Monday, 5 November 2012
I'm in 'nam, man
Good news! I made it to Hanoi glitch free complete with passport and new thief-proof phone. Handily my flight landed at the same time as Bryony and Lauren's and we met up in arrivals (where the taxi men swarm like flies). We were on our way to find the bus stop when we happened across a lone Canadian girl who was being targeted by the taxi men. When we realised it was a dollar more to all get in the same taxi we decided to hop on in and headed off to our chosen hostel. Or so we thought. Our quiet but nice taxi driver wove us through the hectic roads to somewhere in Hanoi where another chap opened the door. He asked to see our booking (which we had not made) then told us it was fully booked, but not to worry he could take us to another place. It all happened quite quickly and we couldnt see the sign for the hostel...travel savvy Canadian Mandy sensed all was not kosher and we said no to the second hotel at which point they both scarpered. Scammers! We were then left (in the dark) with no idea where we were. We found another taxi to take us to the hostel...he spoke no English, didn't understand our no doubt flawless Vietnamese and despite looking at a map of the area countless times still drove us round in circles unable to find where we were going. At this point my first impressions of Vietnam were not good - I felt less than safe and we were all super wary...Especially since the airport-taxi-in-cahoots-with-fake-hotel-scam is the first one they mention in the guide book!
After depositing our things at the hostel we went to explore (and eat) and our impressions quickly changed. There was lots going on for a Sunday night - amazing local breakdancers, a children's roller skating get together, free to join in line dancing and park aerobics, a Dog wearing trainers and a gangnam style flash mob.
To me, Hanoi feels very much like a typical South east Asian city - absolute chaos on the roads, street food on every roadside, a lot of neon flashing lights, more scooters than you ever thought possible and endless walls and stalls of tat. The fashion here seems to be Bedroom Chic. Everyone looks like they're in pajama sets, lots of matchy matchy sleepy sleepy pastel patterned numbers (mostly paired with some classy heels). After waiting at 'pedestrian crossings' we realised that the only way to cross the road is to literally just stride out and walk with purpose. Into on coming traffic (hectic Asia style oncoming traffic). Apparently they just avoid you. We are getting quite good at it now but I'm not sure if thats a good thing or not. Quite the change from Singapore where jaywalking earns you 20 lashes and probably a hefty fine/prison sentence.
Day 2 and we were up to buy our bus ticket to Cat Ba island (which we are doing independently...watch this space) and then some more exploring. We took the electric train, which is described as an excellent way to familiarise yourself with the city. Well, lonely planet, I'd say that's a bit of false advertising. What we actually did was drive around the old quarter in a large golf buggy whilst our driver gesticulated at various streets, shops and buildings. And by gesticulate I mean waved his hand vaguely in a direction and, if we were lucky, mentioned the number to read on the guide sheet. That was 25minutes well spent!
We spent the afternoon drinking tea in a delightful cafe whilst attempting to plan the next couple of weeks (which we have sort of managed) and then did a bit more exploring. I say explore, we basically trudge round saying no to transport offers, marvel at the endless tat and wonder who on earth would buy any of it, get quite lost, walk some more, work out where we are on the map, walk some more, realise we don't know where we are in the map, walk some more, eventually end up back at the central lake (where, legend has it, a giant tortoise lives) and then work our way back to the hostel. I feel I should mention here that I am in the top bunk, the stairs of which are less than kind. Getting in and out is not a seamless maneuver when toe-capped and I'll be sure to shotgun the bottom next time.
Tomorrow we are (hopefully) off to Halong Bay and Cat Ba island. Fingers crossed we can spot the scammers before they see the 'mug' we have tattooed on our foreheads.