Sunday, 2 September 2012

Vietnam - Day One. Arriving in Hanoi

Arrived at hotel: 7.30am - Check-in not until 11am.
3 hours to kill
First day, 2 hours of disrupted sleep and here I am in a strange city, in a foreign land. Now What?

I dug my heels in and went for it. No time to mess around, but dull grey skies made Hanoi look pathetic. After 15 minutes of walking and I became easily used to cross the road - just walk, don't stop, don't mind the other traffic, it will move around you - but where now?

A motorbike tour guide picked me up. With my rubbish bartering skills I agreed to $12 per hour for a tour of Hanoi. Seriously what was I thinking? I didn't know Asia at this point, let alone the value of money here. But it should be more like $12 per day. So on the back of his bike I hopped.

I ordered to be taken to the main tourist city sites and for coffee and lunch. And the tour began.

The friendly guide trapsed me across Hanoi in good time, stopping at places I didn't know the name or significance of followed by a strong Vietnam coffee then we perched at a side street food vendor. I hesitated at first, in case my stomach should churn later, but the BBQ minced pork balls in noodle soup was too good to resist.

The tour lasted 2.5 hours and I managed to barter him down to $20 - still stupidly expensive. But he bought the coffee and my lunch so I didn't feel so bad about that first experience.

11am: back to the hotel, shower and nap.

4.30pm the orientation of the old town of Hanoi - the markets, food stalls and realising that Hanoi is not about beauty, architecture or history, but it's people and culture. I had a theme, and I wondered what the rest of the country was going to show me.

7.30pm: dinner. The Vietnamese eat early, try going for food post-8pm and you might have problems finding somewhere that serves. As a group we had a multi-plate meal consisting of 12 dishes at a cost of $25, or 245VND.

It was an eventful dinner, the Vietnamese (especially in the North) seem to keep their Christmas trees out and decorated all year round. Apparently something to do with bringing good luck. Bit peculiar since their faith isn't Christianity. However on this first rather exhausting night, as we sat on the second floor of this small family owned restaurant the waiters hurriedly served us. In such a rush a naked flame fell to the floor and set the tree on fire. Welcome to Vietnam - I was about to be cooked alive. The staff fumbled around trying to douse the flames, unfortunately with materials that soon caught on fire. One of them grabbed a huge bucket and three it over the tree. That was it - the tree's life was over - or so I thought. 15 minutes later another staff member started to readorn the tree. In all this time, we just sat - still - wondering if we should flee for our lives.

Following dinner I made my way to the local gay bar - Golden Cock (GC), a relatively discreet venue with western pop music, pool tables and plenty of vodka and gin being knocked back by the Vietnamese. In the two hours I was there they would polish a bottle of spirit between 3 of them and stumbled out of the bar.