Maile’s (Han) Solo Adventure in Vietnam

ABROADER 19/01/2022 7 min read

From enjoying a nice long walk around the Old Quarter to watching the rain from a quiet cafe with a cup of bubble tea to practice haggling with street vendors with an awkward smile, all are told in this fun piece of journal from our intern from the U.S.A Maile. Let’s see what she explored through her weekend (han) solo adventure in Hanoi during her Public Health internship in Vietnam.

Sorry to disappoint, but this post has nothing to do with Star Wars – except the new trailer for the latest one was release a few days ago!

​Today has been great – I decided to play tourist and go shop and walk around the Old Quarter. I had walked around the Old Quarter twice before, but with other people and there were agendas during those times. I like being able to wander at my own pace, free to stop and sit on the stone benches by the Hoan Kiem lake for as long as I want. Free to stop and watch the mini show where an extremely talented young man was playing a Vietnamese instrument that looked like a cross between a guitar with maybe two strings and a block of wood, the instrument is secured by the players’ hip and the post that pulls the tension on the strings comes up to their ear, similar to a cello, and played with a bow. It was quite the performance as there was a supporting band behind him and the group was playing right in front of the lake – if you closed your eyes it was an amazing experience. The emotion in the performer’s playing was evident with each note – it may have been a street performance, but he might as well of been playing in the huge Opera house I walked past not 30 minutes earlier. I spent most of Saturday wandering around the Old Quarter and a few streets to the east of it – my starting point was at the Press House Starbucks, I have been trying to find the Vietnam gift cards (a little souvenir tradition my family starting doing some years back). When I arrived via my motortaxi (I have officially gotten used to this method of transportation, but it going to stink when I come home and realize I have to pay more than $0.22 to get to work) I noticed the street it was on was very cute and urban looking, lots of white with French type windows and lush greenery framing the windows and the black rod iron balconies above. This must be the expensive part of Hanoi I realize as I look across the street to find a “Hermes” marble store front – well I’m going to get my drink and keep trucking to the other side of lake where I can actually afford things again!  I had seen an ad from the Starbucks & McDonalds in Japan for their cherry blossom drink specials that are only offered during April because of the season, and I come to find out that this Starbucks has a April special too – a green tea & strawberry blossom frappe! It was about the same price as back home sadly, but it was fun to try – and the baristas lay the pink whipped cream and the green tea frappe just right so that you can get the Instagram worthy photo op (I can’t say much as I did post a photo, but it was so pretty!) but alas they do not carry Vietnam gift cards sadly, the location specific cups I bought will have to do… internship in Vietnam

internship in Vietnam maile 2

Post feeling ridiculous taking the shameless and obvious photo pointed down the street with my drink in hand I start making my way towards the Old Quarter – let the day begin! Thankfully since I had walked down here before I knew the general area and remembered there was a bookstore nearby once I reached the blocked off roads (during the weekend the traffic cannot go through but only on certain sections of the roads) – passing by the Dior store, then the green ice cream storefronts, and the little old ladies selling paper trinkets; okay yes I am definitely in the right area, maybe my sense of direction is not that bad. I take look the right and yes! I found the bookstore – once I walk in I can smell the old book smell that matches exactly that of Powell’s back in Portland – perfect, it’s a used/new bookstore! Rummaging through their aisles I finally find the foreign language cookbooks, but it was a little smaller than I would have preferred – don’t people know I need options?? I’m more likely to give up and buy multiple if there is more books to choose from…. anyways roughly an hour later I decided on two cookbooks and I found some cute presents for Kamy too. When I get to the counter I realized I only brought around 200,000 dong – “Visa?” with a sheepish smile – the woman quickly shakes her head and says cash only… well poop… luckily there is an ATM that takes visa (a lot of banks here do not use Visa I have found out) a couple hundred feet away from the store front. A quickly trip and back and I am walking out with my little goodies – who doesn’t love new books?

