Hanoi “Just Say No” Vietnam 🇻🇳

My trip to Vietnam began as a struggle. The entire Vietnam War ran from Nov 1, 1955 – Apr 30, 1975. I was born in 1956. In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin incident led President Johnson to seek direct U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In 1973, a Cease-fire was reached. The last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, in March 1973. After graduating from high school, in 1974, I had my mother sign me into the U.S. Air Force. I arrived for basic training on March 12, 1975. During my five years of service, I worked along side a number of Vietnam veterans. Truth be told, I’m also a Veteran Era Veteran. According to federal law, the United States’ military involvement in the War began in February 1961 and lasted until May 1975. So, as my flight arrived, from Bangkok to Hanoi, I had more than sightseeing on my mind.

Adopted early, by a hotel staff member!

Thankfully, as soon as I walked out of the airport, to look for my driver, I began to feel more at ease. Once reaching my hotel, I was adopted by a staff member. That being said, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The hotel didn’t have a room for me. I booked five nights. They put me at their “sister” hotel for my first evening. The following day, I relocated all my things back to the original hotel. There are two rooms per floor. Although on the second floor, my room was below street level. The one small window looked out onto the hallway. The room was hands down the worst, in my first three months of traveling. It was also “perhaps” a bait and switch. Because I arrived so late, that first night, my original room may have been resold to someone else.

Can’t bring myself to do it!

Having served in the Peace Corps (three times) I’m totally OK with the room. The shower doesn’t drain. There’s a leak coming from the toilet. And, the air conditioner unit cuts out, after an hour or so. I won’t even go into the Internet service or having to hear each and every time the guest next door flushes the toilet. I’ve just made sure to “only” be in the room for sleeping. During my first few days, I was busy checking out the neighborhood. In other Southeast Asian countries, I’ve really enjoyed that Tuk Tuk life. Here in Hanoi, Tuk Tuks are human powered. I just can’t bring myself to let someone else bike me around the city.

Cheesy but practical

After walking for the first few days, I gave in and booked a ticket on a Hop On / Hop Off bus. My hotel was in the Old Quarter and I wanted to get a better idea of what was really nearby. The pick up location for the bus was at the Hanoi Opera House. Walking there took me by Hoàn Kiếm Lake. It was much closer than I thought. Once on the tour, I could see how close my hotel was to Train Street, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the weekend night market. I could also spot different ways to get to and from my hotel. The tour bus was also helpful for getting to see places too far for me to walk. I know that people put down these touristy buses, but I really like using them.

An important reminder of the past.
Art work by Agent Orange/Dioxin victims.

Sunday was my official tourist day, away from the city. My hotel signed me up for the standard bus tour, but with a company with the most comfortable seats. Being sixty six years old has its advantages. The twelve hour tour was a little crazy. We made good time from Hanoi to the first stop. It was a coffee and restroom break, at a large arts and crafts shop. Upon entry, there were a dozen Agent Orange/Dioxin survivors making artwork. We were given 45 minutes to look around, shop, purchase a beverage or snack.

Tourist day

Our official day started at Hoa Lu, with a boat ride down Trang An. I opted out of the two hour round trip. There was more than an hour wait to get on a boat. I spent the time greeting young Vietnamese children eager to use their English language skills. I also ended up taking photos with several adult men, just as eager to pose with an African American visitor to Vietnam. It was all time well spent. I guess this boat ride was just too soon after the James Bond Island kayak trip, from Phuket, in Thailand. I just really wasn’t into it. Plus, … heading into the end of three months of international travel, I needed a break.

Biking to the next tour destination (Hard Pass)!

We were more than an hour late for our lunch buffet. The food items were limited and much of it was cold. Soft drinks and water had to be purchased. Most of my group opted for bottled water from our tour bus. I, of course, purchased a Coke. From our lunch spot, we had the opportunity to bike a short 3k to Hoa Lu, the capital of Vietnam from 968 to 1009. There wasn’t a lot to do once there, although it’s a great selfie destination. Then, the group biked back. The staff from the our lunch spot quickly put away the bikes, upon our return. Being so late, from the first boat tour, we put everyone’s schedule a little off. I opted to ride up and back on the bus.

I know this looks peaceful …

Our final stop was a short drive and a mere 500 steps up, for a magnificent view of Tam Coc river. We arrived right as the sun was starting to set. Some of the pictures I saw, from my fellow travelers, were amazing. I opted (of course) to not do the climb. I ordered a sugarcane drink and took a seat. While I was sipping my beverage, a tourist crashed into the sidewalk. He was able to stay up on his motorcycle, but he was fighting mad. The local (official/unofficial) parking attendant was also extremely upset and blaming the mishap on the tourist. Then, out of nowhere, another male tourist decided to add on and tell off the local. As the guy on the motorcycle parked and walked away, I finished my drink and got ready for things to pop off.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

I walked closer to the two arguing men. Did no one else notice that the local guy was about to grab the tourist? I began yelling, “No!” The local guy now had the tourist by the throat. Local men and a friend of the tourist guy jumped in and pulled the local away. He walked off, but the offended tourist refused to leave. The local guy returned, with a metal pipe, and took a swing at tourist. I jumped dead in the middle of the two men, facing the man with the pipe. With my hands up, I said, “Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me!” I added “Black Lives Matter,” seeing that it was still Black History Month! I was able to provide just enough crazy to confuse the local guy long enough for someone to go behind him and grab the pole. I then turned and began walking back the tourist. With my hands in prayer mode, I kept asking him to leave, while walking towards him and sort of forcing him to move back. He finally turned and walked away.

No Red Beans and Rice! No biscuits!

The young girl who sold me the sugarcane drink gave me a thumbs up. The older woman working with her, cutting up pineapple, was in mild shock. She kept laughing and shaking her head. I walked over and whispered, “I’m American!” Then, my tourist day was over. I didn’t participate in a single event. The first bus drop off stop, back in Hanoi, was directly across from St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It was more than fitting. Even more so, was the nearby Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. I decided to finish the day the same way it began. I said no to getting street food, from the weekend night market. I ordered a Popeyes two piece (sadly … there was no red beans and rice or biscuits) and then walked back to my hotel.

What a fitting end to my time in Hanoi, my first location in Vietnam. In five short days, I was reminded of what I learned, growing up in Detroit, before leaving for military service. In this life, you’re either breaking up the fight or betting on it! XOXO — GGT

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