Rachel & Darryl's round the world in 90 days!
Well here goes the first of the Vietnam blogs, our first destination being the capital, Hanoi. We didn’t have very long here just a day and a half separated by a day and night at Halong Bay. Wow what a hectic place. I thought our senses had taken a lot in Malaysia & Thailand but this was even more intense. It began upon leaving the airport. As soon as we walked through the doors we were mobbed by taxi drivers grabbing our bags, gesturing to their cars and almost squabbling with each other to get the passengers. We were bundled into a taxi and were hurtling down the highway before we even had a chance to say 'how much?' It turned out it was going to cost us 10 pound when it should have been 6 even after lots of arguing. Never mind, all the fun of the FARE!I thought our driver was angry because of the dispute as the journey was absolutely manic. It was fast & we were constantly weaving in and out of traffic and often driving down the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic. The driver had a mug of drink of some kind on the dashboard and I was sure it was going to end up on the floor or on his lap and every now and then amongst the mayhem, he would take a little sip of his drink and place it gently and calmly back down on the dashboard. No stress, he isn’t angry, this is just normal life and we just have a normal driver. During our erratic and epic journey through the streets of inner Hanoi, the aggressive driving and bullying of the mopeds continued. The manic driving on any part of the road he felt like driving on wasn't a problem for the driver or for that fact for the oncoming traffic; mainly mopeds. They just weaved around us and carried on as normal. There's no real system here, no giving way, very few road signs or traffic lights & it really is every man for himself and the addiction to blasting the horn is unreal. The horn served the purpose of saying 'move out of the way, I’m overtaking, I’m braking, I’m turning, don’t cross the road (even on the crossings) I have a car, you're only a pedestrian, so what if I’m on your side of the road - get out of the way and I'm here look out. And actually it isn't just the cars. In fact there are probably 10 motorbikes on the road for every car and the same rules apply for them. The horns are used so often it became some kind of polluted mechanical melody with no meaning whatsoever.Somehow we got to our hotel. The next problem was that we were on the wrong side of the road and we had to cross the street. A street where you can barely see any road surface due to the amount of motorbikes swarming past. There was no crossing area and you'd wait there all day for a break in the traffic. The only choice was to just go for it. We stepped out into the road and nervously made our way across in stops and starts as the bikes flew past us on either side and obviously blasting their horns. (Well it’s more like a squeaker on the mopeds.) It was not only the bikes themselves we had to watch out for but also the stuff they were carrying. There'd be a little bike coming toward you and it would be piled high with anything and everything from planks of wood, boxes, FIVE people, conical hats, pigs, ducks, really...anything. One of the funniest things we saw during our trip was on a bicycle; you'll have to look at the pics for that. We made it across the road I don’t know how but we did. As our trip went on we learned this is the only way to cross and its best not to hesitate or try to dodge them. It’s easier to just step out and keep walking, they'll avoid you. It wasn't long before we were looking for the busiest crossing areas even with oncoming buses to engage in 'pedestrian street crossing - EXTREME!'Right, so far we've only had one taxi journey and crossed one street. You can see what I mean about it being a hectic place. It was beginning to look like it was going to be an eventful trip with crazy people and absolutely no hospitality compared to the friendliness of the people we met from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok and Chiang Mai......how wrong I was. In my opinion and I’m sure many others too, the Vietnamese are among the most friendliest and hospitable people on the planet. And considering the hurt, pain and poverty they have been through (from the Vietnam war with Napalm, agent orange and the millions of innocent civilians killed, and then after the fall of the South, the continuing war against Cambodia, the political change and regimes causing more severe poverty and severe rationing) they are also a very hardy nation.Every single person we met truly went out of their way to be friendly, helpful and kind, from the hotel and shop staff (who obviously need to be polite as part of their job), the street sellers, the random people we met along the way, the kids and of course our legendary Intrepid tour leader; Phuong. Our trip through Vietnam was fantastic in itself but it was made 100 times better thanks to his help, attitude, jokes, funny faces, stories, information, even his singing (well almost) but not from his 'paper trumpet' tunes. Phuong for president!!!Anyway I’ve totally gone off on one about the trip but it shows how much I’ve enjoyed it. I'm only supposed to be talking about Hanoi at the moment and we haven’t even got into the hotel yet in the blog!Alongside the hotel (still not in yet) and adjacent streets, the paths were lined with tall but very narrow buildings, dirty from the pollution of cars, mopeds and history. There were many cafes packed so full with local Vietnamese people they spilled out onto the streets. Perched on child size plastic stools and tables they slurped on their soups and Pho noodles. Pho noodles are legendary in Vietnam. Originating from Hanoi, the delicious, delicate rice noodle plays a major part in the diet and is consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And because it’s so cheap yet lengthy to make, people always tend to eat at cafes rather than cook it at home.After checking into our hotel we met up with the group for the trip. They’re all a great bunch and we share many great memories together: Carrie, Katherine, Brian, Ellen, Rhoda, Cherie, Julie & Eileen. Keep in touch guys.For the evening we all got together for a nice big pre-trip meal. We ate at KOTO restaurant. It stands for ‘know one teach one’ and is a project that aims to get kids off the streets and into work. The food was great and we were well and truly fed. Our bill came to 250,000 Dong. Even though this was about £9.00 it’s a bit of a scare when you’re handing over 100,000 notes to people, it feels like loads.An early start the following day meant for an early night tonight so it was back to the hotel to prepare for our trip to Halong Bay (see next blog).Once back in Hanoi after the trip to Halong Bay, we had a few hours to explore before heading to our overnight ‘tin can’ of a train to Hue. With little time in mind we went straight to the old town area with Phuong, Julie, Elaine & Cherie. We were immediately swamped by women carrying their ‘shops on sticks’ across their shoulders, selling fruit, t shirts, fans and conical hats. One of them placed her conical hat and stick onto Rachel and gestured for a photo. All good sales techniques, well it worked with me anyway buying some fruit for our train journey. We quickly strolled the town and shops in the sweltering heat, trying to take it all in whilst taking plenty of photos. Hopefully they show the charm and history of this pretty town and also capture some of it’s raw culture. Lunch, more walking and finally a cyclo tour consumed the rest of our time in Hanoi. What I saw I really liked; energy, character and a good introductory taster to Vietnam. I’d have liked to have spent a bit more time in Hanoi but there was also so much more to see. Ah well it’s a good excuse to come back and visit again…hope you’re reading, Phuong!!