My first morning in Hanoi was daunting to say the least. I awoke from a dream of a million alarm clocks all going off at once…only the noise didn’t disappear when I woke up. No, my first morning lie in in Vietnam had been rudely disturbed by the beeping of a thousand horns. Good morning Vietnam!
Hanoi has to be the most intense city in the world. You dance with death every time you cross the road. Or even walk on it. And forget walking on the pavement! From around 4am every morning until about 1am every morning the pavement is covered with clothes stalls, fruit stalls, food stalls – you name, it’s there! That first morning I stepped out of my hotel (somehow squeezing between the mile-long row of scooters parked on the pavement) and literally froze in fear. There was just a solid block of traffic. Cars and motorbikes and scooters and bicycles and tuk-tuks – none of them seemed to care which side of the road they drove on, whether people were in the way or even if they decapitated a passing tourist with the ladders and window frames they had balanced sideways on the back of their scooter. However, after a poke in the back by Amy, we were off.
The trick I found, was to walk on regardless. Scooters and cars will stop or swerve around you most of the time. But I had to judge it carefully and a few times I had to jump forwards – never backwards because more often that not, something was whizzing past behind you. After a while it begins to get enjoyable – kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re playing in the revolving doors of a shopping centre trying not to get squished. The whole thing though, is made a lot more difficult because there’s so much you want to look at. Bright shiny trinkets, hippy clothes, narrow zigzagging alleyways that contain houses – you just can’t take it all in. And of course the cries of “You buy? You buy?” play their part too.
As confusing and winding as Hanoi looks, it’s pretty easy to find your way around. After a day of walking, Amy and I had renamed all the roads to make it easier – instead of Bat Dan and Hang Bo we renamed the streets Plastic Basket Road, Shoe Street, Coffin Way, Ali-Baba Alley – all named after what the stalls on the street specialised in. After we’d bargained our way through the streets – resulting in myself having to purchase an extra piece of luggage – we came to the lake. We named it Turtle Lake on account of the turtle that lives there. The lake’s well worth a look – if only to giggle at the odd exercises the old Vietnamese men often perform on the edge of the lake. Think “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees in your head and watch the work outs. Comedy gold!
Vietnamese money can be really confusing as we found out. Everything looks amazingly expensive due to the amount of zero’s involved. But it’s actually not that bad. You get around 33,000 dong for £1 and for £3.50 you can spend an hour and a half having the best massage you’ll ever get – providing you don’t mind a mixture of wild aerobics moves, odd positions and light spanking. Or for just over a pound, two of you can get a scooter taxi to just about anywhere. I highly recommend it. At first the thought of three (and sometimes even four or five) of you on a scooter with no helmets and the crazy road system seems a bit daunting to say the least. But honestly, the ride was thrilling. Probably wasn’t for scooter driver who ended up with nail marks in his side from a couple of hairy moments but ah well…
Whilst in Hanoi Amy and I took a nice, long, warm walk to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. I’d heard it was fantastic. Most likely it was but we didn’t get to see it. The place was closed. After all, even deceased presidents need some down time now and then. So next stop on the list was the Army Museum. Now, if you happen to take a trip to Hanoi and decide to go to the Army Museum, a word or three of warning: read the signs; don’t tell the entrance guard you have a camera; go to the toilet before you go. I almost missed the majority of the museum because I didn’t read the signs stating that there were around six more buildings round the back. All I saw was one room and thought I’d been ripped off for 40,000 dong, something no Northerner takes kindly too. Before getting a stomp on over to the guards though, Amy kindly pointed out the signs to me. Thank you Amy! And the last warning? I’ve been to festivals with better smelling toilets. Either hold it or hold your nose and pray. Despite all that, the museum was amazing. You get to see tanks and climb into war planes. ‘Nuff said!