I made my first trip to Vietnam in 2015 as a solo traveler. I landed in Hanoi, completely jetlagged, invigorated, and ready to take in the magic that Anthony Bourdain promised I’d experience in this rich, sultry city. It delivered.
Hanoi will look chaotic to you, but as you enter its soupy dance of humanity you’ll see that it works just fine for the 7.5 million folks who call it home. There’s a flow and heartbeat to life there, and when you surrender and join in, your time there will become much easier than if you try to fight upstream. The best way to get a good, safe run in is to head to one of the lakes in the city and join the locals, early in the morning, for exercise time.
How early is early? I left my hotel in the Old Quarter before the sun came up, which, in October, was before 6 am. Hanoi is very, very safe, so please know that its absolutely fine to wander in the dark, alone, early in the morning. Enjoy the lack of traffic on the street!
After a short walk to Hoan Kiem lake, I joined the hundreds of locals who were doing their morning exercises. The paved loop around the lake is approximately 1.25 miles long, so it’s easy to get in as many miles as you’d like. Vietnamese people are more comfortable exercising in public than Americans are. I wish we had the confidence to just break out in toe-touching stretches or communal shoulder massages! Is it because we have so many bullies in our country? We’re afraid of being recorded and taunted online? I digress. As you jog along, look around you! There’s so much magic at the lake in the morning.
After my little run I found a street vendor selling pho. She spoke no English, I thought I knew how to speak some Vietnamese, but after a bit of bumbling I resorted to the “smile and point” method. I was served a delightful bowl of pho ga (chicken soup) with delicate slices of hot pepper.
The heat of the soup, combined with the sticky wood-smoke filled air, the beeps of the motorbikes, the chatter of the locals, the cat who came up that wanted a bite of my soup, it all washed over me in a glow of yes yes yes, this place. This is the place.