I was greeted at Hanoi airport by hoardes of taxi drivers all wanting to charge me a lot more than it cost to get into the city. Luckily I had the know-how that airport shuttle buses went to and fro for a tenth of the price. Now I thought Thai drivers were pretty bad, but I'm pretty convinced that Vietnamese taxi drivers don't even have lessons, I think they're just made to sit in a parking lot and see how many times they can honk the horn in one minute. I have never heard so much unneccesary honking in my life, literally at every moving (and stationary) vehicle in every direction. Headache inducing or what!?
Ended up getting into town late in the evening, avoided all the motorbike taxis and took off on foot to find a place to stay. Stumbled across the Khao San of Hanoi within ten minutes. The Backpacker's Hostel was full but at the end of the road I found a little hotel in heaven. For seven quid a night I got a palacial room, big comfy double bed, satellite tv, bath, hot water, paintings on the wall, free internet (and as I discovered the day I checked out, free breakfast), so my plans to stay one night and then check into the hostel the next morning (6 quid a night for dorm and shared bathroom) quickly faded. The guy who worked there was also a real gem, same age as me, I helped him compose emails to his much older girlfriend in Japan.
The first night I ate noodle soup (Pho, one of Vietnam's well-known dishes) on a street corner. I'm used to eating street food in Thailand but this was a whole new experience; the entire pavement was crammed with tiny tables and chairs which should only really belong in nurseries. My knees wouldn't fit under the miniature table so I had to semi-crouch on the pavement whilst eating. Despite my overwhelming tiredness I stayed up late watching rubbish on tv, well it's the first time I'd watched one (at least in English) for months.
One of the main things I noticed about Hanoi, aside from the incessant beeping and risking my life every time a road needed crossing, was pyjamas. Yes, pyjamas. I swear every single woman was wearing them, and they can't get away with calling them twin sets because some were most definately of a woolly variety with teddy bears and stars. Obviously I'm massive p.j. fan and would love nothing more to wear them all day... but in the privacy of my own home, not at work, not walking around the busy smoky streets of the city, not to serve noodle soup to strangers. I tried to reason why this might be but came up with nothing. Answers on a postcard.
Had a lazy first day wandering around the city, taking in the very few sights, getting lost up the many many sidestreets, and returning to the comfort of my lovely room when there were random downpours. When the rain stopped I ventured out for a baguette and booked myself onto an overnight Halong Bay trip with the backpacker's hostel for the Friday/Saturday, and was informed it was mostly boys going, oh poor me.
In the evening I went for a drinks with... wait for it... my mum's cousin's son Dominic, who's been living in Hanoi for yonks, and his mateys. Whilst waiting on the crossroads where we'd arranged to meet him I bumped into a girl I'd met on my teacher training orientation last October, and again on Ko Samet in the wee small hours back in February, who's now doing teacher training in Hanoi... small teacher world! Had a fab time with Dom and Co, got a crash course in Vietnamese and the local cuisine, and tried two of the local beers. I do sometimes wonder if I really am just doing a beer tour of Asia. Ended up having a very late night and had to wake up the poor guy at my hotel who slept on a mattress in the foyer to let me in, felt sooo guilty!!
Hunted down a camera shop Dom recommended and got myself sorted out with a second-hand camera, then went on a snap happy jolly around the city. Decided after the previous days laziness I should do something cultural so booked myself a fourth-row seat at the water puppet show. It was interesting to say the least. Obviously didn't understand a word of it and the music sounded more like a dozen cats being strangled simulataneously, and to be honest the puppets were a little bit on the scary side, but it was good to see once.
I added to my culturalness that evening by meeting up with Dom and everyone at a backstreet cinema. I was maybe a little too excited when I learned that there was free popcorn. We watched a documentary about WW2 from 1938. Obviously a serious and emotive topic, and we probably shouldn't have found some bits as funny as we did, but the narrator was hilarious. I also found it particularly amusing when an image flashed up of the front page of a newpaper declaring the war was over in big bold letters, and then directly underneath an article about a farmer dying after an incident with a tractor! Afterwards we went up an alley and I tried a new Vietnamese noddle soup dish and gave iced tea another chance. The next day I had to get up bright and early for Halong Bay, although I still stayed up til gone 1am watching a crappy movie, why oh why!??