Four weeks ago I moved from Australia to be with my boyfriend in a non-English speaking country – Vietnam. Specifically, Hanoi, Vietnam. Does moving overseas for love make me crazy? Maybe. Potentially. But we’re all crazy in love at some point in our lives.
Before you freak out on me, I did do my homework before moving to Hanoi, though my biggest takeaway while researching my new country was understanding that I’d come across many, many challenges while I’d be living here. And some would be challenges I couldn’t even fathom – and this has turned out to be true.
I was naive to think I wouldn’t get sick off street food my second day here (which would have me sobbing in pain for my first few weeks in Vietnam), but as my older sister said “tummy bugs are a rite of passage for travelers”, though I think I’ve got a few more baptisms of fire (quite literally) to go through before I can call myself a bonafide Hanoian expat!
Flying into Hanoi
Of all the things I’ve experienced so far, landing in Hanoi earlier this month was probably the most surreal. I almost had an out-of-body experience as I viewed the city streetscape sprawled beneath our descending plane. Mostly hidden in darkness and smog, I only caught a few glimpses of the skinny terraces and spider-web alleys I would soon call home.
I will never forget those first few minutes I spent in the airport, surrounded by other weary travelers as I waited to have my visa processed. I gazed in envy at the locals breezing through immigration, and could only hope my luggage would still be there by the time I made it downstairs. A disastrous flight to Canada a few years back had made me extra paranoid about losing luggage.
Contrary to what I’d made myself believe, I had no problem getting through immigration and customs. This was probably in large part due to my decision to ‘Fast Track’ my VOA process through an external company (and on the advice of a friend). If you’re a newbie coming off a long-haul flight, I highly recommend you take advantage of this service.
I can’t even explain the gratitude and immense relief I felt when a representative from the company I chose (VisaPro.net) took my paperwork from me and submitted all of my documents at the Visa desk on my behalf. All I had to do was sit down and wait for a few minutes before the representative returned with my passport and visa.
The time-consuming part ended up being the ‘long wait’ for my bags to arrive, which may have induced a tad of anxiety in me as I imagined moving to Hanoi with naught but my carry on items. Once bags were retrieved, I walked straight through customs (two small desks) and into the arms of my patiently-waiting boyfriend, Tim. Finally, after 4 months, the LDR and wait were over.
Hanoi to Cao Bằng to Lương Thông and Back
My first week in Vietnam (despite being laid up with some kinda nasty street-food parasite) included a journey up North to visit Tim’s home town Cao Bằng for the local Boarding School’s 60th-year Anniversary Celebrations. I will have to make a separate post about my Cao Bằng experience! Once the festivities were over, we visited the place Tim grew up, Lương Thông Village (Thông Nông District) about 1.5 hours north of Cao Bằng and incredibly close to the Chinese border (just 10kms I believe!)
While I think Australia has some pretty spectacular landscapes, I have never seen anything like I did up in the Cao Bằng district. Tim’s family was also unfailingly kind to me even when I was so sick I could hardly eat. I loved watching his family interact with one another. Even though I couldn’t understand one word of what they were saying to me, laughter and smiling is definitely a universal language!
The majesty of the surrounding mountains certainly took my mind off my stomach issues, and I experienced some more out-of-body feelings standing below the mountains towering above Tim’s family home. At night you could see the stars of the Northern Hemisphere in all their unfamiliar glory. During a midnight stroll for some *cough* bodily maintenance, I watched a symphony of fireflies buzzing around the trees.
Sometimes there was just too much beauty in Lương Thông. The eye often didn’t know which pocket of spectacular scenery to linger on. The trip back to Hanoi via Chợ Phia Đén was equally as wonderous. While we initially took the coach up to Cao Bằng (with Tim’s motorbike stored underneath), we ended up riding Tim’s bike back to Hanoi. Yes, it was a 7.5-hour journey that almost killed me, but it was undeniably beautiful. The phở gà we ate along the way is the best I’ve had here so far (but unfortunately I’ll need to avoid street food for a little while).
When we made it back to Hanoi at around 7pm that night (to the relief of all my aching extremities) we came across a kitten hitching a ride through the city with its owner. I immediately pictured my future self and decided I wanted my life to look something like this:
While we are talking about scooters, I learned how to cross the road in Hanoi on my own last week, partly in thanks to my British ex-pat friend Laura, who showed me that even foreigners can navigate the chaos. Prior to this, when on my own I had to shadow a local over the road or gaze longingly at the cafe/restaurant/Vinmart that I simply couldn’t reach.
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert street-crosser yet though. My insides still turn to jelly when I remember that not everyone follows the red/green light rules here and – heck yeah man that’s 10 bikes and two cars coming towards you and HOW THE HELL WILL YOU FIT IN THAT CAR GAP and oh shit – you made it through some kinda miracle and got beeped at 10 times, but that’s okay. You’re a foreigner.
At the beginning of this year, I could never have imagined this was the path my life was going to take. I would have been hoping and dreaming of something like this, but damn, everything that has happened to me in the last few weeks has been like a dream. The year ahead will also be filled with many unknowns, and this makes me both nervous and excited.
I have a feeling I’ll love it here. It feels alien, yet familiar. I wonder if this is because I grew up in the heated tropics of Darwin only 678kms from Timor Leste? In any case, Hanoi has four seasons (not the wet and dry of the Northern Territory) and I’ll actually be missing out on Summer this year! I moved to Hanoi in November during Spring in Australia and flew straight into Autumn. I can’t say I’m disappointed. I love winter.
In regards to what’s next, there is so much to share. Like what the hell am I going to be doing while I live here in Hanoi? Where are we going to live? Will I ever have the courage to buy a scooter and start driving again?
Be keeping you all updated on my adventures!