Published: July 6th 2011July 6th 2011
Delicious rice dish and Hanoi Beer
Cape Town - Johannesburg - Kuala Lumpur - Hanoi
My name is Bastiaan. I'm from Yzerfontein in South Africa and on the 5th of July my month-long holiday in Vietnam, with my fellow-traveller, Claire, (who I'm meeting up with tomorrow as she's coming from Oz), kicked off with me boarding the plane in Cape Town.
Arrived in Joburg, then caught another plane (Malaysia airlines) to Kuala Lumpur (where I drank a chrysanthemum-flavoured iced tea. Tasted horrible). From there it was another 2 hours by plane to Hanoi,
Feels like I've been on airplanes and airports for ages (didn't sleep for about 30 hours), but, finally, I'm in Hanoi.
First thing that struck me (literally) was the heat. In Vietnam the heat is like a blanket, and that blanket is on fire. 40 degrees, humidity: 100%. Summers in South Africa are hot, 40 degrees celcius is not unknown, yet, this was something else.
Noibai airport is small, reminds me of Cape Town airport before they renovated it for the 2010 world cup.
Changed 100 usd and got 2 000 000 vietnamese dong for it. I then made the mistake of booking a hotel room
Snakes and scorpions in bottles.
at the Tourist Information desk. First thing I asked them was: "do you take commission?" "No, no, we don't take commission for hotel bookings," came the reply. Good, I thought, and booked a room in the old city. Then, as I was talking to the cab driver on the way into the city, he asked me when I booked my room at the hotel. Just now, I replied. He shook he's head: "Never book hotel room at tourism information. They take commission. Ha ha ha!"
He laughed alone...
Moving on. Traffic is, as everyone knows, a fully-booked circus. Didn't see anyone speed, but lanes are ignored, indicators are rarely used (instead, they hoot), and there is nothing odd in texting/sms'ing while your driving your scooter at 80km/h. I saw 4 people do this on the highway between the airport and city.
Got to the hotel, and, "oh no, so sorry, we do renovate, no room now, so sorry." What a colossal bummer. From the outside the hotel looked kinda nice. Luckily though, they have a sister-hotel not 50m away and I was taken there. I say luckily, because this 2nd hotel was much nicer. 25usd it cost
10pm, Old City, Hanoi
me for a room with about 90 channels on the flatscreen, minibar, aircon, hot and cold water, breakfast included, iron, etc. I'm doing this blog entry from the laptop that was also in my room. Internet is free.
How's that for a silver lining.
Had a quick shower and sat down on my bed to check my messages. Remember I said that I didn't get any sleep on the planes; I fell asleep and woke up 3 hours later, with the cherry-red sun setting. The friendly ladies at reception showed me where to go for supper (their favourite place, they said). I wasn't disappointed. The food was truly delicious, and very filling. The local beer is just as good.
I had a rice dish with shrimp, chicken, basil (doesn't taste like the basil I know, but still very, very tasty) green peppers, carrots, onions, cucumber and a type of soy sauce. The beer was simply called Hanoi beer.
The bill came: 90 000 dong/4 and a half usd/plus minus 31 south african rand. Bargain, I say.
Went for a walk after paying. My walk turned into a 3 hour trek through the old city.
"I want be photo"
Scooter taxi driver reaaally wanted to me to take a photo of him. I obliged.
This place is fascinating. The people even more so. The streets feel like boulevards: wide, green (trees everywhere), crowded (very), noisy (of course), clean (except for the gutters, which are filthy with the days' accumulation of fruit peels, dirty water, etc. There are, though, people who sweep the streets with rietbesems (reed brooms?). Nobody eats inside. Meals are taken on the pavement. People either sit on the ground, or on plastic chairs about 10cm high. Whole families sit outside their shops and peel, cook and eat right there on the pavement. Brilliant. I've seldom before experienced such an aura of conviviality. Everyone seems healthy and happy. I expected beggars (didn't see one), babies with distended stomachs (none of those either) and poverty (people are definitely not wealthy, but neither are they in need, it seemed to me. I have been told, though, that some parts of the countryside and Ho Chi Minh City (old Saigon) are different in that regard.)
After strolling through the Night Market I made my way to Hoan Kiem Lake (a very large pond, actually, with a temple in the middle). There I met a student who wanted to practice his english. His english wasn't
Friendliest woman, ever. Bless her.
bad, but then a little girl walked past selling still water, and she made him look like a stuttering fool. I was astonished: she spoke english fluently and she couldn't have been older than 7 or 8. I asked her where she learned such good english and she replied: "From selling water to the tourists, of course." Those were her exact words. Hahaha. Amazing.
Interesting thing: when I tell people I'm from South Africa, they say: "Ah, Africa." Then I say:" No, no, SOUTH Africa." And they go: "Yes, yes, Africa." It doesn't help to mention Nelson Mandela, they don't know him. And, of course, I have to explain why I'm white.
On my way back to the hotel I bought a pineapple and a banana from a woman called Ting Ting. One of the friendliest souls I've ever come across. Wish she was my first grade teacher. My actual first grade teacher was a dragon with a thorn in her paw.
Didn't plan to write so much, but much happened today. And much more is waiting to happen in the weeks to come. So be sure to check in every few days and follow me as Claire and I bounce around in this mad, colourful, noisy, hectic and friendly country.
Until then, tạm biệt.