Hanoi, pagodas and the train ride from hell

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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
September 18th 2014
Published: September 18th 2014
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I basically rushed to Hanoi from Koh Rong (a small island in the south of Cambodia) because my bestie would be there, the reason why I stayed a whole week. Which is about 4 days too much, if u ask me. I took the public bus from the airport into town because I'm stupid. Like an idiot I felt that 10pm would be a good time for an adventure. You see this was the first time I arrived at a place alone. So I was feeling ballsy. I got onto the first bus I could find and asked the driver if he went near the cathedral (the old town). It was pointless because no one understood a thing and before I could ask a second time, he drove off with me still trying to format the same question in a different way. Guess I was taking that bus then... We drove for an hour in the very dark back allies surrounding the airport. The bus fare was 35 cents, a surefire way of realising you may be on your way to involuntarily selling your kidneys. After an hour, the bus driver said - 'Bus Stop' and ushered me off. The bus never really comes to a complete halt and you have to sort of just jump off: Jump off into the welcoming arms of moto drivers screaming and literally chasing you. Tuk tuks are to Thailand as rickshaws are to Vietnam. Taxi drivers rip you off. It's just something you have to accept. Bargain and you're screwed. Go by the taxi meter, and you're screwed, as they drive round and round in circles until you finally get to your destination. Always give the exact change, as they will simply keep the change if you give them a larger note. They will just pretend not to understand and look surprised. I had one shouting match with a taxi driver - it's part of the experience.

Bestie and I walked around Hanoi's old city the first day. It's adorable. The vietnamese buildings, narrow, 3 sometimes to 5 stories high, with balconies, and the prominent french influence (french windows and shutters) are so pretty. Picture this with rickshaws outside, and the chaos of scooters and jumbled up power lines. Not to forget the narrow streets acting as a maze through the old cities, ... et voila, you have Vietnam. The opera is stunning, as is the lake with the pagoda and area around the palace. We visited the Military Museum, which was so-so. We stumbled across Viet Nam's Got Talent - how random. I found the people very friendly, and smiley (excet for taxi drivers). Crossing roads requires some serious technique, for which you should neither be hungover nor tired. You have to make serious eye contact with the chosen one (ie the vehicle you choose to cross in front of), and put out your hand in a 'I'm-dead-serious" way, to show them that you intend on crossing in front of that chosen vehicle. Remember: they dodge you - you don't dodge them. Don't hesitate, just keep walking. I feel so hard core :-)

Pho (as in Fur without the 'r') is a standard dish, one that I absolutely adore. Bestie and I just ate and ate: Korean buffet, we tried snails - they were chewy. On day 4 we couldn't take the heat anymore, Hanoi is sticky all the time, so we went to a water theme park. It was incredible fun! When we got in there, we thought oh great, this is just for kids and we got ripped off - again. Then we went to the left and there they were - the "extreme" rides. Slides with 90 deg downfalls - weeeeee.A Vietnamese dude kept following us around, pointing at rides and not saying much else, which is a little creepy when you're wearing next to nothing. I didn't bring my swimmers, so I had to rent a very itty bitty yellow, complete with a skirt. It was the largest they had, bruising my ego.

On day 5 I got bored senseless and booked a tour to Sa Pa, since fellow backpackers had raved about it since Bangkok. I met up with Patricia, a girl I had met in Siem Reap, and we took a beaten up train to Sa Pa. I took the train because there were horror stories of buses falling off cliffs, etc. The train conductors at each station still used lanterns!! How adorable. The train is wooden inside and you could choose from hard and soft seats, and hard and soft bed berths. Hard means wood - I couldn't believe you could literally pay for wooden seats. Um, no thanks. I chose the soft seats - didn't look so bad on the pictures. Biiiiig mistake. What you don't get explained is that it's the bounciest, slowest ride in the history of train rides (because the train was from biblical times). We were seated at the back of the carriage, near the toilets and the next (wooden seats only) carriage. Oh the people were talking loudly, smoking constantly, leaving the door to the carriage open, lights on. A guy decided to bring a plastic chair and sit next to us on the aisle and talk loudly on the phone. Another guy on the train persistently stared at us - can't blame him, patricyja is an incredibly beautiful tall half Vietnamese. Then at 2:45am, at the first stop ladies come onto the train with their baskets selling food and the conductor chasing them off, lest the train departs with them still onboard. Needless to say, I slept 20 mins out of the 8 hour ride from hell.

Up next, sleep walking through Sa Pa.


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