cradling steamy bowls of soup.
It turns out to be bun rieu, a northern crab and tomato noodle soup made with thin rice noodles. There’s no real crab meat pieces in there, but rather small clusters of crab egg. Nevertheless, it’s rich yet refreshing and tangy. And the best part: a bowl of this on the street cost 15,000 VND, or a mere US 70 cents. You can definitely eat well in Vietnam on the cheap.
We go back to the hotel to rest, but I’m restless with all the caffeine coursing through my veins. So we go back out to explore again. There’s really not much to do in terms of touristy things, so to pass the time, we stop at another café. This time, we opt for tea as it’s getting late in the afternoon.
We also partake in the people’s favorite pastime: munching on sunflower seeds! They are very addictive. We do as the locals do and discard the shells on the sidewalk as we eat. An hour later, the plate has emptied and we have a nice carpet of shells at our feet.
With our appetites worked up, we go for real food. In the past couple of years, pho has become one of my favorite foods. The main reason I was so excited to visit Vietnam is so I can gorge on authentic noodle soup. And so, my day is not complete if it did not include a bowl. We go to our favorite evening pho lady. Though she’s light on the smiles, her soup is heavy on the deliciousness, so she’s won our loyal patronage.
Later in the evening, when we’re hungry again, we go out to search for a quick bite. We walk by a granny steaming up banh cuon fresh on the sidewalk. She’s a one woman show with a one table restaurant. We take seats in front of her and immediately, she starts to fill a plate with food. (Please excuse the poor photo quality as all I had was my iPhone).
Banh cuon is made with a pork and mushroom filling wrapped in freshly steamed rice paper, then topped with crunchy fried shallots. Fish sauce, chilis, and fresh herbs are served alongside. She also steams up a few pieces of cinnamon pork (a springy ground pork cake). She continues to pile food on our plate until we’re stuffed. Banh cuon is a common street food in Hanoi, and they’re the perfect snack to end the day!
Back in the hotel, we both settle down to work. My heart is still racing from the coffee earlier. The hours slip by… I watch as the clock ticks to 2 am… 3 am… and still no signs of weariness. Finally, when I close my eyes, I fall into a restless, fretful sleep. And when I wake in the morning, I feel dead tired as if I haven’t slept.
And thus, the cycle begins again.
Total for the day: $16.05 US. On average, our food cost for two people in Hanoi came out to approximately $15 US per day. In terms of cost & quality of food, I think Vietnam is one of the highest value travel destinations.
How is your day going? :)
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