Vietnam Itinerary

Day one: Arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam

  • Walked around Ho Hoam Kiem Lake
  • Explored night market: try street food!
  • Stayed at hostel: Generally $22 for private room, ~$8-10 for dorm
    • Old Quarter Hostel (32 Hang Vai, Hoem Kien, Hanoi): very clean, free bottled water and snacks all day, great free breakfast, helpful staff planned our bus to Sapa and a cruise in Ha Long Bay

Day two: Explore Hanoi

  • Sunrise at Ho Hoem Kien Lake, watch/join in local morning exercise classes (literally every where around the lake)
  • Visited the Hoa Lo Prison Museum: 30,000vnd or ~$1 to enter
  • Visited the Temple of Literature
  • Overnight bus to Sapa: 6 hour ride, $18 for sleeper bus with bathroom

Day three - day four: Trekking in Sapa

  • Sapa Sisters: $82 per person, 2 day trek with private guide, 1 night at home stay in local village. I couldn't recommend Sapa Sisters more highly. Though on the more expensive side for Vietnam standards, we were able to legally trek through all the villages, enjoyed incredible local foods, and learned so much about Hmong culture through our guide.
    • Tip: there are tons of local ladies that offer cheaper prices for a trek/homestay (~$25 per night), but they often do not get the proper permits so will take you on alternative, more dangerous paths. A French guy died falling down a waterfall only two days before we got there. National services couldn't help rescue him because he wasn't registered as a tourist hiker. Also, the groups are larger, food isn't great, and you could be sleeping on your guides floor with 20 other people rather than having your own, clean bed!
  • Spent our second night at hostel: $15-40 for private room, $5-10 for dorm
    • Paradise View Hotel: $38, one of the nicest hotels in Sapa (and one of the most expensive)- incredible breakfast, phenomenal service, kindest staff! Most backpackers wouldn't spend half this much on a hostel but we were tired from our trek and wanted to spoil ourselves.

Day five: Explore Sapa

  • Explore shops and restaurants: it's such an adorable town with such amazing views, we could never get sick of walking around here.
    • Tip: It's significantly cooler than Hanoi, so make sure to bring a jacket
  • Private motor bike tour through mountains to water falls: $6 each, organized by Paradise View Hotel concierge. We rode behind guides as we weren't comfortable enough to find the waterfalls alone. 
    • Thac Bac (Silver waterfall)
    • Thac Tinh Yeu (Love waterfall)
  • Dinner at Little Sapa: $1-4 per person, our favorite restaurant in Vietnam, also extremely cheap!
  • Over night bus back to Hanoi: 6 hour ride, $18 for sleeper bus with bathroom

Day six - seven: Ha Long Bay

  • Cruise in Ha Long Bay: Generally three levels $65, $85 and $100 for 2 day 1 night. Prices are double for 3 day 2 night cruises
    • Golden Bay Cruise: $85 per person, 2 day 1 night cruise, organized through Old Quarter Hostel. We went kayaking, visited the largest cave in Ha Long Bay, visited an oyster farm, and had a cooking class (if rolling spring rolls with prepared filling counts as cooking).
    • Tip: If you can afford it, I would recommend a tour in Bai Tu Long Bay, a less touristy bay with the same beauty (starting at $135 for 2 days 1 night). There were too many boats in Ha Long Bay and the water was dirty. Visiting the caves in Ha Long Bay was not fun as it was too crowded. I would also recommend a 3 day 2 night tour as we were only actually on the boat for 24 hours.
  • Spend second night in Hanoi
    • Hanoi Central Backpacker Hostel: $22 private room, fairly dirty compared to Old Quarter Hostel, much louder environment, great place to meet people, great happy hour/free drinks, good complimentary breakfast. We would have enjoyed this place more if we weren't so tired, but we were rather annoyed with drunk kids knocking on our door all night. 