I kept trucking down a street I didn’t go down last time I was over this way and it winded up being a great decision – I was getting hungry and on the corner of the street appeared a restaurant/lounge named “Mayfair” the decor was so much fun: the old school metal bird cages were used as light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, twinkling lights were placed strategically around a mesh like metal backdrop on the wall with wine hidden in the mesh, wooden chairs and tables with menus made from crisp card stock with scripted and typewriter fonts. The atmosphere was something similar to that of a lounge in San Francisco or in Portland – I loved sitting by the window getting to watch the little kids running around the street (this street was a walking only area at that time). I ordered Bo kho Gung, ginger beef with rice, and it was delicious, feeling a little cosmopolitan I ordered a Pina Colada for the expensive price of around $3 making my entire lunch $5.03 – didn’t feel too bad about the price tag for a place that would have cost four times that just for the food back home.

internship in Vietnam Maile

After my delicious lunch I kept venturing through the Old Quarter and popping into all kinds of stores I hadn’t seen before. I came across a small tailor shop that honestly didn’t look too different from any other store, but for some reason the dresses on the wall caught my attention and I ventured in. The wall was filled with dresses in varying cuts with multiple colors and fabrics. Being that my mom raised me to always look at the seamstress’ work I checked the hems, the length of the cuts, and details – these were actually really well made… A short Vietnamese woman in a tight pencil skirt appears and begins to tell me that all the dresses are offered in different colors, sizes, and that I can try them on. I got curious as she mentioned that she can make them in any color – “do you make custom clothing as well?” she promptly smiles and says of course, do you have a picture? I immediately get excited, as I have been planning on getting a pair of wide-legged business pants made while I am here. I quickly show her the Pinterest selection of photos for the ones I want and she nods that she can make them no problem – how much for these glorious pants though…. $45! Hmm not that bad… I remember there is another pair I have wanted too and if you buy multiple things the prices usually drop, so I inquire and we settle on $70 for the two pairs I have been in love with! Taking my measurements was a breeze and done so quickly – we schedule my fitting for the next Saturday and I pay my deposit. So excited for these pants!

This day has been so great and its only around 4 o’clock – I keep venturing down streets, occasionally making a small circle, but getting back onto my path of new streets. I run into another little gem called “Mekong Quilts” an NGO employing women from poor provinces in Cambodia and Vietnam – I love when my shopping habits help others. The quilts were beautiful and depict scenes from the various provinces of Vietnam. Gosh, I wish I could buy one and ship it home… I can do this but I really do not need a queen size quilt, even if it is only $80 dollars

Next up I come across a “BobaPop” store, I love bubble/milk tea if you haven’t noticed yet – one large milk tea with boba and jellies later, I decided to give my feet a little rest and take a seat on the roof and embrace the humidity – it’s starting to get rather warm and humid but I enjoy the scenery when you can look down through the endless electric wires strung from building to building, and see the street vendors and people interacting..

internship in Vietnam Maile 3

internship in Vietnam Maile 4

After my little rest I continue my trek through the streets and wind up on the local market street with all kinds of leafy greens, pork, beef, chicken heads, and…. FRUIT! I spot a women set up with a little market on the street with uncut pineapple sitting there just waiting for me buy it – I pick one that was just yellow enough out and began to haggle with the woman (she spoke some English so not haggling in Vietnamese yet – working on it) 20? Hmmm how about 15? Our bartering concludes with a smile of agreement on price. Hey minus the whole Vietnamese thing I am getting the hang of this – her husband prompts me to sit down on the little plastic stool while the woman cuts the pineapple for me and I watch a woman next to me folding big leaves into a small folded origami and slips a flower into the folded leaf. I wish I knew what she was making but they looked so perfect and pretty – each of her folds on the leaf seemed effortless, I am guessing from endless hours of practice. As the woman finishes she hands me the little produce bag with the pineapple top peeking out from the edge of the bag and I happily hand her the 15,000 dong (this is less than one dollar). My day of little treats gets even better as I find a street vendor making the infamous “rolled ice cream” – they make the ice cream liquid on a frozen metal plate and use two flat edges to spread the liquid across the plate in a square, once it is frozen they use the edge to push the ice cream and “roll” it) – I got pineapple

Now that I am not sure which street I need to take to get back to the lake where I figured I would catch the Uber from I give up and decide to call for one on the street corner I was currently at. Once my driver picked me up and started heading out of the Old Quarter I realize I was not where I thought I was and made the right call by getting picked up where I was, because otherwise I would have been walking around for a while…

All in all, today was a lot of walking, lots of little treats, and a great day for living Hanoi

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