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How I Survived Solo Boredom in Hanoi

Day # 10

Last day in Hanoi.

While I’m ready to leave Vietnam and the insufferable monsoon heat, I’m not ready to return to Korea.

Today I need to move hotels.  I emailed various hotels to check availability, last night. Vietnam being the way it is, none of them returned an answer, so this morning I went hotel shopping on foot. I stopped by Veronica’s hostel to see if she arrived safely. She had booked a spot for me in her hostel.  That girl seriously rocks. Travel buddies are total lifesavers!

For $7/night, I was booked in the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel.  Clean, spacious bedding and modern facilities with a free beer bong and rooftop frat party every day at cocktail hour, the hostel is a popular spot with the 20-30’s something backpacking crowd.

When I say free beer, I think you can guess why…

The Problems of Solo Travel

What if you’re just not feeling a country?…

On good days, solo travel let me follow my inner direction, curiosity. I can explore the streets with my camera or follow the recommendations of other travelers.

On bad days, I can feel lost without a compass.

My friend Veronica wasn’t feeling well. She had just been robbed a couple of days ago and was now coming down with a fever. She had 2 days left and wanted to change her ticket to leave around the same time as me. For her, traveling Vietnam alone was a bit boring; I can totally relate.

There were moments I found it boring myself.

When tourist sites didn’t interest me, I’d wander around only to get like feeling the neighborhoods felt like places I’d seen in other parts of the world. I didn’t know what else to do to stimulate fun.

Sometimes, having a partner in crime really makes a difference. Sometimes I just want people to do things with and none may be around. Travel buddies can offer sightseeing suggestions. And then there are times I want to feel the safety of friendly support when things go south.

Especially, if like Veronica, I’ve just dealt with travel theft.

For us, meeting up was a refreshing break. And so we celebrated with a one hour xylo ride around Hoam Kiem Lake and the streets of Hanoi! (picture above)


Three things I’m glad I did when I was in Hanoi (… I think):

Seeing puppets on water

All around the world, theater is the voice of the people.

If you want to know a bit more about old Vietnamese entertainment,  Hanoi’s Water Puppet Theater is a refreshing break from motorbiking streets.

If you wonder what entertained  Vietnamese  living in rural villages and farms, back in the 11th century, then water puppets are it.

The puppet show is staged in water. A live orchestra sits on the side of the stage with their instruments. Puppeteers stand concealed behind a curtain in water, maneuvering the puppets through several humorous one-act plays dealing with Vietnamese daily life and farming.

The water puppet theater came about when farmers’ rice paddies would get flooded and this eventually created a stage for this kind of theater.

For 40,000 dong, it’s really a steal to watch such a performance, even if you don’t know Vietnamese!

Short clip on the water puppet show

I ate Vietnamese street food more often.

Eating at the outdoor food stalls I wanted to try at least once… twice… and three times.

Plastic tables and stools speckle a block and you can order food on the grill or from a basic menu. The good thing: most menus are in English.

Prices are standard and inexpensive compared to basic restaurants and service is rough, piping hot, greasy and quick, which is great when you’re in a hurry.

I’m not a big fan of street food– too greasy– though I’ve gotten bolder about giving it a chance.

my plate of garlicky morning glories.

Try  Vietnamese fruit shakes

Travel gets adventurous the more you try things outside your comfort zone.  The more adventurous you dare to be, the more you learn things you might have never known about a country or culture.

Like trying water-filled drinks in a country where you don’t know if the water is drinkable.


Being a firm lover of fruits and smoothies, Toi An street (aka “Fruit shake street”) was a street I wanted to check out. When my fruit shake came as fruits, milk and water in a cup, accompanied by a bowl of shaved ice, I was reluctant about the water.

The bowl of ice stared at me.

“Do not drink the water unless it’s boiled”

“Do not drink a cup of juice if it has ice in it.”

Travel warnings echoed in my head….

I’ve brushed my teeth with the tap water over the course of my trip and had no bad stomach experience.  I decided to cross my fingers and take a chance!

Visual fuzz… visual fuzz…

But from the appearance of my drink, I began to feel they must’ve gotten my order wrong and gave me a tourist version.

My drink didn’t look like a “smoothie”; afterall, in the U.S., all smoothies are blended. So  I asked my waiter to blend my smoothie.  I may look like a tourist, but “I can take it blended” like any Vietnamese local!

Only after watching stool-perched locals take spoon to ice and crunch on it, while sipping and spooning their drink of mixed whole fruits, did I understand. Apparently, by sending my order back for a blending.  I was acting very much like a tourist!

The Vietnamese fruit shake is not blended. It’s actually served separately with ice!


I downed my smoothie and just as I was leaving, I saw my young waiter take my used glass and do what then made me feel sick…

He swished it in a tub of dirty wash water and set it back in the dish rack as clean!

Visual fuzz… visual fuzz…

The buckets of “cleaning water” for used dishes?

