Early rise to get to the airport. Nearly missed my flight as the queue for Thai airlines was horrendous. Fortunately, Hanoi passengers were called to the front, and when I got there was informed that I had been upgraded to Business class! Nice, and I quite enjoyed looking at the plebs filing past to the back of the plane while I sipped my drink in my big comfy seat. The biggest difference in Business is that they give you more food and drink with which to drop all over yourself, but I’m not complaining.
The bus ride to the city was my first experience of Vietnamese driving. There is no law, and it seems as though the horn is wired up to both the accelerator and brake. My driver beeped as he got up behind, got level with, and passed each motorbike (and there were hundreds!). What makes it worse is that it isn’t just one beep, it’s more like Morse code beeping: “I’m going to overtake you!” “I don’t care! replies the motorbike driver, and then my driver had the last word: “Your mother!” One hour drive for US$2, or 16.7 beeps per $0.01.
The city itself is mad. Everyone has a motorbike, and nobody stops for anyone. All they do is beep and swerve, beep beep and swerve, then beep beep beep and swerve. Walking across the street is great. There’s just 2 things to remember: don’t stop and don’t change direction. It seems awfully dangerous, but haven’t seen any accidents yet (apart from a bike under a bus).
I spent the night playing darts and drinking with some locals and expats. Didn’t do myself or my country proud in the dart department, but was still good fun. Met some girls from Chester and decided to go to another bar. Haggled with the driver over the fare (we knocked it down by about 20p) and then one of them opened the car door straight into a passing motorbike! Could have been bad, but no real damage was done.
I had heard about so many stories about the Vietnamese ripping off tourists that I’m almost paranoid, but I don’t think I’ve been ripped off – yet. I did book a tour for tomorrow when I’m spending 2 days down at Ha Long Bay to see the magnificent rocky coastline. They’ve charged my US$30 (you can buy everything in dollars, but with 15,000 Vietnamese dong to the dollar you have to buy smaller things with the local currency) for the entire trip, including bus, boats, food and a night’s accommodation. I’ll let you know when I get back if they’ve ripped me off…
Hanoi (or Ha Noi as the locals say, as well as Viet Nam – maybe I will start calling writing Lon Don and Eng Land) is the nation’s capital. The streets are overrun with shops and motorbikes, and the noise and fumes is something else. I’m staying in the Old Quarter of the city, in an area called 36 Streets. Each of the streets has shops selling different items: there’s Shoe Street, Silk Street, Wooden Thing Street, Tin Box Street, and so on. And all the things for sale are on the pavement so you have to walk in the street with the traffic. I love it.
Walked for hours today, all around Lenin Park, the lake and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Unfortunately, Uncle Ho is on holiday in Russia having his embalming fluid changed so I didn’t get to see him. As well as the old Vietnamese buildings there’s also quite a bit of French colonial buildings that have survived, making for an interesting clash of cultures. I’m looking forward to trying the food, but I seem to have lost my appetite for some reason and haven’t had anything but bread. I’ve got a sore throat as well, so I hope I don’t have SARS!
Additional Vietnam Travel Resources:
Vietnam travel destinations: The Cu Chi Tunnels
Property for rent in Hanoi