Day eight - : day eleven: Hoi An

  • Spent three consecutive nights at Blue Clouds Home stay Hostel: $15 per night for private room, only  minute walk from Old Town, exceptional staff! Absolutely my favorite place we stayed in Vietnam. The most wonderful family runs this hostel and went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable in Hoi An. They helped us organize all our day trips, served fantastic breakfast, and had excellent recommendations for restaurants. Transportation to and from the airport was 330,000 or $15 each way for one hour drive. 
    • A few examples of their over-the-top hospitality: I knew I was getting significantly ripped off when I tried to buy after sun lotion for my sunburn, so I didn't buy it (being white and not speaking Vietnamese = getting ripped off). Kim, the daughter of the owner, went back to the pharmacy and got a great price for the same item! I also forgot an outfit in the shower (is anyone surprised?) and Kim mailed it to my hostel in Ho Chi Minh. 
  • Visited An Bang Beach: Rent a bike (20,000vnd or ~$1) beautiful beach with lots of places to eat and drink right on the water. If you pay to eat, you get a cushioned beach chair for free. Otherwise, they are (50,000vnd or $2). Bike parking is 10,000vnd but some restaurants let you park for free if you buy food.
    • Tip: crazy ladies yell "STOP STOP" to get you to park and pay in their parking lot. Just keep going until you at least see the beach before you park. They make you believe it isn't allowed to bike farther, but it totally is. 
  • Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Class: $33 per person, 8:30am-2:30pm, small group of six people. We started our tour in the market and bought fresh herbs, vegetables, meat that we would be using in our class- it was an amazing experience. We took a boat down the river to Coconut Island, the rowed through coconut trees to the local village where our class took place. We cooked four fantastic courses- the best food I ate in Vietnam. Cooking was surprisingly technical, but staff was helping us every step of the way basically making it impossible to mess up. They cleaned up dishes as we used them, so the cooking space was totally uncluttered and simple. This cooking class is a must for anyone in Hoi An
  • Motor bike tour around Hoi An and to My Son: $30 per person, 9am-3:30pm, private tour. Blue Clouds hostel organized a guide to take us all around Hoi An, then to My Son, which are ancient ruins about an hour from Hoi An. 
  • Morning Glory: $7-10 per person. One of the most renowned restaurants in Hoi An- the owner is soon opening a restaurant in Las Vegas! Exceptional local food cooked right in front of you. It is also the most [relatively] expensive restaurant in Hoi An.
  • Night Market: super fun market and night scene across the river. They have gorgeous lanterns that I would have bought a dozen of if I didn't have to carry them for the rest of my trip!
  • Tip: Hoi An is also the place for men to get custom made suits! It costs about $200 for a suit that would cost over $1000 in the US. Prices vary, but the quality does too, so ask your hostel for recommendations for tailors and prices quotes.

Day twelve - fourteen: Ho Chi Minh

  • Spent two nights at the Hello House: $22 for private room, great staff, really great common area for hanging out, exceptionally clean rooms, reasonably priced laundry (35,000/kg or ~$6 for a load), great complimentary breakfast. Picked us up at the airport for 300,000vnd or $13.50.
  • Spent two nights at Ngoc Thau Homestay: $15 for private room, helped us organize day trips, great location- quiet, but short walk from backpacker party strip, not as clean as other hostels, sub-par complimentary breakfast, cheap transportation back to airport (190,000vnd or $9).
  • Visited Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple: $7 per person for bus, 8:30am-6:30pm, entrance to Cu Chi Tunnels not included (110,000vnd or $5)
  • Tip: I would highly recommend visiting both the temple and the Cu Chi Tunnels, but not in one day. We spent the majority of the day riding on the bus.
  • Visited the War Museum: 15,000 entrance fee (less than $1)
  • Royal Siagon restaurant: best food in Ho Chi Minh for the best price. I had the bun thit bo- an amazing beef, rice noodle, spring roll, vegetable dish with fish sauce.

