Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hanoi diary: Do as locals do

Not all tours are for everybody. With that said, I add,  "tourist-y" activities are not for me. Good thing I always vacation with like-minded people so we always do away with the cliche museums, landmarks etc. and instead immerse ourselves in the local scene by engaging in activities locals, our age, do.

No.1: Watch a Movie
I have this fascination with what locals do for fun in every place I go. It's something I've picked up from my trips abroad when meeting people my age. I think to myself, "what is cool here?" One of the places to do your "research" is going to the mall. In general, the mall is where you get an idea of the trends from the design of the clothes, the restaurants, and even the movies shown.

Movies say a lot about a foreign culture. We would have wanted to watch a Vietnamese film in Hanoi but since we had a rough day, we decided to see an English film instead so we can relax. We went to Megastar, one of the more posh cinema houses in Hanoi, in Vincom Center. We heard that it's one of the few cinemas that play English films. We would have wanted to catch Iron Man 3 or GI Joe but both films were unavailable so we opted for The Croods in 3d instead.

Some observations:
  • Vietnamese girls dress super sexy. Ladies our age were walking around the mall with really short shorts (think: exposed butt cheeks), cut out muscle tees with their bras showing and high heels. We were quite surprised because we had the impression that Vietnamese women were of the conservative type. We're Filipinos and are already quite westernized but the girls we saw at the mall looked like those from LA or Korea.
  • A couple of the English films had Vietnamese subtitles. Even the titles of the movies themselves were translated into Vietnamese. 
We had so much fun at the cinema! The screening room is not as big as in those in Manila but it was cozy and since there were only a few of us in the room, we felt right at home :) p.s. The Croods is a great movie! You should all watch it! Definitely!

No. 2 Drink lots of coffee
I'm like the brand ambassador for Vietnamese coffee. It's just that it's one of the things I enjoyed most during my previous trip to Vietnam, and it's one of the things I was looking forward to this trip. Well, I did it! I drank lots and lots of coffeeeee and I'm so happy! The coolest thing about Vietnamese coffee is that its flavor is bold and strong but it doesn't give me any palpitations or trigger my migraine which probably means, it has less caffeine. This is precisely why I enjoy it so much! I like my coffee strong but I always have to watch my intake because I get palpitations and headaches from too strong brews. But not with Vietnamese coffee!

I always get the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk co'z I think that's the most "authentic" of all brews. Since it was so hot that time, I always have it cold. Yum-o!

No.3 Get My Nails Done

The last time I went to Vietnam, I had my nails done. Weird right? We were so bored that time and saw that they were doing nail art, which turned out to be a specialty of the Vietnamese. It's one of those things that are not really broadcast by travel magazines but since we're into the going local thing, we discovered this great secret of the Vietnamese.

I only had two choices: flower or animal. Animal?? Hahaha! I don't even want to start imagining what animal she'll draw on my nails. She finished doing it in less than 30 minutes which was just so cool! The funniest thing about the experience is, it was much like how Angela Johnson depicts it in her video:

The girl even said, "You're so byootiful!" Haha! I was about to add, "why you no boyfren? You look so pwetty. like mowdel". HAHAHA

Honestly though I was a bit disappointed by the design this time. I think the nail artists in Saigon are better than those in Hanoi. Lol! Still, it's amazing how innate it is for them. I chose a random nail salon near our hotel and believe or not, there were like two other nail salons near the area. That's how BIG nails are for them!

No. 4 Get drunk like a local

We had this joke going around before our trip on how there's no real night life in Hanoi. There's this picture we kept laughing at where the kids were on the streets sitting on stools, drinking beer and eating watermelon seeds. Well, apparently, that's not a joke. We went drinking every night we were there (well, that for me means one beer) and it was so hard to look for a decent pub. Decent meaning, one that's actually a bit hip. We went around Ma May area to no avail and on all occasions, we ended up drinking at Le Pub, one of those places indicated in the tourist maps (lol!). Well, on the second to our last night in Hanoi, we dropped by the mini mart and hung out outside in one of those stools co'z we were dead tired. While sitting there we decided to buy beer and sunflower seeds just to see what all the fuzz is about. Well, well, well, it was actually really fun! 

We went people watching and just enjoyed the al fresco set up. We then understood the appeal of getting drunk on the streets. Who needs a pub when you can set up and have your own party in the sidewalk?? lol! It was so hilarious! The coolest thing about it is that the staff at the mini mart even helped us set up our "table" outside. So apparently, it's not a new thing for them. Still, thank you for the staff for being so nice and helpful. 

It was so much fun acting like a local in another country. It's different when you fully immerse yourself in the culture, it's like you're seeing it in a totally different perspective. You're no longer just a tourist, you'll become one of them for a brief period, and it is through this immersion that you understand their culture, their values, and the events that molded them to who they are today. Yes, this is a different technique of learning history, but it's the fun way, and the style that is less likely to be forgotten.

...And that ends my Vietnam posts! Didn't do the usual travel guide because there are so much of it online already, I'd just be parroting what they're saying. Hope you still enjoyed reading about our experience though! Can't wait for our next adventure! Next stop? ...well, that's a secret for now :P

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