June 11th 2016
Published: June 27th 2016
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Hanoi Hanoi Hanoi

Truc Bach Lake
The shuttle picked us up 15 mins early but we were sitting in the hotel reception waiting.

I didn't drink so much water from then on as I was fearful of the toilets on the bus.

This time we traveled with Hung Thanh Bus Company. It was just chance which company we ended up with depending on from where we booked it.

Hung Thanh had many bad reviews online, as had Camel Travel, so what would it be like?

The bus was freshly cleaned and we were the first group to hop on. The group that had traveled up until Hue must have been changed onto this bus from another.

This was a good start.

As I always do I wiped down my seat, cushion, air vent, light and railings with my disinfectant wipe and then felt I could relax into my recliner.

Before long it was dark. A Vietnamese movie was being shown on the bus and the volume was LOUD. Most people on the bus were Western, so I wondered what the purpose of this was.

Were they trying to remind us that we were definitely in Vietnam, or was it simply so the driver could listen to the programme?

Anyhow my music on my phone is always my escape and the volume on my music was competitive enough to allow me to escape into it. I had also downloaded seasons 1 and 2 of Silicon Valley, which kept me entertained.

Tomas took a lower recliner so that he could stretch his legs into the isle and I took the one above him. He still had his "man-flu" so slept most of the way.

The 2 air vents above me gave a good burst of cool air over my whole length and I could easily turn them away.

After dark we stopped at a truck stop type place, which was open warehouse style. Here we could order dinner from a simple and cheap menu.

We had not been expecting this, so it was a pleasant surprise. Other buses also stopped here. One was the same as our bus but a different company. We weren't the only "oldies" travelling like this.

Here chooks and dogs wandered around our feet as we ate. I love animals and in a Utopia all animals would have the freedom for life. It always makes me sad when I think of the probable intentions our race have for keeping them and what would shortly become of them.

Here I took the advantage of using the squat toilet which I assumed would probably be more comfortable than the bus toilet.

Our driver spoke no English but it was obvious when it was time to leave. Shortly after the lights and loud noises were turned off. It got colder and the provided blanket was welcomed. There wasn't much to complain about.

There was an occasional waft of the smell of smoke through the air-con which indicated to me that the driver was probably smoking but considering I am quite smoke intolerant it wasn't that bad.

There was a drunk, obnoxious, hairy American backpacker who was the first to use the toilet cubicle when we had initially got on. I suspected that he probably sprayed the cubicle with urine, which was one of the reasons I didn't want to go near it.

I could also smell an occasional waft of urine through the ventilation system but again it wasn't that bad. These were the only things hardly worth mentioning. The American quickly fell asleep.

The hours went by as peacefully as possible. People got on and off at Dong Hoi and Ninh Binh and the driver walked up and down the bus trying to wake the people he knew were getting off without disturbing anyone else, which I thought was considerate.

I would have liked to have broken the journey in both these places but we didn't fancy arriving in the middle of the night and dealing with a place to stay at difficult hours, so we flagged them. It was part of our mentality that we didn't want to make the travels too hard work for ourselves (at this stage anyway).

At 5 am it was light. The driver put on some very loud, boppy Vietnamese music to wake us and ensure that no earplugs were immune. I wasn't annoyed, I just thought it was funny.

If we weren't arriving in Hanoi until 7 am this seemed a little early to wake us but before we knew it the bus stopped and I thought I heard him say "Hanoi" and everyone shuffled with a jolt and quickly started gathering their things.

I supposed that I must have heard right and did the same.

Walking out of the bus was like we were morsels of food being thrown to the sea gulls as taxi and bicycle taxi drivers descended upon us. We got our own luggage out of the hold and there I noticed we had 2 motorbikes in the hold as well.

Our hotel was a mere 100 m away, which was brilliant organizing because at 6 am we didn't really want to go much further. It was pure luck actually.

I had downloaded an offline map of Hanoi onto my phone and other backpackers asked me for directions, so it felt good that I was able to help and was organized.

Within that 100 metres we passed a recently killed pig that was being sliced into smaller pieces on the pavement and I wished that I hadn't seen this. Again it made me sad.

This wasn't the last time to see this in the streets of Hanoi.

As exciting as travelling Vietnam might be I think how wonderful it would be to travel somewhere where I respected their moral and ethical culture but Utopia is no longer possible to be found in this world.

Populations that struggle to survive devalue the worth of animal lives over their own.

Unfortunately, I believe, this also happens in affluent cultures as society encourages most to believe they are in a position that they are struggling to survive, no matter how wealthy one is.

We paid a little more for our hotel in Hanoi than we had been on our travels from the south but hoped that it would still be of a decent standard.

