HANOI(SY) AKA MOTORBIKE CENTRAL AKA SCAM CITY.......
After yet another overnight trip on the sleeper bus, we arrived in Hanoi early doors. Whilst on the 13 hour journey there we'd done a bit of reading and had learnt that Hanoi was the scam central of Vietnam. We didn't however expect to be scammed (or at least be targets) before even getting off the bus!
Literally the second the bus pulled in a guy jumped on and lay down in between me and James. He asked us where we were staying and since we had already booked somewhere he said that he would call them to arrange for them to pick us up from the bus stop which was about 5 km from the city centre. Once we had got off the bus he took us into his office, asked for the phone number of our guesthouse and "called them." After briefly speaking to the person at the other end of the phone he passed the phone to me. The person on the phone was saying that he didn't have a reservation in my name and that the hostel was fully booked! This seemed a bit shifty and we were pretty sure it was a ploy to get us to go to stay at another hostel!
Once we'd made a sharp exit from the office we were hounded by taxi drivers who were all quoting various prices to take us to our hostel but we opted to go for one with a meter....that wasn't such a good idea though as we were completely ripped off! The meter was jumping up in price faster than larger turns to piss so we decided it would be wise to get out before we were completely bankrupted and therefore had to walk the last leg of the trip which wasn't too bad!
We spent our first day in Hanoi just wandering around exploring. Hanoi is a bustling city run by motorbikes, strewn with beautiful lakes and French colonial buildings. One thing about it however is the noise, noise, noise! If it's not the sound of honking from motorbikes and cars attempting not to run you over, it's either blaring televisions from shops, Vietnamese cyclo drivers urging you to get a ride on their bike or people trying to sell you a book off of the street, "You have money. Good for you, good for me." You just can't get away from the noise!
Hoan Kiem Lake forms the centrepiece of Hanoi and the pleasant surroundings of the lake made for a perfect place to chill out and people watch. It was however difficult to find a spare seat as it appears to be the place where young couples congregate to spend time in each other's arms! We got chatting to a local Vietnamese lad called Tuan around the lake (and no he didn't want anything surprisingly, he was just glad of some company as he said he didn't have many friends!)
In the evening we checked out the Water Puppet Show at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre on Hoan Kiem Lake. Its a show similar to Punch and Judy (but in a little pool of water in the middle of the stage). It was very colourful and cleverly put together and was a great thing to see to give us a little taste of Vietnamese culture.
We'd found ourselves some friends (Liv and Chris) at our hostel earlier on so after the puppet show we went out for a drink with them together with a couple of their American friends.
The next morning we left Hanoi to embark on a 2 day boat trip to Halong Bay before returning to spend another night in Hanoi with some guys we'd met on the boat trip (Steve, Pete and Raj who coincidently had been on the same trip as us to the Cu Chi tunnels in Saigon!)
We started the evening off with Steve and co by going for some Beer Hoi which is like a street bar where the beer works out at under 15 pence a glass! From there it was onto a Vietnamese restaurant called Highway 47 where the guys ate crickets and locusts amongst other things! I declined, however I did eat buffalo (not intentionally - there was a mix up with the food orders, but it was very tasty!) James actually ordered buffalo and it seems like he enjoyed it too.
On the way back to the hostel there was a random local lad going around singing into a portable karaoke machine! He was actually really good and he had everybody from the Beer Hoi street bar up on their feet dancing!
We spent the next day shopping, eating and chilling at a rooftop cafe overlooking the lake before taking the 24 hour bus to Vientiane in Laos with Steve in tow!
We both agreed that Hanoi is beautiful, fun and fearless (you have to be). Although there are so many one-way thoroughfares that it sometimes feels like you can't get there from here, nor here from there, a day of dodging traffic and elbowing your way through overcrowded footpaths is more fun than any purpose-built tourist attraction! We can however see how some people might have a hard time there.
Laura & James