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Published: November 5th 2007
Streets filled with motorbikes
So the day has finally come! HOLIDAY! We've been trying to decide between the Philippines, Indonesia, and so many of the other fantastic options. We were interested in nice beaches, good trekking in the mountains, lots of history, good food, decent diving, and a place that's not yet commercialised enought to take all the adventure out of it. Somewhere along the way we noticed that Vietnam had it all, and the prices were pretty cheap too. Our decision was sealed when Peter pointed out that we'd allways be able to talk about "Back when I was in 'Nam".
We woke up in a not-so-comfortable jjimjilbang near to inchon airport, and after missing two busses (yup, we still do that) were on our way to the airport. A lengthy wait and check in, and we were finally seated on the plane, struggling in our anticipation to sit still. The plane roared to life, and we began the 5hr flight to Hanoi, Vietnam
When we landed at the airport immigration went pretty smoothly, thankfully, since we'd spent so much time in Korea applying for visas and re-entry permits. Unfortunately we were not so lucky with our baggage. Because of several flights
Arriving in Hanoi
It feels much more like South Africa than Korea
landing at once we ended up waiting over 1.5 hrs for our backpacks at the carousel. When we did get out, we were met by our taxi driver, who took us to a nice old car. Instantly we knew that this was going to be a different experience of Asia to Korea. In the last 8 months we had not seen an old looking car - seriously! I think it's because they're so cheap over there.
The drive away from the airport towards town actually felt much more like home in South Africa. Billboards advertising washing powder line the road, and there are plently of corrugated-iron built houses with chickens and dogs sniffing around outside. A major difference to South Africa is the amount of motorbikes all over the place. One lane of the highway is just about reserved to accomodate the steady stream of bikes. Hooting is also more a part of driving than indicating. It's used to warn everyone on the road that you might be doing anything other than driving forward at a constant speed. Traffic at intersections is amazing. There are no traffic lights or even stop signs. Two roads just cross and everyone continues
The view from our hotel
Looking out from the 5th floor over the rooftops of the Old Quarter.
to drive. Hooting and swerving around each other.
Our taxi droped us at a clean looking hotel in the heart of the city's cultural center, known as the Old Quarter. After being shown to our room on the 5th floor (lots and lots of stairs, only 2 rooms per floor) we headed out to take a look at the city. It seems that most of city life is lived out on the pavements, with busy motorbikes werving along the narrow streets. No point in waiting for a gap in the traffic to cross, the only way to cross a road is to walk slowly and steadily through the stream of motorbikes and let them go around you.
We started looking for a recommended tour agency, Sinh Cafe. We soon noticed that word of their reputation had spread, since every tour sales office (every second doorway) had Sinh Cafe and the logo somewhere on their signage. We found the real office by the address off their website, but even two doors down from them was another shop claiming to be Sinh Cafe.
Along the narrow streets we also found incredible artwork, and picked up a beautiful coffee set
Eating on the street
A brilliant selection of food, literally on the street
for $10. It should be fun lugging that around with us. By the time it was dark we were pretty hungry. We passed several restaurants with interesting menus, but their seemed to be only tourists eating inside. So instead we pulled up a little plastic chair at one of the pavement restaurants and sat down with the rest of the locals. Immediately, an array of different dishes were spread out in front of us. We were told to pay for whichever ones we wanted to keep, but since we were keen to try everything, and the dishes were all around $1, we just kept the lot. Washed down with warm 2 Ha Noi beers, we were pretty satisfied.
After suppeer we caught a cyclo to the night market. As we wandered around the stalls, drinking freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, I reached down for my wallet, and found my pockets empty. We hurried back along the route we had walked, but found nothing but other cleaned-out wallets discarded in the gutter. It was my fault, I'd been warned of this, but still I was frustrated. I'd kept very little money in the wallet, but out of habit I'd put
Sugar Cane juice
Freshly squeezed sugar buzz
my credit card back in there!
We managed to find a police station, but they were too busy watching TV to help us. We were not even the only tourists trying to report a stolen wallet! Thankfully, one of the guys from the hotel that we are staying at came down to the station and managed to help us get a report form filled out. Not much hope that they will persue it though. Tired out from the busy day and the rustrating end, we headed back to the hotel to sleep.
I don't consider myself a city person at all, but despite the irritation of a stolen wallet, I must admit that Ha Noi is my favourite city that I have visited away from Cape Town. The city is completely mad, with no road rules, and tireless noise, but there is just so much soul to the place! You love it and hate it, often at the same time. Everyone is in everyone else's buisiness and there is so much going on all the time. The food is great, and mostly eaten shared out on the pavement. Fresh exotic fruit are sold at the street corners and
The night market
Lots to see. Better not to get too distracted.
narrow shops sell everything from dried lizzard to antique Russian watches. But I think what I like most, is that as a Westerner, I still feel like a complete foreigner and observer. Aside from the multitude of travel cafes, there is little evidence of Westernization. No traffic lights, no McDonnalds (or any kind of chain restaurant) no 7-11. Not much has been changed to make it easier for us. Fantastic!
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