I left the sleepy Laung Prabang in order to head up to Viet nam and to enter into the hustle and bustle of the thriving city that is Hanoi. I had been warned for a culture shock, more people and mopeds but nothing actually prepared me for the noise, smell and apparent chaos once I arrived. I had said goodbye to Tilen my travel buddy for the last 3 weeks and had met up with 2 Australians, 1 Israeli and 1 American. We were all flying into Viet nam a much easier and quicker route than the 4 days by bus over the mountain ranges. Once my visa had been sorted and I was allowed to enter Vietnam we were all on the first plane, a very small one at that. After I had managed stop the severe cramp from my legs I hobbled off the plane to by greeted by a lot of video cameras and photographers. My first reaction was I had won the lottery, my second thought was I hadn`t played the lottery in years, my third though was “what have I done and am I famous now?”… Instead of my new found fame I was only being photographed for medical reasons as swine fever had just kicked off through the world and it was standard procedure. Ah well, next time!
We got to Hanoi around 7pm so we found suitable digs in the the old quarter of town and went out for a meal and a quick look around the city center in the dark. Hanoi was surprisingly quiet and although it the capital of Vietnam it is certainly not the busiest of the cities. After a good meal of roasted pork with camerlised onions in a clay pot it was off to bed and up early to explore the city and book our trips to Ha Long Bay and Sapa, the main reason for being in North Vietnam.
The next morning I was kindly woken by our hotel staff at 9am to tell me I had to hurry to breakfast as everyone else from our party was waiting for me. Little did I know that he wanted to get me down to the breakfast room where he could immediately start selling me trips here there and everywhere! For me this was a little too much too early and we declined taking him up on his hard sell and favoured a walk round the city. As soon as you step out on the streets of Hanoi you know you are going to get lost. no 2 streets really meet at 90 degree angles, they seem to change there name half way down the street and they all seem to look the same. The only distinguishing thing you may notice is that all there seem to be 3 or 4 shops in a row that sell exactly the same thing! As soon as we found Aluminum street we knew we were on the way back, but if we walked to toy street we knew we were close to getting lost!
Again there is a strong French connection which you easily pick up on when sitting in one of the many cafes sipping a refreshing coffee! Our first day saw us visiting Hoan Kiem Lake – the centerpiece of Hanoi. The name of the lake comes from a legend in which Emperor Le Loi, worried about advancing Chinese, was boating on the lake when a giant tortoise rose from the murky waters. The tortoise presented him with a magical sword with which he could strike down all foes. The tortoise made Le Loi promise to bring back the sword upon the defeat of the Chinese. True to his word, the tortoise rose again to take back the sword following the success of Le Loi`s campaign, and since then the lake has been known as the Lake of the Restored Sword.Uncle Ho`s Mausoleum – Ho Chi Minh`s body is kept in state in a huge mausoleum at Ba Dinh Square. And, yes, his preserved body is right there on display, looking a bit waxy, as preserved bodies do. This is not what Ho Chi Minh wanted — he requested that he be cremated and his ashes spread in three areas in North, Central and South Vietnam. We also had a look around his grounds and his traditional house on stilts – his presidential palace. HCM is a very revered ruler in Vietnam and apparent by the many posters and pictures of him around the whole country.
Later that evening we took in Thanh Long Water Puppet Theatre – some say for kids some find it interesting. We went there to see what the fuss was about and to be honest it was a hour of fun as long as you take it with a pinch of salt. Yes it maybe mostly for kids but the music is interesting as it is cultural, but as the title suggests, just puppets dancing on water! Later that evening we booked tickets for Sapa and Ha Long Bay before returning to the hotel to get changed out of smog filled clothes before heading out for a meal. As we entered the hotel our a fore mentioned hotelier quizzed us about our excursions again. We told him that we had managed to get them from somewhere else (and at a much cheaper price – $50 cheaper each) and thought not much more of it. When we returned from dinner things were a lot different – they wanted the money for the rooms there and then, they switch the hot water off in the morning, wouldn`t speak to us, and wouldn’t give us breakfast or coffee! Great hospitality! We actually found this throughout Hanoi and the north of Vietman, if they couldn`t get money off you they weren`t interested in you. I have met so many other people who have met the nicest Hanoi people so don`t let me put you off!! So the next day it was off to our first trip – Ha long Bay and to be honest I was glad to get out of Hanoi and the sweaty, noisy capital and escape to more serene backdrops.