Ho Chi Mihn City

Best of Ho Chi Minh City

1. Cu Chi Tunnels: The Vietnamese created an incredible network of tunnels during the American War. We got to explore the upper-most layer of tunnels, which was cool but also my worst nightmare. It's really stuffy, dark, and hard to breath. There were places you need to be on your stomach to squeeze through. I'm also double the size of a lil Vietnamese guy, so that didn't help my case. We also saw these crazy booby traps the Vietnamese set up. 

2. The American War Museum: It was extremely sobering to visit the American War Museum. The first floor showed photos of protests from all around the world. The second and third floors were much more difficult to experience. They captured the lives of those affected by the Vietnam/American War. Most significantly, the devastating effects of chemical warfare. Agent Orange was sprayed over 4.5 million acres of Vietnam and resulted in countless severe health issues among Vietnamese people. Evidence suggests that the toxin causes permanent epigenetic damage that can be passed on to future generations. It was pretty depressing but was really important and interesting to see. 

3. Night Life: Ho Chi Minh was nuts. By far the craziest city I've ever been to. The backpacker street was constantly bustling with tons of people from all around the world who wanted to get rowdy. Everywhere we went, we met tons of people. One night, Marissa and I spotted the tallest building we could see and decided we wanted to get to the top. I wasn't dressed appropriately to go up to the Sky Bar, but fortunately the hotel spared me a pair of dress-code sandals so I could enjoy the city skyline and an overpriced drink. 

Other things to do: Cao Dai Temple, cheap manicures/pedicures, Royal Saigon restaurant, night market

Worst of Ho Chi Minh City

1. Taxis: We got in a green taxi at the American War Museum and the meter was out of control. It was going up so, so fast. I told the driver to stop so we could get out and he kept driving. I said I wouldn't pay more than a certain amount and he got so angry. We paid more for that 15 minute cab ride than we did for our one hour taxi ride to the airport. 

2. The insanity: Marissa and I were exhausted by the end of our two week adventure in Vietnam, so we weren't embracing the craziness of the city as we would have at the beginning of our adventure. Ironically, we spent a lot of time in different coffee shops relaxing. 

Hoi An

We spent three nights in Hoi An- a beautiful historic city. It is very well preserved with strict regulations, so it doesn’t feel like a city at all. We stayed at Blue Clouds Hostel and I can’t say enough great things about it! Having come from Hanoi, Hoi An was a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of the city. Blue Clouds is family-run, so the homey feel was exactly what we were looking for. The hostel is a five minute walk from the Old Town.

Our first day, we rented bikes and rode around the area. It started down-pouring while we were riding around, so we pulled over to what we thought was a cafe. Turns out it was just some Vietnamese guy’s house, but he let us hang there until the rain stopped. We got to An Bang beach and it was totally empty from the rain. We ate at a restaurant on the beach, so we got padded beach chairs for free. I got burned to the crisp and loved every second.

At night we crossed the river to an awesome night market. I bought a few dresses and Marissa bought a handmade backpack (that broke the next day).

Top things to do in Hoi An

1. EAT: The food in Hoi An is amazing. The cuisine is different from Vietnamese food in any other city. Morning Glory was the most expensive restaurant we visited, but it was worth it. Try Cao Lau, White Rose, and Quang Noodle.

2. Cooking class: We chose a more expensive cooking tour because of it’s phenomenal reviews and it was amazing. We went to the market early in the morning and picked up all the fresh ingredients we would need for that day. We cooked several courses of the most delicious food! The class was extremely well run and the cooking was surprisingly technical.

3. Motorbike to My Son: Marissa and I had never ridden a motor bike but were dying to do so. The hostel owner taught us how to drive then had his friend take us to My Son, since we weren’t comfortable going alone. The ancient ruins were 1-2 hours from Hoi An. Driving in Vietnam is crazy, but Hoi An was slightly less risky. Our guide was amazing and stopped at tons of unique spots on the way to the ruins. He even took us to his home, showed us around his farm, introduced us to his family, and met his neighbors who create amazing hand-made brooms.

