Week 12 | Hanoi

Years ago. The month of July. We suddenly decided to embark for a long journey. We arranged it on a Sunday afternoon driven by our impulses only, because we felt like it was the right thing to do and because we really wanted to, well aware that there could’ve been obstacles (and perhaps I was the biggest one). Our crazy idea was to spend one whole month in Vietnam on the road, carrying our belongings in a small backpack only. Starting south ending north, from the old Saigon to the capital, following the South China Sea.

One whole month of time to get to know a faraway country that was connected to us only by a little hat souvenir attached to our window and the delicious Bo Bun served in the restaurant next to our Parisian apartment, in the 5ème arrondissement. We booked that ticket on a Sunday afternoon and a couple of weeks later we would have known the result of a test: positive. I was expecting a child. It was hard to contain the joy, we didn’t know what it meant to be parents yet and that all the travelling, exploring, jumping here and there would have not been possible anymore in the next future.

And just like that it finally was the eve of that departure. I was 2 months pregnant (what people still call a pregnancy at risk). We saw our baby boy already and the second ultrasound was scheduled for August, a couple of days after our return. I was sitting down on the living room sofa, the flight would take off in about 20 hours. Our luggage wasn’t packed yet, it doesn’t take so long to fill two backpacks, so we took it easy. I was crying like a japanese manga character “Why on earth did I do this, am I totally nuts?”. I felt despair for being only two months pregnant with my first son and about to leave for a big adventure like this, booked impulsively. I was afraid something could go wrong, I was afraid I would face difficulties both with the trip and especially with Teo, I was afraid for the food since I could not eat anything raw. I was afraid. Next to me Julien is holding my hand, always. We asked to our doctor what we should do and he laughed saying: “when my wife was pregnant we spent the first two months in Vietnam”. We saw this as a sign of the destiny.

Meditating. Reflecting on the fact that kicking the fear away and embarking on that trip with our child would make the memories even more precious, more intense. Everything will be okay, there are no side effects for now. You cannot take brave choices without risking a little, can you? The following day we were flying towards East, they upgraded us to Business Class and we cheered with two apple juices (Julien didn’t drunk alcohol for the whole 9 month pregnancy, so supportive!). Those 23 days in Vietnam, the country and the people: they all contributed to create a brand new idea of travelling and living for us. The last day we didn’t want to leave and we cried tears while walking towards the airport.

In Vietnam women have a central role when pregnant and everybody is taking care of them fully, as they took care of me in a way that I never experienced before.

Vietnam changed it all.
A bunch of months later Teo was born, healthy as a horse.
And one year after Teo, Lia would be with us too.

Considering our story, you understand why Vietnam is the country that we were looking forward the most. That’s why we wanted Vietnam to be the last country of the many in Asian South East that we visited. We wanted for Vietnam a special spot, we wanted to share it with our kids.

We landed in Hanoi completely exhausted and sweaty. It’s 10 degrees less that the crazy hot weather we’ve experienced so far. People are smiley, polite and non intrusive. We take a taxi, it’s our first visit to Hanoi - that faraway July we didn’t have enough time to see it. That night we walked through the streets of the Old City at rush hour, when scooters fill the streets and horns are loud everywhere, when the lights of the shops switch on, showing the most incredible things, lighting up the faces of those who are sitting outside on plastic chairs, waiting for a pho.

We arrived in our hotel wearing the same old  sweaters, we ate in a tiny restaurant with street view. Just a wooden table and chopsticks, a Pho, a Bun Bo, Nem and meat skewers for the kids. Teo starts playing with the sticks like a professional drummer, making it appear like the most natural thing ever. Chapeau. We left the restaurant that night not only with a full and satisfied belly, but feeling the luckiest and happiest in the world.

Hanoi is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, following Hue as capital of French Indochina during the Nguyen dynasty (1802 - 1945). Nowadays, the french influences are still strong across the country, from the architecture and design to the food and lifestyle. In Hanoi you can really find an exquisite baguette, which is an important component of one of their main dishes: Bahn Mi.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is situated east of the city and north of Hoan Kiem lake, it preserves its originary structure and its charme. Its famous 36 streets are the intrigue that compose the district. Every street is characterized by a different commerce: for instance you can find the best jewelers in Hang Bac street, silk merchants in Hang Dao street and food, souvenirs and clothing at the Dong Xuan market, the biggest market in Hanoi, in Dong Xuan street. We’ve spent a lot of time exploring the streets of the Old Quarter, we also found a street dedicated to Christmas decorations and we finally entered in that warm and cozy mood.

If every single person has its own energy and if this applies to cities too, Hanoi’s energy is an extremely positive one. What enchanted us the most is the people. Contrary to the other cities in Asian South East, where tourists come in great percentages, Vietnam still holds its independent pride. There are some westerners restaurant here and there, but locals and non locals mostly share the real vietnamese cuisine. The best restaurants are those that fiercely maintain their traditional taste without fear for their business. Despite the Vietnamese people’s openness to foreigners, they honor their heritage loyally (you can still find the sellers of the famous pointy hats in the streets).

We have the perception that we did not just visit Hanoi, but we lived it in contact with its people. We discovered the ancient and the most recent history. One of the most emotional experiences for me has been the Museum of Women, entirely dedicated to the feminine power. You can see the motorcycle of the painter Dang Ai Viet, she travelled the whole Vietnam on it to portray all the bravest mothers of the Vietnam war, women who lost their husbands and sons and despite the challenges they never lost a chance to fight for their country. Vietnam is not an ordinary country. In french we use the word “attachant”, in italian “piacevole” or “avvincente”, in english “engaging”. Attachant is our favourite, it gives the idea: it sticks to you, you can’t shake it off.

We spent half of our stay at the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake property, which is a heaven on a lake. The view from our room was something unforgettable, just like the breakfast and the personnel courtesy. We had an apartment with a kitchen and a washing machine, we felt home. A home away from home, as they say. We also stayed in a tiny boutique hotel in the city center, it will always be remembered as the perfect scenario to our grands moments in Hanoi.

Everytime we talk with someone about Vietnam, they always say “oh, you must have seen Hanoi then!”. Yes, Hanoi is incredible, but our passion for this country was born way before our visit to the capital.

We’ve never seen our kids happy as they were here: Teo eating Pho with chopsticks and the marionette theatre on the water, Lia connecting with the people and new friends, it was something really special.

We will take with us the Bo Buns at dinner in our hotel’s restaurant, the view from our room in the Intercontinental, the walks among the scooters in the Old Quarter, the coffee on the tiny terraces of quiet bars, the colors of the shops, the sound of the horns. Hanoi is just a word: Attachant; forever on us.

With a Lot of Love - #miljiansgotovietnam