So the trip to the airport was a groundhog day replica of yesterday although different hotel it was another old Volvo. This time my visa passed and I made it through passport control through to the shopping mall that is the Bangkok international airport. Ping banana drink for breakfast which was strawberries and banana smoothie (can u guess what the ping is meant to be?). Stole some last minute free wifi from the Thai airways lounge and flew out of Thailand.
Tegan and Sara accompanied me on my iPod and when I next opened my eyes I was looking out over Vietnam. It was really really green with lots of rice paddies and I even saw someone riding a bike with a Vietnamese hat from the plane. Kind of blew my mind how much it was like the pictures and I hadn’t even landed yet.
At the airport the site of a green uniform with red bits and stars kind of unnerved me a bit. So many mental associations come with that design – especially as this was really the first country I’ve been to that wasn’t ruled by the Brits. It was more like “this is an authority you don’t want to fuck around with and push any limits”. By the book, do as they say.
I had organized a car from the hotel to pick me up on the 11th but cancelled via email after my fuck up. I didn’t reorganize the car, but thought it would be interesting if they sent him. To my surprise they did, which is a sign of a good hotel, so I was zoomed away from the airport in some sort of Toyota with leather seat.
First thing I remembered is that they drive on the same side as the USA so I have to be careful crossing the road. Second thing I learnt was that they really, really, really like to use their horns. Not like in Thailand where it is an “I am coming up behind you”, but the “get out of my way damn you” kind. I thought it was funny cause all I could hear was horns so nothing made sense. We zoomed along in a free for all, no traffic lights at highway intersections, good luck to you crossing. Scooters mostly had the right lane on the road, cars the left and move over bucko if you are too slow.
I saw the usual amazing things from the car, mostly chickens, luggage and babies on scooters but when I started to see loads of people with either a mandarin tree or cherry blossom on the back of their bikes I figured something was up. I was snapping away with my camera while the driver silently tried to figure out what was getting me so excited. Dude, I have never seen a mandarin tree hanging over some guys eyes as he rides a scooter down the highway ok? As we got nearer to town the traffic got worse and I started to see people selling the mandarin and cherry blossom trees. Figured out it was some sort of Chinese new year thing which was later confirmed by the front desk lady at the hotel.
The scooters were chock a block now in the city and I saw two vespa dealers and a shitload of Vespas driving around town, some with custom colours and seat covers. They were the new ones too like the lx and gts. Given the small spaces they have to go through and the relative danger I’d have thought the big scoots wouldn’t appeal but they seem to. Also thought dints in the steel panels would suck too but I did see a lot of silver protection bars. As a vespa geek I was having a great time. In fact I thought this topped the Phuket drive from the airport for culture shock and fear factor. By the time we reached the hotel I was disappointed cause I had enjoyed the sights so much and was excited to see more of Vietnam.
Down a lane with a huge tree and the driver dropped me at my hotel. A photocopy of the passport was all they needed and I was up in my room for the night. For $50 usd it was brilliant. I mean, the room has a jacuzzi tub! Why couldnt I have been stuck here? It was stylishly decorated almost in an Asian art deco style with cool buttons for controlling the lights on the bedside table. I didn’t stay long, just enough to lock my stuff in the safe, grab a jumper and explore. It was 19 degrees in the middle of the day, overcast and I was dressed for Bangkok one of the hottest cities in the world – the jumper was necessary.
I have done little to no research about Vietnam before the trip figuring I’d play dumb tourist in a group, so wasn’t really sure how to fill my day here. I got a map from the tour lady at the desk and decided to go see the lake. It was too late for me to see the Ho Chi Minh mausaleum since it closes at 11am (meaning I won’t get to see it at all).
Off I wandered, crossing streets turning my head in all directions at all times, checking out little stores of touristy stuff – figuring I was in the tourist zone. Got accosted by someone selling guide books, a simple no means a bit more persistence until you just ignore them. Walked in to an adidas store and fell in live with a vespa pair of sneakers but there was no price and no interest from sales staff. Afte walking about 5 blocks and not seeing a lake I figures I’d gone the wrong way and headed back but on the other side of the street.
