Saturday, March 13, 2010


Our guidebook describes Hanoi, Vietnam's second largest city, as "small", "elegant", "surprisingly low-key" and "relatively laid-back". I wonder what city they visited because we found Hanoi to be the exact opposite. It's a crazy patchwork of narrow, crowded streets with hundreds of motorcycles and people trying to sell you thinks everywhere you walk. Even crossing the street is a harrowing experience. We found that the best strategy was to just keep moving. Using techniques learned from riding my bike in city traffic of Seattle, we'd try to keep a steady pace and just move into the road to cross amidst the motorcycles. Moving also protected us from the people selling items. At one point we made the mistake of stopping to consult our map. Suddenly one man is trying to put glue on my shoes (there is a flap coming loose on the front), another lady is putting a Vietnamese style hat on me to have Jaimee take my picture ("for no money," she says) and another lady is trying to sell me pineapple (actually, I think it's the same lady). It was a bit insane.

Which isn't to say we don't like it here; we like it quite a bit, but it is not an easy city. I think I liked it more than Jaimee as I'm intrigued by chaos, similar to how I viewed Los Angeles when we went there last September. I view it as a challenge to try and figure a city out, to see how it to make it work for us.

Unfortunately, being here only two nights has not been enough time to really get to know Hanoi. We arrived on the night "sleeping bus" from Hue - a ride that took a little over 12 hours, including a dinner stop. We thought we'd hit the jackpot when we got on the bus - it's wasn't very crowded and we each had our own "sleeping pod" to rest in. Here I am when we first got on the bus:
From Hanoi
However, we drove about six blocks and switched buses. We were jammed into a different bus where Jaimee and I had a "bed" in the very back of the bus, shared with three other people. Additionally, there were bugs in the bed that gave me lots and lots of bug bites. (To spare you from having to stare at the picture for too long I won't put it in the blog, but you can see the bites in this photo.)

The bus dropped us off a ways from the city center in Hanoi and as we didn't have a hotel arranged in advance we accepted a free taxi ride from a guy who said he worked for a hotel. Surprisingly, the taxi ride was actually free; when we got to the hotel someone met the taxi and paid the fare. Unsurprisingly, the hotel was overpriced (well, relatively - the room was $12) and kind of dumpy. We did decide to take it for one night though as we were tired and didn't feel like walking around the city with our backpacks. The next night we changed hotels to one recommended in our guide book. Which wasn't easy to find. Apparently whenever a hotel (or restaurant) gets a good reputation or is mentioned in Lonely Planet, copy cat businesses open up with the same name. Hence, there are several Hanoi Guest Houses, a few Little Darling Hotels (and variations thereof) and many Kangaroo Cafes. To know if you're at the original you have to make sure you're on the right street.

As mentioned above regarding traffic and crossing the street, Hanoi is not an easy city to get around either. There is no public transportation (apart from ubiquitous cyclo drivers offering "moto, moto" at every turn) and walking is nerve wracking at best and often downright dangerous. Despite this, we did manage to walk around and see the Old Quarter, the French Quarter and make our way out to the Military History Museum.
From Hanoi
It was fun reading the captions of the various exhibits. Somehow calling the enemy "thugs" and "hooligans" makes history seem so much more real. There was a huge section on the war with the French, and of course information about the American involvement, as well as several tanks, planes and helicopters.

Finally, tonight we went to a water puppet show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. This was a really cute show involving, well, puppets in water. The music was all done with traditional Vietnamese instruments. This picture, although blurry, was taken at the end of the performance when the puppet masters came out from behind the curtain.
From Hanoi
Tomorrow we're heading out to Ha Long Bay. We debated about doing a tour or going out on our own, but in the end we booked a two day, one night tour. The tour is all inclusive, including an overnight stay on the boat and excursions to islands and caves, including kayaking. Considering it's only $30 per person, we figured it was worth the "splurge" as long as we don't have to sleep with bugs.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to see you continuing to search out museums for my vicarious viewing pleasure; vintage tractors, bicycles, now vintage military machines. You can help them with their labeling; half-track, not half-tank, and one small "tank" looked like an APC, armored personnel carrier.
    Speaking of armored, maybe you need armored clothing to protect against motorcycles & bugs in buses! Still lots of snow on the ground here!


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