To get to Hanoi, we weighed up our options, another train journey? This time for 15 hours, plus the extra few hours that are inevitable when travelling through SE Asia. Or perhaps a one hour direct flight? A bit of a no brainer really. With the flight booked and our bags packed AGAIN we made our way to the capital of Vietnam.
We arrived as the dark was creeping in and the rain began to fall. An hour long taxi journey proved that just like Saigon this city was full to the brim with traffic including 7 million scooters.
Our new address in Hanoi was The Jasmine Hotel, it was perfect. The staff, including a Vietnamese Jessie J, were sublime and spent a lot of time and effort explaining the surrounding area, giving us tips on haggling and restaurant recommendations.
As we stepped out into the rather chilly night, I soon realised that I was becoming acclimatised to the weather here. It was 25 degrees yet I was wearing jeans and a jacket and I was cold! The Old Quarter of Hanoi was rather beautiful. The lake standing proudly in its heart whilst the nearby lights cascaded down upon the water creating an illusion of a floating island of colour. We would walk this route many times during our stay, each time discovering something new to see; a Vietnamese salsa lesson, caricature artists, aerobics classes and badminton games all on the outskirts using the lake as their idealistic backdrop.
We have found that as you travel you start to feel somewhat guilty if you haven't visited a local attraction, temple or museum for a day or two and after a lack of interest in Hoi An it was time to absorb some culture. First stop, The Vietnamese Womens Museum and just like Ronseal; it did exactly what it said on the tin. It was a museum, a museum about women. And though mildly interesting, each time we discovered there was yet another floor with ascended with reluctance and a heavy heart.
On escaping the Women's Museum, we realised we hadn't had a good dose of War for at least a week and in Vietnam this may well be unheard of! With this in mind we made our way to Hoi Hoa Prison a.k.a. The Hanoi Hilton. Again dealt a big fat dose of propaganda, the prison gave an insight into the lives of former POW's starting with that of the Vietnamese under French reign, showing distressing pictures of torture endured by the Vietnamese. In complete contrast the next set of pictures were of the American POW's under Vietnamese reign. These pictures were of happy, smiling men, playing pool, smoking cigarettes. The descriptions explained how the American prisoners' begged not to leave the prison which they thought was very much like the well-known luxury hotel chain The Hilton. At no point was there any remark that any Westerner was harmed here, apparently they just whiled away the hours socialising, watching T.V. and working out. I totally 100% believe this, I also believe in unicorns and Narnia.
With a good dose of 'culture' we could now continue to bum around. We made our way back to the Old Quarter, walking down streets lined with caged birds hanging from every other tree and most shop doorways. Though Darren was in the process of growing a beard it was evident that a haircut was in order. We passed a couple of barbers who had set up a chair on a street corner and attached a mirror to a lamppost but Darren wasn't feeling that brave so we entered a funky salon and agreed a fee of 200,000 dong (£6).
Darren was led to a basin where he was sprawled out and given a head and neck massage and a very thorough 20 minute hair wash followed by a swift haircut, so far so good. It was then that I see a woman take Darren by the hand and lead him upstairs. At this point I feel I should have been more concerned than I was but I was too busy trying to interact with the 15 year old apprentice who had decided I was her new best friend. "I love Westlife band" she repeated over and over "You're going to be very disappointed then my dear" I'm thinking. A very wide eyed Darren appeared at the bottom of the stairs looking extremely chilled out. He explained that he had in fact just received another hair wash and neck massage. I choose to believe this ;)
We were lucky enough to have visited Hanoi on a weekend therefore the night market was in town and after Darren had broken my much loved sunglasses my mission was to by a new pair and after some rather fantastic haggling I bagged a pair for 40,000 dong (£1.50). Though it was fun to explore walking through the busy streets of Hanoi really could take its toll. At one point after politely declining an offer of a bracelet from a street vendor, who then persisted to follow me and then grabbed me by the arm, I felt a more authoritative action should be taken "I SAID NO!!!!" To which said pain in the ass vendor retreated like a wounded puppy. It's a shame that you sometimes have to reach this point but space invasion is taken to a whole new level here which went further than my tolerance would allow.
Another part of this trip which not so much tested my tolerance but rather my sanity was the 'must see' Water Puppet Show. Sixty long, arduous minutes of some scary ass puppets being chased by some freaky techno-coloured dragon fish all to a wailing Vietnamese soundtrack. When we left the theatre I felt as though I had awoken from a nightmare and actually needed a coffee to calm my nerves!
Hanoi wasn't the most interesting place to visit but it was lovely to have some time to chill out and explore. This was the end of our time in Vietnam and though we had a lot of fun and found it to be so much better than everyone suggested it might be we were looking forward to our return to Thailand.