On arrival we were given smiling and warm welcome from reception, who made us feel extremely welcome at 6 am. I understood that check in was not until 2 pm, so we would leave our bags here and get our room later.

Unexpectedly, the smiling Max at B&B Hanoi Hotel offered us the room immediately. It must have been unsold from the previous night.

This was very generous and appreciated.

On entering our room we were disappointed in the standard but over our 2 night stay here invaluable and special memories were created that made us not regret our choice.

The staff made guests feel that they were the most important people in the world and bent over backwards for them.

Breakfast was on order but you could order as many dishes one after another as you felt like.

There was a buffet of fruits, juices and hot drinks and the guests we met at breakfast were the most open minded, inspiring, adventurous and friendly of our trip so far. We met Americans, Finnish, British, South Africans and of course got to know the lovely staff who worked here better.

We looked around town for a nicer room straight after checking in but once we saw that Hanoi standards were more expensive for the same further south we returned to our room feeling it was not so bad after all.

This place ended up being a positive experience and not regretted!

After 2 nights here our intention was to move on to Sapa next. I felt guilty for booking this bus trip more cheaply from a shop on the street than at the Hotel but they did not appear to hold it against us at all.

I accidentally booked our first night in Sapa through Agoda incorrectly and the boy on reception was so kind to ring the place and explain my mistake in Vietnamese to them.

They offered to store luggage for us for when we were away, free of charge and as our bus was not leaving until 9.30 pm they allowed us to sit in their empty breakfast restaurant to relax after checkout and have showers before departing.

At the best hotels you would have to pay quite a bit for this service. Here it was simply kindness and we saw the same kindness given to every one.

Hanoi surprised us in having some very beautiful open spaces among the mayhem. Hoan Keim Lake is the most accessible from the Old Quarter. This was the first place that we visited.

Walking around the lake there are ice cream and cafe stops on the circuit.

On our first stop just sitting and admiring the lake in the shade we were approached by a group of young people. Of course our first reaction was wondering what they wanted to sell us.

We understood that they were students learning English and eager to find people that they could practice with.

They asked us questions, told us stories and gave us tourist advice for Hanoi. They were delightful and made us feel warm and welcomed. They appreciated the time they spent with us as much as we did from them.

Following this we spent our day discovering the Old Quarter and ate a great plate of street food in the evening.

After dinner we walked around the Lake once more. This time we sat beside an Elderly German man who had limited English.

A group of 5 young students approached us again with their teacher and asked our permission if they could sing us a song and if we could rate it for them.

Of course we approved and they sang Abba's "I Have a Dream" each reading the words from their cell-phones. 10/10

It was so funny and entertaining and again, it felt like such a privilege. Many people stopped as they walked by curious as to what was happening.

During this time a young Vietnamese girl was obviously sitting close by and had been trying to listen to our conversation with the German man. She too was eager to practice her English and shortly joined us.

As we were speaking to her another girl was obviously doing the same again and she also joined our conversation.

Eventually, we continued walking and I was looking for other groups of Vietnamese students who may have surrounded other Western Tourists but we didn't see it happening to anyone else.

We came across a large square across the road on the Eastern side of the lake. Here were thousands of Vietnamese families playing and gathering, similar to what we had come across on other evening walks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue.

There were Vietnamese entertainers on a stage and the atmosphere was fun, colourful and festive. Again children were wanting to make conversation with us.

All this felt very special to experience. I didn't understand why whenever we found these places in the evenings that we appeared to be the only Westerners around.

Where were all the other tourists? Did they spend their entire evenings at restaurants, bars and puppet shows that they never walked around to experience things spontaneously???

Our second day in Hanoi was spent walking further out of the Old Quarter in the challenging heat.

We walked to some open spaces that were extravagant and beautiful for such a populated city. Truc Bach Lake, The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Temple of Literature and past areas where diplomatic buildings and Embassies were located.

We got back to the cool of our room for a rest late afternoon.

In Hanoi there is a great resource of being able to book "Free Tour Guides". These are students, like the ones who have been approaching us in the park, who are willing to guide you around Hanoi and show you whatever you are interested in seeing.

We had considered doing this but you must book ahead online. They take you walking for a good chunk of the day from 9-3. They get the opportunity to practice their English with you for the day so both parties benefit.

One of the students we had spoken to had been one of these guides and had given us suggestions of where to go. We just weren't organized or committed enough to book one.

For the bulk of our third day in Hanoi we caught up on time for ourselves and kept away from the heat of the day in our empty hotel breakfast restaurant after checking out.

In the cool of the evening we went to a cafe overlooking Hoan Keim Lake and spent more time around in the beautiful setting of the lake.

Our Queen VIP sleeper bus was leaving for Sapa at 9.30 pm and we would arrive at 3 am.


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