Lost in Hanoi

17 Jan

We got up fairly early today to make sure we were in time for our free breakfast at the hotel – more beef pho, yum. We’d decided that the best thing do to explore Hanoi would be to get purposefully lost so we could see things that we didn’t get the chance to last time. So everytime we saw an interesting street, we went down it. We left at 9.30am and got back at 4pm so the plan worked quite well.

Hanoi is such an interesting place to walk around; especially the Old Quarter. It is a hectic labryrinth of tiny streets of a mix of modern and old French-style buildings

and stuffed full of people on motorbikes. There are nearly 7 million people in Hanoi and nearly 3.5 million motorbikes. That means that walking around is something only tourists and street sellers really do as everyone else has a bike. It also means that you offered a scooter or a pedalo ride every 5 seconds because all the Vietnamese think you are mad to walk anywhere. And to be honest, I agree with them sometimes – walking is fine but stopping a stupid idea as unless the Vietnamese are eating, drinking or selling, they are moving. If you stop, you will always be in someone’s way (which is why finding a bar with a balcony is such a good idea!). Traffic comes at you from all directions and using the pavement is an acceptable shortcut, as is jumping the red lights (which only stop one lane of traffic anyway!). I blame the F1-style traffic lights as they give you a countdown in seconds til when they will turn green again…

As everything is done on the street or from the scooters/bikes, there is no space to walk on the pavement. Women prepare food and cook it out by their stalls, men fix bikes or give haircuts right on the pavement so walking in the street is the only option, but they seem to have a good system of beeping their horns if they feel anyone is particularly close to death. This way you get a fair warning but it does mean that every step of your walk is punctuated by bike horns amongst all the general chatter and clamour. However, we found an outside barber today who did a great job on Craig’s hair in no time at all and for about £1.50

Craig’s best catalogue pose

Crossing the road can be a challenge but we’ve learned that making eye contact with the people whizzing past and never, ever stopping as it confuses people are the best ways to avoid getting squished. It is quite hard though when there’s so much to see – whether it’s the motorbike with 50 bags of live goldfish attached to the back of it, the birds in the cages outside shops which apparently bring them good luck (not sure the birds themselves feel that lucky!)

and market stalls selling everything from snails to stoves to roasted whole dog. The weird thing is that in Hanoi, if you see a stall such as this – selling decorations for the upcoming tết festival, or New Year –

it probably means that the whole street is likely to be selling exactly the same thing.

So if you want sunglasses, you go to sunglasses street where every shop and stall only sells sunglasses, if you want rope you go to rope street etc. I am not sure of the reason for it but it is very strange when you’re used to shops selling everything you need under one roof.

It will be nice to be here for New Year’s as apparently it is a great party lasting three days where everything shuts down and people celebrate. There are lots of these trees around

– peach flowers – and kumquat trees as they are meant to symbolise luck and happiness. I am not sure precariously balancing eight of these on your bike to ride home with will automatically bring you luck though :I

We stopped for lunch on a street corner and had a lovely meal – you add a plate of cold noodles, a little dish of very hot chillies (excellent!) and fresh Vietnamese herbs to a spicy broth containing sliced mystery vegetable and spring onions. You then add meat that was barbecued in front of you. It was incredible

and only £2.30 for two meals and two Cokes, which is unbelievable really. The money here gets some getting used to – £1 is 32,000 dong. This means if you take out enough cash to pay for tours etc you are a millionaire :)

We have booked a tour to Halong Bay for tomorrow and then when we get back we might think about heading South as although Hanoi is an experience, it’s not somewhere you can really relax and take your time over!

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3 Responses to “Lost in Hanoi”

  1. semplo 17 January 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Wonderful Sarah – Two Post in one Day – I’m thrilled. I love when you give prices – it helps me make comparisons. I wish you had a picture of that roasted dog – hmmmmm.

    Enjoy, I’ll be reading every day. Oh, by the way, Nice haircut Criag – but work on that model pose. lol

    • toaustraliathelongway 17 January 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      We’ve been up at funny times due to all the flying etc so it’s been something to do! It’s 4am here and am awake due to going to bed at 8.30pm :)The roast dog looked so disgusting I couldn’t take a picture, you will have to see it for yourself!

  2. Christopher Walker 17 January 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Great technology to be able to follow your adventure now its finally started! Weird to think that its only a few weeks that you were living 100 feet away and now in Vietnam…

    Description of Hanoi traffic brought back memories – took me half an hour to summon up enough courage to cross a road in central Cairo some years ago!

    My IOW break was excellent last week – but rather tame compared to what I’m looking forward to reading on this blog!

    Have a great time.

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