I was grateful it was my last day in Vietnam– if I needed to get sick, I could handle  it more comfortably, knowing I was on my way back home to Korea!


Information on the Water Puppet Show:

Related Posts:

How to Find Great Budget Tours in Vietnam
5 Risky Things to Do if you’re Solo in Vietnam .
5 things to know about Vietnam before you go.
Trekking tips for Sapa on a muddy and crazy hot day (Sapa tour: Day 3) .
Video: How crazy is Motorcycle Mayhem in Vietnam?


  1. Jennifer says:

    Hello, i was wondering which hanoi backpackers hostel did you stay at? the original or the sister property?

  2. Patrick says:

    I’m a bit dissappointed by your problems with cleanliness in vietnam. Ive never gotten sick from street food in vietnam and ive been here one year. The crucial thing you’re failing to understand is that presentation( an essential element in western cusine) is totally ignored in vietnam. The washing of glasses is an unnecessary element of presentation, rinsing is sufficient. This not only cuts down on cost but takes any pretentiousness out of the food resulting in cheap quick and above all tasty food. It will usually only have one flavour, this is not gourmet cuisine, but it nourishes the body sufficently. Coming from a western country where cleanliness and sanitation in food is over the top street food is like a breath of fresh air to me. Health inspectors in Ireland and Europe are merely extra unnecessary jobs in a bloated social service.
    Indeed the quality of “tourist restaurants” in Ha Noi is barely above street food. To think that because it’s a restaurant means they know western sanitary practices is naive. Also I’d like to know why you think street-food menus are mainly in English?
    Your cultural imperialism makes me even more dissapointed with the average tourist than i was before. The street is an essential part of vietnamese life, you can buy, eat or see many interesting things on these streets. To impress your cultures values on another will only serve to widen the gap between west and east. What we need is to celebrate the differences.
    Also sorry to burst your bubble but your articles seem to be written from the point of view that your some sort of travel messiah bring the word to the ignorant masses. People have come before you, people will come after you. I take it you’re from the US because in my experiences USians don’t do humility.

    • @Patrick: Thanks for your one year of local perspective. It certainly beats my short window of travel in Vietnam. I do appreciate your comment and people who can add light to understanding a culture better, where I may not have. Didnt have a guide or local friend to explain this to me.

      I think you’re reading more “imperialism” in my article than was there, though. I DID say– “Try the street food” because it’s a big part of the local culture.

      As for uncleanliness, everyone has a Fear Factor and a tolerance level to what they want to experience. Coming from a western standard, the swishing in water washing of my cup was a culture shock which turned me. In the deserts of India, they sometimes use sand to clean their dishes… no water. Culture shock and still, my food fingers dug in. Korean street food is public food, which patrons stand around dipping their chopsticks into, sharing food and sauces from the same bowl; and yet, Koreans like to wash and UV sterilize their cups.

      Every traveler is sensitive to what their own culture or bodies say may be a “health concern” and it’s the baggage we all come with. Some countries are more prone to illnesses and diseases that our country may not be exposed to. It’s using “travel smarts” and gauging how much you want to risk going out of that comfort zone. No one wants to get sick on their vacation & that’s why we go to the travel doctor to know what vaccinations we need for a country.

      To say “tourists” need to accept cultural differences that we don’t understand is naive. Saying “US-ians don’t do humility ” is childish. My writing never imposed cultural judgement or poor sportsmanship. Not everyone can appreciate street food & to think that they should just because you do, IS imperialist and idealistic on your part. You may not care about cleanliness in street food & are more daring than the “average tourist”. That’s your thing and you’d be standing with the bunch of daring adventurist travel friends I know… As a traveler -easterner/westerner- experiencing any country for the first time, there will always be culture shock in what’s found as seemingly “different” and which we don’t understand. That’s the reality of any traveler.

    • Steven Adamson says:

      Wow Patrick aren’t you the sanctimonious arse. Personally I travel all over and have for decades. I get sick darn near every time I land. That’s my life. I know enough to allow some time for it and pack the right pills. But that’s just me. To see glasses being rinsed in murky water without properly being sanitized is a sign that you are risking some serious shit. Like you. Oh and as a emergency medical provider I believe in clean, it pays off. But hey if you want to lick the mouths of lots of other folk, then by all means…lick away.

  3. anna says:

    as much as i loooove trying local street food, i try not to think about the cleanliness & sanitation. for the 10+yrs of traveling i’ve only gotten food poisoning 3x, 2 of it was my month in vietnam (tepid bowl of pho & i guess dirty ice cube or dirty glass of ice coffee).

  4. Laura in Cancun says:

    EWWW!! I think that’s considered dirty anywhere in the world… that guy is GROSS. Glad you found a travel buddy! That pic of you in the taxi is cute

  5. Seriously, that is so nasty. I’ll never eat again!

  6. Gray says:

    Oh. My. God. Oh, oh. I’m feeling sick just reading that!
    But hey–water puppets! Cool. 🙂

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