Other things to do: An Bang Beach, bike around Old Town, attend traditional dance show in Old Town, get clothing tailored, snorkeling

Worst things about Hoi An

1. Rats: They are not shy and they are huge. I would say the size of a well-fed guinea pig. We saw one at a restaurant scurrying under tables. When Marissa and I were walking home at night, there were rats darting across the narrow street in front of us every few seconds. It was terrifying.

2. Night life: Maybe it was because we visited during the middle of the week or maybe we weren’t meeting meeting the right people, but Hoi An didn’t have much of a night life. We wanted to go out in the Old Town but it closed at 11pm. We crossed the bridge to the other side of the river where there was lots of clubby bars with no one in them. They play aggressive dance music and then there’s Marissa and I sipping beer below the neon flashing lights.

Halong Bay

2 day 1 night excursion

This was an interesting excursion... We had so been looking forward to going to Halong Bay as it is one of the most unique, beautiful places in the world. We were pressured by our hostel to book a tour without really knowing what kind of tour we were signing up for. They just said "oh it's very good, people love it." It's hard to negotiate with a language barrier so we were like "sure!" Marissa and I signed up for a 2 day and 1 night excursion around Halong Bay. 

We were picked up at our hostel at around 6am. The drive to Halong Bay takes 6 hours. Sitting in the back of the bus, I literally got bruises on my forehead for foolishly trying to sleep against the window during the bumpy drive. When we arrived at Halong Bay, we waited at a loading dock for an hour before we were able to board our boat. It was a pretty cool boat, but the unfortunate weather prevented us from taking advantage of the roof deck. We first took the boat to explore a cave, which felt more like an attraction at Disney world than a natural wonder. Colored lights illuminated the cave walls making it seem even less authentic. The cave itself was huge and the history behind the rock formations is interesting, but I couldn't appreciate it with tourists pushing me from behind into the tightly packed tourists in front of me. I hate waiting in lines so I was over the cave in about 2 seconds.

After the sub-par cave excursion, we went kayaking. We had 1 hour to explore a cove. The limestone structures in the water were really beautiful, but the water was dirty and smelly. There were SO many other boats in the harbor and it would have been a more authentic experience if we were in a quieter area. That being said, the hour we kayaked was just about the only hour it was not raining, so we appreciated that. 

After dinner we had a "sunset party". Marissa and I were lounging in our room when over the loud speakers, we hear our guide, Peter, yell "Welcome to the second floor for sunset party!". We weren't ready yet. It was also pouring, so going up to the slippery deck to huddle under an umbrella together didn't seem appealing. Peter calls out a second, then a third time, "Welcome to the second floor for sunset party!" We thought everyone was be waiting for us, so we quickly made ourselves presentable and headed upstairs. The scene on the top deck was painfully awkward. People were huddling around sipping sugary grape cocktails (compliments of Peter) while music you only hear at a club at 3am blasted through the speakers. The deck was dangerously slippery, so naturally I was the first one to fall. There was really only one option- to get drunk. And that's precisely what we did. We drank a lot of beers and danced a lot. We actually ended up becoming great friends with two girls from Spain (we met up with them in two other cities in Vietnam)!

The next morning Peter woke us up at freaking 6am: "WAKE UP NOW PLEASE!". At least he said please... We knew it would be a rough morning. We visited an oyster farm. It was extremely lame. They showed us how they plant and harvest pearls. Maybe I would've had a better attitude if I wasn't extremely hungover, but I doubt it. The fishy smell sent Marissa over the edge and she was puking in the bathroom most the tour. When we thought it couldn't get worse, it did. We were forced to check out of our rooms by 8am, so there was no place to lie down and nurse our hangovers. Since it was still raining, we had to wait in the dining room from 8:30am until 1pm when we finally got off the boat. During that time we had a "cooking class" which took a total of 15 minutes. We watched Peter roll a pre-made mixture into spring rolls.

