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Vietnam - Ha Noi (capital city)

Written on: Saturday February 28th, 2009

We left the land of talking calculators, and the last four hours in China was an amazingly smooth safe ride to the border! Excluding the border crossing which entailed of no less than three rides on a buggy with our backpacks to get to various points. Another four hours through miles of bright green paddy fields, with women knee deep tending to the crop, and we were in Hanoi.

Vietnam was cold and raining which we weren't expecting!

It is unlike any capital city we've been to, withbuildings very rarely reaching more than four or five storeys. The roads are absolute pandemonium! Unlike Chengdu, they dispense with the policeman, and disregard all road markings, signs, and lights altogether. The funniest signs are the no beeping and no overtaking signs.

If it looks on the map like it might be a 10 minute walk, it'll most likely be 20 if the traffic is bad. You actually need to account for traffic as a pedestrian! Death runs, first a quarter, then half, then three quarters, then the whole of the way across the road, dodging bicycles, scooters, mopeds, cars, buses. Phew, you're safe on the pavement. Nope, along comes a scooter honking its horn. That is if the pavement is not being used as a moped park / as a food market / for card gambling etc. The scooters etc ride through alleys as narrow as the scooter itself.

Leaving the hostel we'd also need to be careful if it was lunchtime or end of school time, as the children would fly en masse down the roads and pavements on their bicycles.

Apparently there is more than one moped/scooter for every two people in Hanoi, and we've seen that they are used to carry anything from whole families (not necessarily with helmets on, but the children might have mosquito nets draped over their heads), pigs (live or dead), ducks (live), chickens (live), sheet metal, a large load of corrugated iron, a bicycle, 6, 7 or 8 large gas canisters, a ladder, a washing machine, 30ft piping (over the riders shoulder), a passenger hanging onto a big TV and not the bike, a mattress, 2 trees at the same time, huge blocks of ice etc etc. All this, and they don't hold insurance (although we've since found out insurance will be compulsory from the 25th April...). We were on our way to the Temple of Literature by cyclo taxi and passed a woman who had been knocked over while walking her wares through the city on a bicycle trailer. Nobody stopped to help.

We thought China was bad for fake products. We bought a pretty good Lonely Planet guide and phrase book extremely cheap which are rip offs. If you don't check though, you may end up with an entirely different book between the covers! They even sell these books in the government museums.

A lot of women came into the city to sell their wares, fruit, knickers, lunch etc. A few of them however were fake. These 'pineapple sellers' were easy to spot as they'd only have 3 or 4 pineapples on their baskets, and would try to put them on your shoulder for a photo opportunity. They would run and hide in the alleys on any sign of the police! 

We spent an evening at the theatre to see the Water Puppets (or Water Muppets, Aurelia a Swiss girl we met called them and we didn't have the heart to correct her), a tradition which dates back to the 11th century. Afterwards we went for a couple of beers at the Bia Hoi, where they cost the equivalent of 8 pence each. We were out until around 11:30, but the streets are deserted after 10 o'clock as there is a curfew to discourage drinking and drugs.

(Our return train back from Sa Pa to Ha Noi arrived at 4:15am, and it was a pretty awful walk in the dark back through the streets, with only the homeless and the many rats around to guide our way waiting for daylight.)

On our last night in Ha Noi, there was a huge storm. The electricity went out twice in the hotel, and so it was pretty tricky to pack our stuff up in the pitch black. We went out for something to eat and had to eat by candlelight. It was so windy, debris was flying around several storeys high.

N.

(Viet Fun 3 Hotel - recommended, although we had hotel opening rates offer)