Friday, November 5, 2010

Hanoi Sept 28-29

We finally arrived in Bangkok and spent the day doing the tourist stuff like visiting the Emerald Buddha, Reclining Buddha etc. We also hung out on Khao San Road and checked out the Patpong night market. More or less it was just another big city, but the culture was altogether a bit shocking. We only had one night before making our way to Hanoi to start the Vietnam adventure. We flew direct to Hanoi and over the next two weeks would work our way south down the coast.


Hanoi surprised us. Bangkok was big and noisy but Hanoi was chaos. There are far less cars but there are triple the motorbikes and scooters. Three and a half million scooters actually (to their six and a half million people). There are no streetlights, no stop signs and even which side of the street you drive on is more just a suggestion. Everything literally never stops moving. At first it was downright scary. We were on the edge of our seats in the taxi cringing and squinting sure that we were about to witness something horrific. Two, three and some times more on a scooter. Babies, children, no helmets, no road rules. Bicycles, pedestrians, fruit carts and other, everything on the road going every which way. The first time we had to cross the road we were pretty nervous. I'm not kidding when I tell you there are no lights, stop signs or pedestrian crossings. The only way this works is because no one ever stops moving. Traffic is constantly in motion. Everyone moves slow enough to maneuver around everyone else and some how it all works. To cross the street, you simply just go. Don't bother looking or waiting for a break in traffic, it won't happen. Just start walking and what ever you do - don't stop. Keep a steady pace and they will go around you.

A little wandering around and we were primed for a nap. A quick little lay down went a bit long and we woke up starving. Out we went in search of food and a little more exploring of Hanoi. I really wanted to find something local, I didn't want to come all this way to eat my meals in the Americanized restaurants. I would be perfectly happy with a noodle soup or some fried rice. Since it was a little late now, everything began to close, but we kept walking around beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake and the city kept buzzing even as the hours past. We learned that the people were preparing for a three day celebration of Hanoi being 1000 years old. The Vietnamese take great pride in their culture so this was a pretty big deal. The lake was surrounded by lights and music playing, it was pretty cool.

We did eventually find food. It was noodle soup served straight out of the pot street side. We pulled up a seat basically in an ally and joined a handful of others for a midnight snack. Doesn't get more local than that.

The next day we were also spending in Hanoi, but this time we were more so killing time until we caught our overnight sleeper train to Sapa.

In the morning we found a great bakery for breakfast, fresh banana bread, croissants and all things yummy. Of course, this is simply a counter roadside and there is no place to stop to eat. You practically get run over while bagging your goods. Nonetheless, you can't beat fresh baked pastry for breakfast. We ate while we walked to this enormous three story market that is described as a tourist sight on its own. And it was. This place was huge and sold everything you could imagine. Consumer sensory overload. We didn't stay long.

We left one market for another and went to check out the "shoe market". It was probably six blocks long of one shoe "store" after another. Nothing of great quality, but kept us looking for a few hours actually.

After that we wandered around in search of lunch and a nap in the park. We found lunch, but when I laid down in the park it didn't take long for the police to come over blowing his whistle and yelling at me. Apparently parks are for "looking" and "sitting", there is no napping allowed, not even lying down. So much for that.

We left the park and went to see the old POW prison now dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton". Pretty creepy stuff. After that we took a cyclo (little cart on the front of a bicycle that you sit in and a driver pushes you around in) to the water puppet theatre. This was highly recommend in my guide book but turned out not to live up to its reputation. At least I got that nap I was looking for.

Back to the hotel for a shower and a change then our taxi was to pick us up and take us to the night train. When we woke up we'd be in Lao Chai which is a 2 hour bus ride to Sapa where we'd be doing some incredible trekking.

More pictures of Hanoi here:

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