Halong Bay is truly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so it was disappointing that our experience was not what we expected. It felt like we did more waiting around than anything. Despite being a 2 day and 1 night tour, we were actually on the boat for less than 24 hours. That being said, it wasn't just the tour that sucked, the weather was a huge bummer. If we were to return to Halong Bay, I would book a 3 day and 2 night tour in Baitu Long Bay. This bay is equally as beautiful but much less touristy.

Exploring Sapa

We planned to only spend one night in Sapa, but as soon as we arrived, we knew we would want to spend more than two days in this beautiful city. The cool weather and fresh air was a welcome change from Hanoi.

After our trek, we were exhausted and balled out and booked the nicest hotel in Sapa according to Tripadvisor (which cost about $40 USD ha). The rooms were significantly nicer, as was the food included. But most notably, the service was amazing. We told the man at the front desk that we wanted to explore Sapa's incredible waterfalls, but were too nervous to take motorbikes on our own. Within 15 minutes, two guys showed up at our hotel with motor bikes. They took us on a ride in the mountains for a few hours, stopping at all the best waterfalls and waiting for us while we explored. It only cost us $6 each! It was our first time on a motorbike and it was SO fun! We will have to drive ourselves next time. We stopped at Thac Bac (Silver Falls) and the Love waterfall. 

Trekking in Sapa

Sapa was stunning. We took an overnight bus from Hanoi to Sapa for $18 and arrived at 3am. The bus driver graciously allowed us to sleep on the bus until 6am. Though this was kind, Vietnamese bus drivers are ruthless. I was expecting someone to gradually turn the lights on, walk around and softly say, “wake up, it’s time to get off”. I guess that's asking too much (still adjusting to Southeast Asian culture), but this guy flipped on the lights and shouted over the loudspeaker “WAKE UP LEAVE NOW”. We had no idea where we were going.

We got off the bus are there are lots of ladies in traditional hill tribe costume eager to get tourists to sign up for a trek and homestay with them. The ladies were very friendly and spoke English really well. But DAMN, they were insanely persistent. We were trying to be polite, as we had already booked a trek through a company online, but they wouldn’t leave us alone. A group of them followed us into town for what felt like a mile until we started completely ignoring them. We had booked a two day trek with a one night home stay through Sapa Sisters Trekking Company. They had great reviews on Trip Advisor, so I felt confident booking the tour ahead of time. We were disheartened when we first got to Sapa and realized that this company charged almost double for the same tour offered by the women on the street. It didn't take long for us to realize that we, in fact, were lucky to have booked the more expensive tour for two main reasons:

  1. You get what you pay for- the service, food, and accommodations provided by Sapa Sisters was fantastic. Our guide spoke excellent English (by practicing with foreigners) and was able to alter our trek to our liking because it was just me and Marissa with one guide.
  2. Safety: Most women who lead treks do not get the necessary permits for foreigners to enter the national paths that pass through local villages. Therefore, they take tourists on alternate, unofficial and potentially dangerous routes. Just days before we arrived in Sapa, a German man fell to his death down a waterfall during a “illegal” trek with a non-certified guide. Also, when one gets the required permit, he or she is registering the trek with the National Park and can get help quickly in the case of an emergency.

Culture Shock

Our guide, Mao, taught us all about her life as an Hmong woman. She is 22 years old, has one child and is pregnant with her second. She plans to trek until the day she gives birth and will continue leading treks one month after giving birth. She was curious if either Marissa and I were married. When we said no, she asked if premarital sex was common where we are from. Premarital sex is absolutely prohibited among Hmong people. She then blew our minds enlightening us about Hmong relationships. My feminist friends reading this are about to lose their sh*t. She started off by saying marriages used to be arranged, which occasionally resulted in Hmong women dying by suicide after eating poisonous plants found in the mountains. Now, women can choose their partners...kinda. If a man and a women are dating and the man wants to get married, but the woman doesn't, he kidnaps her. 

Kidnapping process: A man forcibly removes the woman he desires to marry from her home and takes her to his house. The woman is watched for 48 hours straight by the man, his mother, or another relative. During this time, the kidnapped woman cannot so much as use the bathroom without being observed. She is forced to sleep in the same bed as her abductor. They do not necessarily have sex, but because she slept in the same bed as a man, she is rendered undesirable for marriage. Thus, the woman has no choice but to marry her abductor or never get married.

