Here goes, first entry! I feel quite excited about writing on here, and concerned about making it interesting...
We arrived in Hanoi yesterday, after a brief stop-over in Bangkok. And this place is like nothing I have ever imagined. As we travelled from the airport into the centre of the city on an absolutley ancient bus, the first thing that struck me was the mopeds. They are everywhere, weaving in and out of traffic like there is no tomorrow. People transport their families, flowers, pots, bricks, literally anything and everything on these things. How they don't topple over I just don't know! And the noise. The beeping is constant - and I'm not too sure what the beeping is about. People just seem to enjoy the sound. We've been here a day and already I'm beginning to tune it out. I don't know why they bother because everyone just ignores it.
The bus dropped us off by the side of a lake in the centre of Hanoi. We began the mission to find our hostel, dodging through the mopeds, cars, people carriers and various other obstacles. Of course, we ended up at the wrong hostel (there were two with the same name). So then we backtracked to our actual hostel, and finally arrived, only slightly frazzled! We spent the evening relaxing, and headed out to discover the city early this morning.
Hanoi is a strange place. Everywhere you go, there are people trying to sell you something (bananas, bread, a ride on a moped...). It is very bustly, and crossing the road is an absolute mission. You have to go really slowly, so that the bikes, mopeds and cars have time to drive around you. It feels quite surreal to be in the middle of the road, with traffic spinning around you from every direction. We walked to Ho Chi Minh's musauleum and to the One Pillar Pogoda, and then ambled around the Old City (which is where our hostel is). We wandered into a colourful market, which sold everything from hats, to stuffed toys, and lots of dried things - like dried squid or what looked like dried fish skin. Yum! I might decide to turn veggie again, especially after seeing little birds for sale which look as though they've been barbequed whole. We also visited the Hanoi Hilton, which used to be one of Asia's most notorious prisons. The atmosphere in there was pretty grim, as you would expect.
The streets here are really narrow and every space is taken up by shops, restaurants or hotels, with the occasional golden temple thrown in. Lots of people sit in the street, on children's plastic chairs, eating rice and fried things. The locals seem to do anything on the street - we saw a woman having her hair cut, another having a pedicure in the middle of a park, some men having a shave... There are plenty of street sellers about, who wear traditional, pointy hats, and carry their goods in baskets which hang on a wooden stick balancing on their shoulders. They make a great photograph, especially when they are selling flowers. Everyone stares at us as we walk through - westeners do look very conspicuous! Wandering around with a map doesn't help - many tuk-tuk drivers try to get us to take a ride with them - which we will definitley try at some point!
The city is very colourful, little red lanterns and bright banners hang from the trees in many of the streets. Lots of washing hangs from people's windows. There are a mix of ugly, western style glass and concrete buildings, and prettier, colonial houses, which often look as though they are about to crumble. The temples here are very beautiful, and seem to just pop out of nowehere, hidden between taller buildings. There are often golden dragons and horses inside, lots of flowers, and stragely, food and drink as well. The incense burning inside makes them very atmospheric, and the quiet inside is rather nice after trekking around the noisy streets.
Tomorrow we are leaving the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and heading to Halong Bay for a couple of days. We are staying over night on a boat called the Jolly Roger - so I think seasick tablets might be necessary! After that, we are planning on taking a sleeper bus down to Hue, which will take us 14 hours, so our next post might be quite interesting! Anyway we are safe and happy, with tummies full of Vietnamese food, so all is well!