Outdoor Education

Part 2: Adventures in Hanoi and Travel to Cat Ba

By Wilderness Adventures April 28, 2023
Man eating a Vietnamese meal.

Part 2 of the 2022 Ultimate Staff Contest Blog Series

Our journey started at Chris’ house in New Jersey. His brother had recommended an app to us that prescribes a schedule for sleep, caffeine, and bright light leading up to a trip to minimize jetlag. We had a flight out of JFK at 6am, and step one on the schedule was to drink coffee at midnight and not go sleep until 11 AM the next day, which lined up with our long flight to Tokyo. We stayed up watching climbing vlogs and drafting the new Magic the Gathering set that had just come out.

The flights were long, but the travel went as smooth as we could wish for – no turbulence, no delays, and a row to ourselves on the long flight. After 3 flights and many hours squished into planes and lazing about airports, we were finally in Hanoi. We were dazed from travel, and trying to find a ride to our hotel was a bit of a nightmare, but eventually we were able to drop our bags and collapse into bed for the night.

The next morning around 7am we were surprised to wake up fully alert before our alarms even went off despite a 12-hour time difference from home and 30+ hours of travel. The sleep and caffeine schedule recommended by Chris’ brother seemed to be working. Take that, jet lag! We took an Uber from the airport hotel into downtown Hanoi to explore the city. 

Our first stop was a cooking class where we learned a few traditional meals as well as some interesting cultural history of food in Vietnam. The kitchen Chris and I were learning in was conveniently located just at the edge of a local market. These markets are everywhere! From any point in the city, you can get to one in less than 10 minutes on foot. Each market is typically divided into 4 sections – fruit, vegetables, noodles, and meat – each section taking up a block or two. Meat is delivered twice a day – once in the morning and once at noon – while the rest of what you can find is delivered just once a day, in the morning.

Fresh fruit at a Vietnamese market

At the end of the day, farmers return to the market to collect anything that was not sold and bring it home to feed livestock. Because there is no waste in the market and no corporate middleman (Trader Joe!) between you and the farmers, everything is extremely cheap and sustainable.

With fresh ingredients being so affordable and accessible, most people will walk to their nearest market daily before each meal to get ingredients and cook just for that meal. This also means that most people don’t have refrigerators because there is no need for them! Another fun fact we learned is that Phở is not a dinner food, as it is typically treated in the Western world. Since the noodles and broth are very filling but easily digested it makes the perfect breakfast food – you start the day very satiated without feeling lethargic from a heavy meal.

Man eating a Vietnamese meal.

We learned how to cook Phở, spring rolls, green papaya salad, barbecued meatballs, and egg coffee. Delicious!

Cups ofVietnamese coffee

The next morning, we packed up to headed to Cat Ba Island to climb. Someone met us in the alley outside of our hotel on a moped, asked us if we were going to Cat Ba, and then motioned for us to follow to him. In a death-defying game of Frogger, we had to chase him through heavy morning traffic while carrying all our gear and luggage. Finally, after working up a good sweat chasing after him, he motioned to a bus that would take us to a boat that would take us to another bus that would finally take us to our hotel on Cat Ba. 

Upon arrival at the Cat Ba hotel, the owner greeted us with hot towels and fresh juice while taking our bags. After seating us on a couch, he even carried a small table over for us to put our glasses on. We tried to carry our bags up to our room, but he energetically insisted that we leave our bags for him to carry up for us while we go out, get dinner, and explore the town. His hospitality had us in awe and set the tone for the incredible kindness we would find on the island for the rest of the week. 

By Brandon Gamble, WA Trip Leader