Mao was actually abducted by her own cousin and is currently married to him. She said that she didn't love him at first but loves him now. She said one of her friends cries a lot because she doesn't like her husband. However, her friend is just recently pregnant so she cries less and is starting to fall in love with her husband. Yikes. 

Hanoi

When we first arrived in Hanoi, we were freaking out about how to get from the airport to our hostel. Marissa spent hours reading about how tourist are often ripped off (or worse) by taxi drivers. We played it safe and had the airport organize us a ride for ~$20, rather than having to negotiate the price ourselves. Being freshly in a new country, we weren't ready to argue over prices in a currency we didn't yet understand. We got to our accommodation safely and were pleasantly surprised by the great location and customer service at the Hanoi Old Quarter Hostel. After resting in our room for a few hours, we were ready to take on Hanoi.

Bye, Boston! Hello, Vietnam!

Bye, Boston! Hello, Vietnam!

Places to See

Ho Hoam Kien Lake: The lake is located in Old Quarter, a very quaint, yet still insanely bustling part of the city. When we first arrived to Hanoi, we walked around the lake to get a feel for the city. The next day, jet lag had us up at 4am, so we returned to the lake for sunrise. Though the smog and humidity prevented us from seeing any type of sunrise, it was an amazing experience waking up with the locals. Unlike New York City, Hanoi actually sleeps. At 4am, the once crowded roads are completely empty. The sidewalks, which are usually crammed with food stalls, vendors and motorcycles were completely clear so we could actually walk on them! It felt like I was walking around a European neighborhood- it's hard to imagine how the streets transform so drastically in just a few short hours. As we walked around the lake, thousands of other Vietnamese people did too. Everyone was speed walking laps around the lake, stretching, or participating in tai chi or zumba-like dance classes.

Temple of Literature: Only a 15 minute walk from our hostel, the Temple of Literature was a beautiful oasis in the city. This temple, founded in 1070, is also Vietnam's first university and is a rare example of ancient Vietnamese architecture. The temple was bigger than we anticipated, so visiting at the hottest time of day was less than ideal. We treated ourselves to a bike taxi pushed by a little Vietnamese guy. The poor soul didn't know what he was in for when two Americans hopped on his cart...

Getting a bike taxi

Getting a bike taxi

Hoa Lo Prison Museum: This prison was first used by French Colonists to imprison Vietnamese political prisoners, but was then used for US prisoners of war during the Vietnam War (like John McCain). Over 100 Vietnamese people escaped from this prison through the sewer. I feel like the French would've caught on after a few people escaped, but apparently not. I don't think I could fit my right leg through the hole these people escaped through. To be fair, the prison uniforms on display proved that that a Vietnamese prisoner was the size of an American 2nd grader.

Food to Eat

We were told that there would be noodles. There are noodles, that's for damn sure. 

Pho Bo: The quintessential Northern Vietnam noodle dish. Bo means beef, but you could get pho with chicken, pork or just with vegetables. Think Asian chicken noodle soup. They often add salad greens right into the soup, so there are lots of contrasting flavors and textures. I like my pho so spicy that my nose runs. Its important to remember that my version of spicy is mild for the Vietnamese, so we had to be careful when ordering. Sometimes, we reverted to getting vegetable pho because the meat (even the chicken) was often very questionable. One time, I ordered chicken pho, but received a bowl containing strange, rubbery, inedible pieces of mystery meat. I think I mistakenly ordered a specific part of the chicken (that people don't generally eat), but for a minute I thought I was eating dog and it was devastating. People eat pho for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We did too. Until we got bored of pho. Then we got pizza...

Bahn Mi: Thanks to the French influence in Hanoi, Vietnam has phenomenal baguettes. All around Vietnam, you'll find amazing sandwiches that contains meat, cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, daikon, tomato, and a mayo-like sauce. They're freaking delicious. 

