To celebrate my 20th birthday, Aristo pays for my chocolate breakfast roll and takes me for tea in a rooftop café overlooking the lake. Despite his better efforts, he only spends about $2 on my birthday breakfast, but it says absolutely nothing about his frugality and absolutely everything about the price of food in Vietnam. We couldn’t blow our budget here even if we flung our wallets into the lake.
All the details: Hanoi
Getting there: The easiest way to reach Vietnam’s capital is to fly into Noi Bai International Airport.
What to do: When in Hanoi, hire a motorbike to explore the Old Quarter; sample phở bò and bún chả all over the city in search of the best street food; visit the ancient embalmed tortoise in Hoàn Kiếm Lake’s Ngoc Son Temple; and try the local delicacy cà phê trúng (coffee mixed with egg white) at Giảng Cafe.
Top tips: Hire a motorbike (and helmet!) for as little as 80,000VND per day from any of a dozen shops along the main road. You’ll typically be asked to leave something valuable behind as collateral, such as your passport, so just make sure you know what time the shop is closing to avoid any travel fiascos.
It’s the first day since we’ve been in Hanoi that I can take off my jumper and still be comfortable enough in my scarf, long sleeves, and pants. To enjoy the sunshine, we walk across the bridge to Ngoc Son Temple, a little island whose claim-to-fame is the embalmed remains of a 250kg tortoise.
After the morning’s cultural exploration, we retire to a back-alley massage parlour and get backrubs for the better part of the afternoon. The slogan for this year’s birthday: It’s my birthday, just try and stop me.
After a rest—hours of back-rubbing really takes it out of a person—we make up drinks, get very merry, and venture out for evening kebabs. Yes, that’s right, kebabs in Vietnam. It’s my birthday, just try and stop me. We visit the rooftop café from this morning to enjoy smoothies in the moonlight, but mostly to engage in activities that some might find in poor taste. Seriously, though, I dare you. Try and stop me.