Finally found the lake when I was approached by a woman carrying bananas in baskets. She shoved the vietnamese hat on me and said she take a photo. I kept refusing and she said no money smiling and I grudgingly gave in. Suspicious she was going to run off with the camera or steal my wallet or something I was on high alert, but she gave it back only to force me to by some bananas. I refused since I didn’t want any part of the whole deal and watched her face get ugly. I walked off then. I know it may be harsh and all that, but I didn’t ask for any of it and I don’t appreciate being tricked, regardless if you are poor or not. Soured my good mood a little.
At the lake I saw a bridge to an island so went to investigate. The ticket was 10000 dong so I handed over $1USD, got 5000 change and crossed over. It was called Ngoc Son Temple and had a monument to some ancient warrior as well as a huge turtle specimen which was supposed to have carried a sword to the depths of the lake for some reason. I guess I wasn’t really reading the sign. 🙂
I continued round the lake and since I was starving, stopped for some beef with veges and rice (which was really good quality) and some vientnamese coffee (which is coffee and condensed milk). It was nice on the lake to eat in an outside cafe but it was a little cold and blowy. Once again paid in USD, change in Dong
There were signs everywhere of Russian influence, from the workers overalls who were arranging flowers for the new year celebrations, to the boxy architecture and sickle and hammer logos on things. The Vietnamese flag was everywhere too.
You can also see Chinese influence everywhere in this town and I was expecting less English comprehension than in Thailand but haven’t had any issues – although it’s only been a few hours. I’m really liking what I’ve seen so far about Vietnam and can’t wait to see more of it. I think I identify more with modern history and since so much has happened here in the past 50 years I’m really in to learning more.
I decided that I had to have the Vespa sneakers from the Adidas store and went back to get them but luckily they didn’t have my size so I wasn’t forced to fit then in my bag. Headed back to the hotel for a luxurious bath (I’ll take them when i can them) and rested for a while investigating what I could do that wouldn’t conflict with my tour once it’s starts. Decided on the water puppet show which they claim is hard to get tickets for.
Around 4.15 I wandered across the edge of the lake and picked up a ticket for $3 USD. The show is obviously puppets where the mechanics are hidden below the water not hanging from above. There is a live traditional vietnamese band playing and singing while the puppets tell stories about dragons, fishing, turtles and a love story between birds.
While waiting I chatted to a German woman who was also struggling with the tight squeeze of the seats – not much knee room. She was on a four month trip around Asia and was about to go home in a week or so. After the show we went to find something to eat and chat a bit more. Even though her guide book was 2009 she was finding a lot of the places weren’t there anymore but we ended up on the balcony of a really nice restaurant and ate clay pot seafood with rice. She was going through similar struggles of work/life/boredom and we discussed some of the things we’d learnt about ourselves on the trip as well as some of our more interesting stories. It was great to have someone to eat with even if I somehow ended up with rice all over the table (my ability to be a grub has not gone). We ended up getting thrown off the table as they had people waiting for it.
Afterwards we walked the old town which had somehow become even more livelier than in the day. The food markets were closing down which meant we got to see a lot of raw meat – not fun for Marion the vegetarian. Scooters and cars packed the narrow streets and with the footpath full with parked scooters or goods, the only thing you can do is brave the streets avoiding being hit by things. We did find a gravestone shop that used Britney Spears as a photo example. Britney is dead in Hanoi y’all!
Everyone seemed like they were 15 which is likely since Marion tol me something like 50% of the population is under 20. There seems to be a fair bit of wealth or disposable income as everyone was stylishly dressed with pimped out scooters. The whole thing was like being at a festival due to the amount of people but this is something that happens every night! Eventually we got tired of the fuss and headed back to our hotels, swapping email details before goodbye.
One night in Hanoi offered me the packed, modern, historical, vibrant yet utterly terrifying and tiring Asia that I hadn’t yet seen in any of my Asian travels. This wasn’t a British version of that like hong kong offers, but something ten times more hard core and utterly brilliant. I wouldn’t want to live here but I loved it!
Accommodation: Hanoi Imperial Hotel, Hanoi
Tweets of the Day:
amyob: Hanoi is one mad crazy busy vibrant city full of danger, horns and scooters. I love it!
amyob: In Hanoi. First thoughts, green, crazy traffic, new years, mandarins and fucking awesome. True Asia!
For more photos, check out the Flickr set.
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