13.02.2012 - 14.02.2012 19 °C
It is 1am. I’m lying on the top bunk of my sleeper train being rocked gently (occasionally violently) from side to side whilst being blasted by a freezing cold air-con machine. I try to read a few pages of ‘The Tin Drum’ in the hope it will make me fall asleep, it normally works a treat but not tonight. I had no problem sleeping on the first overnight train or the second train from Danang to Hue (where I should have been enjoying the beautiful coastal scenery but instead kept falling asleep because my seat was stuck in the horizontal position). I guess I was worried about not waking up when we got to Hanoi. I needn't have worried because our door was ripped open by a guard who shouted at us and flicked the lights on and off. Welcome to Hanoi…
It’s 5am but the taxis are already waiting – so keen they’ve even parked on the station platform. We can’t check into our hotel for another five hours so we wander out and try to find our way across the city. The roads are blissfully quiet and for the first time since we arrived in Vietnam I confidently step out into the road, where I narrowly miss being mowed down by the only moped on the road – no lights, packed with four people and some dead chickens hanging off the back.
We sit down at a street stall (yes the stalls are open at 5:30am - I'm sure Vietnamese women work 24 hours a day) and point at miscellaneous bits of meat. The stall owner starts making little spring rolls out of freshly cooked rice noodle sheets. They are very tasty or maybe I’m just really hungry. We go back the next morning and order an omelette, which arrives complete with coriander in a french baguette. By this point some of the cafes have opened so we stock up on Vietnamese coffee and cake, whilst making the most of the free wifi to work out how we get from Vietnam to Laos. Option 1) One hour flight, Option 2) 24 hour bus journey...hmmm it’s a tough decision.
We book our trip to Ha long Bay and a homestay in North Vietnam before heading back to the hotel to collapse for a few hours. Our room is so cold - a freezing 20oC. If this was the U.K. I’d be swanning around in shorts and a t-shirt moaning about the heatwave, but it is Asia so I’m lying in bed fully clothed refusing to let go of the massive duvet. Justin is hungry (again) and wants some lunch.
We head over to Koto, which is a training café. The trainees are really lovely and the food is seriously good - Justin has Bun Bo (beef and pig knuckle with noodles) and I have beef and noodles. We wander across the road to the Temple of Literature. I'm sure on any other day we'd have found the info on how learning developed over hundreds of years interesting and insightful. Unfortunately, in a state of tiredness we wander aimlessly around before starting to do impressions of the animal statues. We admit defeat and wander back for an early night.
The next day we head to the wonderful Museum of Ethnology , which tries to summarise the myriad of ethnic traditions and cultures within Vietnam. We try to work out some of the areas we’ll visit when we head up to the north, which is easier said than done. In the grounds of the museum they’ve reconstructed various houses, including a very impressive communal house.
We decide to avoid the taxi's waiting outside and jump on a bus back to town…literally as the bus doesn’t stop. We watch as people try to jump on and off the bus at each stop to varying degrees of success. A couple of people get stuck in the closing doors until our bus driver can be persuaded (reluctantly and with a glare) to slow down and reopen the doors. Justin chats away to a maths teacher keen to practice his English and point out various sites like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, whilst I make an attempt at some Vietnamese with a local student. I end up asking questions in English, which she replies to in Vietnamese. I have no idea what she is saying, but she is so excited and enthusiastic I keep nodding and smiling until she jumps off…probably to go and tell her friends she just met someone from England who agreed with everything she said!
I also spend half an hour reading an economist students diary, which was a wierd experience as it was quite personal and sad. She asks me to make grammatical corrections and I try to explain wierd English phrases and terms. She loves the UK - literally. She has over 150 different pictures of the Union Jack on her phone and her ambition is to work for HSBC in London. She has no idea what 'communism' means, but knows all about Britain's coalition government. She reads the BBC website everyday and asks about whether we have ever been to the Salford Quays! I hunt out my 'I love Salford' t-shirt, a Secret Santa present from my Salford colleagues, and give it to her as a good luck present for her accountancy exams. I hope any Salford colleagues reading this don't mind - it made a Vietnamese student very happy!
The afternoon is spent planning the next two months of our journey and eating food. I'm reading my new favourite website: . I finally work out what some of the food I've been eating is, although in some cases I wish I hadn't read. Justin points out a lovely description of pho broth: 'various animal ligament, soft-tendon, bone, tripe, muscle and fat brisket'...yummy! I order the Cha Ca (traditional Hanoi dish of bbq white fish, dill, fresh herbs and noodles), which is great.
I don't really know what to say about Hanoi. It is not the mega metropolis of a city I thought it was going to be. It feels small...although I'm sure it's not. The old dilapidated French shuttered buildings and Vietnamese ladies slaving away on the hot stoves and carrying anything and everything on the traditional wooden scales go hand in hand with the young and excitable Vietnamese complete with designer handbags, expensive cars and ipads. My overriding memory will be of a young couple pulling up to a street stall in their brand new Bentley and settling down on a tiny plastic seat to enjoy a 10p glass of tea and a 30p bowl of pho...surreal to say the least!
Quote of Hanoi:
Enthusiastic Lynne: ‘I’d really like to go and see some traditional dancing’
Overtired and grumpy Justin: ‘I’ll tell you what I think of traditional dancing….bleurghhhh!’
Sarcastic Lynne: ‘How about a water puppet show?’
Blonde moment of Hanoi:
Justin: ‘What are you doing?’
Lynne: ‘ Sorting out my bag’ (otherwise known as trying to find the emergency $100’s I’ve hidden so well I can’t even find it myself)
Ten minutes later – Justin: ‘What are you doing – are you looking for something?’
Slightly panicked Lynne: ‘No, I’m sorting out my bag’ (someone’s evidently been in my bag, found my secret stash and stolen it)
Ten minutes later – Justin: ‘Have you forgotten where you put your emergency money?’
Seriously panicked Lynne: ‘No’ (Damn!)
Justin: ‘You’ve forgotten where you put the emergency money, haven’t you?’
Ten minutes later – relieved Lynne ‘ Found it’ (much eye rolling from Justin)