Overview. First day in Vietnam. 24 Hours in Hanoi.
Our arrival in Hanoi went very smoothly apart from that the hostel we planned to stay at did not have any beds left. However we quickly found a hotel in a small alley, which cost a bit more (10€ in total) but we got our own room, proper beds, bedsheets, towels and our own bathroom so it was worth it. The nightlife is a lot tamer than in Bangkok (apart from one situation in a bar where there was a small situation involving some waiters trying to inflate the prices, which we obviously weren’t happy about) and we wanted to make the most of our day in Hanoi so we went to bed fairly early.
During daytime I was able to get a look at Hanoi. Our Hotel was situated in a part of the city with many small alleys that were beautifully decorated and lined with shade giving trees. The weather was also a lot more pleasant than in Bangkok and we were able to walk around the city the whole day without getting to hot.
As we got further away from the hotel the things one could observe got more interesting. There where colourful songbirds housed in carefully crafted wooden cages outside of many shops that would sing for us as we walked past.
Our first stop was the food market in which we where able to watch the hanoians haggle with the farmers from the surrounding country side (the latter recognisable by their rice hats). We saw a large variety of fish and other seafood swimming around in barrels awaiting their impending death. This market was buzzing and beautiful however there was something that upset us. There where cages full of tortoises which are regarded as a delecasy by the Vietnamese. Sadly these tortoises are endangered.
After we left the market we headed to Lenin park to rest. A giant statue of said Bolshevik acted as a reminder that we are in a communist country. Traversing through the busy streets of Hanoi was even harder than Bangkok, the roads where much wider and there where many more mopeds.
On our way to the museum we passed several food stalls that had caged dogs outside of them and soon we knew why. Outside one of the shops there was a a dog being hog roasted on a skewer. The expedition had mixed feelings of disgust and curiosity about how it would taste. We decided not to have any, for now.
Soon we reached the museum. A French prison in which nationalists/communists where kept since the late 19th century. During the Vietnam war (the latter stage that involved the USA) captured American pilots where brought here and imprisoned. Supposedly they had a much nicer time than the viets who were tortured by the French in rather horrible ways. Republican Senator John McCain was held here as was a General Secretary of the communist party of Vietnam. Every informative sign or video installation in the museum was accompanied by some propaganda, usually mentioning the strength and will power of the communists or the evil deeds of the imperialist.
After this short dive into history we chose a route home past a popular lake where the locals gather on the weekend. After walking through small alleys with Chinese lanterns, burning incense and exotic foods this place seemed like a different planet. The wide street that went around a central lake was blocked of for vehicles and a large amount of locals gathered here. There was food, games and music on offer. The crowd there was made of the wealthier Vietnamese as one could tell by clothing, attitude and that most spoke English. As I was walking down the street a well dressed 8 year old approached me asking if I had some spare time. After saying yes he walked with the group for a bit talking to me and asking random questions. He told me that on the weekends he would talk to westerners to improve his English. This attitude and his almost perfect English (hands down the best English I have heard being spoken by someone from Indochina) astonished me.
Throughout our stay in Hanoi we looked at different travel agencies and what they offered for trips to SaPa. Thankfully we did not take the first one that came as Jamie found a really good travel agency with great staff run by an Irish expat. In the evening we got on a sleeper bus (3 rows of very comfortable chairs that could turn to beds) that would take us north. This bus was air conditioned, had wifi and free water. Everything we could ask for. According to Jamie and Harry who had previously been travelling in Australia this was better than any bus they had ever been on there. There was a clear change in temperature as the bus was gaining height that was welcomed by the expedition who had wanted to leave the hot city for a while now.
For the next two days we will be trekking through the mountains that lie on the Chinese border. The French named them the Alps of Tonkin.
PS. One thing I did not mention was the food, which is amazing. PHo a beef soup with noodles is the standard meal around here and delicious. The only thing that took some getting used to is the height of the tables and chairs at restaurants as you sit very very low on small Hockers.