Ha Noi 7th - 9th December 2010
My visit to Ha Noi isn't going very well for a vast number of reasons. Beware, this is a proper rant!
Firstly I feel so isolated. Vietnam has managed to block almost every means of communicating with the outside world (some have been officially blocked, and some magically appear not to work but they deny it's blocked). I've honestly never felt so alone whilst on my travels, not even when we were up in Cape Tribulation living in a Rainforest. Ok, so they've blocked Facebook. This in itself isn't enough for me not to enjoy myself, but mix that with they've also blocked my blog site, that my phone has no signal and that AVG anti-virus is causing havoc with my laptop and for some reason has stopped me opening any emails (I can see them sitting there but can't open them) and it's a guaranteed way to feel cut off from everyone and everything. Thankfully a certain someone found me some sites I could use to get a 10 minute trial of Facebook, but as I've now used both sites I have to try and track down internet cafes that have brought the service where it bypasses Vietnamese restrictions and allows access.
Unfortunately, walking anywhere leads to another issue and has become a major issue. Let's start with the tuk tuk and motorbike Taxi guys. I thought it was bad enough when I went to Sharm el Sheik last year, and after a week of it I wanted to commit murder, well they don't have a touch on this place! They are everywhere, one after the other, shouting, ordering you to get in / on their mode of transport, and shouting prices. Don't think ignoring them works either. Nor saying no thanks and looking moody / smiling / pretending you don't speak English. They just constantly hassle you, one after the other and if you're really lucky two or three at a time. The worst offense tho came this morning when a motorbike driver followed me along the road shouting at me to get on his motorbike for only $1. I ignored him, then said (about 10 times) 'no thanks'. I should highlight it's not just him, 3 other drivers also shouted at me whilst he was trying to get me as a fare. After roughly 500 meters of him shouting at me, I shouted back at him as I realised 'no thanks' will not do and told him I didn't want a motorbike, I'm trying to sightsee by walking around the city. 'No it's too far' he said, I told him I'll do as I please and I have no intention of going anywhere with him. He then decided this simply was not enough harassment and mounted the pavement, drove along following me, still trying to get me as a fare and when I carried on ignoring him he then decided to cut in front of me and stop! OMFGG, I went absolutely ballistic at him and nearly kicked the fecking idiot off his bike!
The next issue with walking anywhere is their driving is so dangerous! They absolutely will not wait for anyone or anything. This actually also goes for queuing, pushing past and driving. Today a motorbike rather than waiting and then pulling onto the pavement, cut in front of me whilst I was walking in the road along the bike park, sorry I mean pavement. He was still going really fast, came within 2 inches of me and then reached a screeching halt. Seriously, would it have killed him to wait for 2 seconds til I walked past before he nearly killed me! For. f***. Sake!
So no-one looks where they're going, they don't even understand the term cutting someone up, they don't use indicators, they park on the pavement (we're talking a pavement full of hundreds of motorbikes), if the pavement is clear they drive on that too, no-one gives way, and everyone constantly beeps, and I mean constantly. They ignore zebra crossings, they honestly may as well not exist, I've only seen one 'green man' crossing, and you are forced to walk in the road with the insane traffic as the pavements are full of parked bikes, shops extending their displays to the curb side or restaurants with tiny plastic tables and chairs scattered all over the place.
I've started taking my ipod out with me and listening to that because even going out for 30 minutes leaves me with a thumping headache due to the non-stop beeping, from everyone, in every direction! I don't understand why they don't learn to drive and look out for other road users, rather than beeping to let people know they are coming past. Oh yeah, this beeping isn't cos someone's about to crash into them, it's every time a bike, car or bus goes past another vehicle (including Tuk Tuks, bicycles, and even pedestrians as you are forced to walk in the road) they beep, constantly, all day and all night long!!!
I also need to get some clothes as it's a lot colder up here than it is in the south, and as I'll be going to Beijing in the next couple of weeks where it gets down to -4c, I really don't think shorts and t-shirts are going to cut it. The biggest problem is all (and I really mean all) of their shops only cater for incy wincy tiny Vietnamese people. There is apparently a shopping mall on the other side of town but I've heard it's 20 stories tall and it really is just too much. Their shopping malls are like rabbit warrens, and they have 100's if not 1000's of stalls selling exactly the same as the shop next door, and seriously god help you if you actually stop to look at something. I've actually started taking pictures of rows of the shops all selling identical stuff as it amuses me to no end. Today in a small shopping centre (more like a jumble sale) I saw 32 numbered kiosks, all identical in terms of signage, size and layout, and guess what, they were all selling exactly the same thing - alcohol. I just don't understand why one doesn't specialise in say Champagne, another in Port, another in Vodka, or high end and low end merchandise, but all 32 shops had exactly the same bottles for sale. This happens with everything. There are streets of Christmas shops, electrical shops, souvenir shops, restaurants & clothing stores and every single shop in that street sells exactly the same thing as the ones either side. When I asked one of the shop keepers how comes they all sell the same stuff he just said it's because they all have the same supplier. When I asked why they don't sell different things, he just looked at me like I was mad!
I'm actually looking forward to walking down a high street when I get back. I've been looking for a pencil sharpener for 2 weeks now to sharpen my make up pencils, but haven't been able to find one as the rows of identical shops are so specialised. It really is amazing what I won't take for granted when I get home, and I certainly didn't think having the freedom to use facebook, road safety and not having to walk for miles to get to the type of shop you want would have ever appeared on the list.
I am also so tired of being filthy. Sorry - I did say this was a proper rant! Everything is dusty and polluted and even an hour outside requires the immediate use of a shower. I'd dread to see the state of my lungs! However, when you turn the taps on the water (if it can be called that) that comes out of the taps is brown, so there's no chance I'm standing underneath that - thank god for wet wipes! :) ) I suppose I can also be grateful that I'm privileged enough not to have to live here and I'm actually only visiting for a couple of months. I may Google the average life expectancy here, I bet it must be shocking.
I have however tried to turn all of this into a positive. Today I decided I needed a chill day as I've only had 3 rest days in nearly 3 months, so have stayed in as much as I can (although even in my room at the back of the building I can still hear the constant beeping! :() So tomorrow morning I leave nice and early for a 2 day trip to Halong Bay where we're going to sail around some of their 3,000 islands in an old Chinese Junk Boat. :) I get back on Friday night and on Saturday I've booked another trip, this time to sail along the river on a bamboo raft, going through the rice fields and seeing some of the mountains running down the length of the country. I absolutely can't wait, and that will only then leave me with Sunday in this place before my early morning flight back to Bangkok. I tell you what, Bangkok is going to feel like paradise compared to this! And just imagine what London will feel like! Hahaha.
I'm really sorry for this rant, but it's honestly become so bad that I basically feel like I'm a prisoner in the hostel. One of the guys in the dorm also feels this way and has brought his flight forward just so he can escape. And since I've been here I've not met a single person who's had a good thing to say about it. I am still glad I've had the opportunity to come here, as I realise most of the people here will never earn enough money to even leave the country, but I'm so bitterly disappointed. I thought Vietnam would be one of my favourite countries to visit, and I can honestly say it's been the worst one yet and I just want to leave. :(
Hopefully I will be singing a happier tune when I return from the Junk Boat. :)