Given that we spent two additional half days in Hanoi, it felt only right to add a little more about the city, perhaps omitted the first time around. Firstly, you see a good deal of western tourists on the streets of the colonial center, but they are alternative types, and not too abrasive. But you also see some others, more typical well-off tourists we came across in Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai etc. With the chaos and difficulty navigating the streets and crossing roads, one might wonder how they manage. The answer is that these, mainly Chinese and Japanese tourists get shuttled around in long golf carts, and as such 'get' to see the city from a distance. Another thought I had is that a hostel could gain a huge foothold into Australia, and all it had to do was establish itself on Hang Bac road, and itself 'the Hang Ten Laid Back Hostel' and presto, you have dudes lined up around the corner. Speaking of corners, on our extra night, we took a stroll to the beer corner, where women sell beer on the street, but unlike other places, these ones(there are mainly two) get really crowded and so the tiny chairs actually spill out onto the streets, and create artificial corners in otherwise free-flowing streets and street traffic. The traffic itself in Vietnam is worthy of its own post, but a quick note here is worthwhile. Traffic in the tropics is an animal upon itself, but here in Vietnam they have taken a different approach altogether. Perhaps spurred on by the prevalence of motorbikes(and that Hanoi is supposed to be nothing compared to Saigon), traffic needs to behave differently. First, in general it goes overarchingly slower. Anna remarked the strangeness on the taxiride in from the airport in Hanoi, where the streets and highways were completely deserted, yet the driver never went over 60 km/h. On the highway to Halong Bay, despite being late and pressed for time, the same remained. In Hanoi, going 30 was exceptional, simply because of all the scooters and bycycles everywhere. The twist, however, is that the rules of the road are such that no one never stops, ever, and no one looks to the sides, ever, be it at intersections, or turning from an alley into a road, or whatever. Granted at large intersections, this isnt quite the case, and stoplights are respected, but in general, everyone sort of coasts and shoots out around corners without looking. The logic is if everyone looks only straight ahead, and doesnt go very fast, the traffic flows and eveyr individual driver can weave in and out of traffic and around those bothersome little things called pedestrians.
Going back to Laos, anna thought that I had left out the three best things about Luang Prabang from my post, and although I tried to leave some stuff out so as to be less repetitive, these were rather gross omitions. The first two were what we did on our second morning, which was waking up at sunset. This is because the buddhist monks, who arent allowed to beg for food, go through an alms giving ceremony at dawn every day,where the monks leave there temple grounds and in a procession cross the town, where the local, buddhist townspeople give them offerings of rice and fruit, which they then amass back at their temples and have for their single meal of the day. In crude western fashion, it is like waking up to haloween every day, except without the tricks, the masks, and of course the candy(unless of course some health nut gave you apples or oranges). From watching this alms procession, we went up Mount Phousi, the hill that overlooks the town, for early morning views,where people normally go for crowded, hot, sunsets. Climbing back down we then went to the morning market, where people from near and far come to sell fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, and a nice assortment of animals to be eaten, which was the main food source for the town, as our hotel bought all of its fresh products there, and sometimes its eggs and fish. Finally, every night, the main street becomes totally closed off and becomes a night market of local handicrafts, the highlights of which were silk scarves and tablecloths, funky slippers, handmade paper in notebooks, art, and lamps, skirts and handbags, and of course, cheap t-shirts. From here on we travel southward, and vietnam still will be our home for around two weeks.