Street doughnuts: I bought doughnut holes on the side of the road from an old lady. I saw a few locals get doughnuts from her, so I figured she was legit. I couldn't resist the temptation and thank god I didn't. These doughy balls of sweetness were straight up gifts from the heavens above. For 50 cents, I got a bag and was blown away. 

No go: Margaritas aren't really a thing here and it's probably for a reason. They don't know how to make a frozen marg for shit. 

Vietnamese coffee is amazing

Vietnamese coffee is amazing

Vietnamese margaritas are not amazing

Vietnamese margaritas are not amazing

Culture Shock

Crossing the street: The streets of Hanoi are unlike anything I've ever experienced. There are actually no rules for drivers. Driving on the wrong side of the road? No biggie. Red light? Optional. Pedestrian? What's that? Crossing the road is a feat in itself. Traffic will absolutely not stop for you. You just have to step out into the road and walk at a constant pace until you reach the other side. It's unbelievable and so exhilarating that you won't get hit, they all drive around you. You might think that someone will hit you, but if you flinch/pause/double-take, you WILL risk getting hit. They anticipate your pace and drive around you. Marissa's method was to look down and pretend no one was coming so she could keep a steady pace. Personally, I loved jumping out into traffic and strutting through the street like I was untouchable.

Making friends: At the airport waiting for our flight from Taiwan to Hanoi, we approached a western-looking guy to ask when and where we are supposed to board. Though he was as clueless as we were about the flight, we were thrilled to hear that he is a Canadian teaching English as a second language! Brendan taught English in Japan for a year and is moving to Hanoi to start his own non-profit business that aims to train and place English teachers where students need but cannot afford an English education. Brendan had been to Hanoi several times, so he was an excellent tour guide when we landed in the city. Hanoi is extremely overwhelming, so it was a relief to have someone who knew some cool places to see and some good places to eat.

I'm gonna be real here...I'm very friendly to everyone, but I'm slow to actually befriend someone. Who am I kidding? I love making friends! I'm just a control freak overwhelmed in a new country. To be honest, all I know right now is my Vietnam itinerary and my first and last name. I was hesitant to make friends on the first day because, like, what if he/she wants to do something Marissa and I don't want to do! That sounds really crazy, but I guess I AM kinda crazy. I just like to do/see the places I read about and think Marissa and I would like. Ugh I'm sounding even crazier as I write this. Anyways, if there's anything I learned my first few days in Southeast Asia, it's that people are chill. It's so nice meeting new people and exchanging stories and information about places to visit/not to visit. Other backpackers are extremely helpful and can show you places you can only find if you know someone who has already been. We've met some awesome people already and I'm sure Marissa and I will keep in touch with many of them. If backpacking in Southeast Asia can't teach me to go with the flow, I don't know what can.

Taking advantage of tourists: I know it's their job, but I was still rattled. The front desk lady at the Old Quarter Hostel in Hanoi was a memorable person for this reason. She was an angel for organizing many excursions for us, but she was also personally responsible for causing a huge amount of stress. Marissa and I were very overwhelmed upon arriving in Hanoi. We only had two weeks to explore Vietnam! There is so much we want to see, but we also want to go with the flow and be open to changing our plans (note: we learned that you absolutely need a plan if you want to see the most of a country in only 2 weeks). Anyways, this lady was constantly up our ass about planning excursions. Being in a new country, we were vulnerable to being ripped off and wanted to make sure we were getting a fair price, using reliable tour companies, going to worth-while places- ya know? (lol I'm never gonna be able to go with the flow). She kept saying that the excursions would be full soon and I needed to commit NOW or I'm screwed. We fell for it the first time, but then realized its actually her job to secure sales (duh). I got better at asserting my opinion and being like "fine, I'll wait and book somewhere else later" and she's like "well just check in first and see if the tour you wanted is actually full". News flash: IT NEVER WAS FULL! JOKES ON ME! Learning lessons in Vietnam.