Sunday, 5 April 2009

Hanoi


Hanoi was not what I expected at all from a capital city and it was such a contrast coming from Bangkok to here. The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane was the cold. The weather in the north of Vietnam really isn't very nice as it is currently the winter up here. Not only was it cold but it was also drizzling which is always horrible. As well as the cold the complete lack of people in the capital was also a surprise. At first I thought it was just because the airport is normally quite a way from the center and the further in we got the busier it was going to get, but it never did. The roads were very empty and there was literally no one in the streets. It felt very strange as I knew little of this place and it just seemed like a cold and miserable ghost town. I didn't like it.

The taxi journey to our hostel took about 45 minutes and the taxi driver proper scammed us. A taxi from the airport should cost about $15 and we agreed on the price before we set off. However when we got to the hostel the bastard wanted close to $300 off us! There was no way on earth he would have got that for 45 minutes work god knows how he thought he could get away with that price. We were getting no where explaining to him we were never going to pay him that much, so I left to go to the hostel where hopefully someone who spoke Vietnamese could sort something out for us. When I got there the only person I could find suggested I threw the stool he was sitting on through his windscreen, he was an American. Not really knowing what planet this guy was on I tried to find someone else with some slightly more constructive advice. Before I could though the others guys rocked up to the hostel and had managed to get the price down to 100,000 dong each, about 4 quid. Still a rip off but a far more reasonable rip off than 2,500,000 dong. To make matter even more annoying while we were trying to sort out the ridiculous taxi price there were also guys on mopeds trying to sell us accommodation and Opium from all angles. My first few minutes in Vietnam were not going very well.

This was the first time we hadn't booked a hostel in advance and this was also the first time we had ever got to a hostel that was fully booked, typical. I knew this wasn't going to be much of a problem though as they would point us in the direction of another decent hostel, which they did. So ended up getting a little two person room just over the other side of the street. The next day we checked out early and managed to find a space in the Hanoi Backpacker where we had tried to get into the night before.

Hanoi is a beautifully little city and was not what I expected Vietnam to be like at all and had a very European feel to it. This was down to the fact the French had something to do with the place a few hundred years ago and they had had quite a large influence on the country as it grew up. I spent a lot of time just walking around Hanoi enjoying the cooler weather and just getting a real feel for the place. Understandably there is a lot of hostility towards American looking people from the older generations in Vietnam, especially in the north where we were. I found the people here a lot less friendly than those in Thailand which I thought was a great shame as the city was so nice a few more friendly occupants would have made the place perfect.


To me it didn't really seem like there was much to do in Hanoi and to be honest was possibly the most boring capital city I have ever been to. One of the few things we did was visit a cathedral for about a minute. I think the only reason we went there was a way of making ourselves think we were actually making the most of our time there. Once we realsied the cathedral was a waste of time we headed for the ????? This was a place that had played a part in a great deal of Hanoi's history and had several different uses throughout its working life. Built by the French it was originally used for.... but it then eventually ended up being used as a prison for the American prisoners of war during the Vietnam war. It's most famous prisoner probably being John McCain and is wear he developed his famous inability for not being able to lift his arms above his head. There was a display case with John McCains parachute and jump suit he was wearing when he was pulled from the river in Vietnam. I was very dubious as to whether or not this really was his but I took a picture anyway.


Despite not really wanting to, but feeling I had to, just so I could see another side to the City I headed off on a night out with a few people from the hostel. As it turns out there isn't really much of a night life in Hanoi. One of the reasons for this is that there seems to be an 11pm curfew for all the Vietnamese residents of the city. I could never really work out whether or not this was an actual imposed rule that everyone had to follow or if it was just what the Vietnamese did. I was in a bar one of the nights while I was there and at 11pm the Police came in and shut the place down. However we were able to move on to another place which while full of westerners did have a few locals banging around the place as well. From what I could gather the police seemed to shut down establishments that were more frequently used by locals and leave the ex-pats and backpacker places open till the early hours as we spent more money and therefore were boosting the cities economy. It was very strange and explained why the place was so dead when we arrived on our first night there. What late night places there were though weren't very good and were quite small. This particular night just ended up Tommy and I playing pool in one of the only late night places we could find then off home at a fairly conservative hour.


I did like Hanoi but its sleepy nature wasn't really what I was looking for at the time. The place we were staying was a real contrast to the rest of the city as there was so much going on there I found it a little too much to handle. So much so that I ended up in a very strange mood while I was there not wanting to talk to anyone and just generally doing my own thing. I think 2 months of traveling were starting to wear me out a bit and just wanted a bit of time to myself to recharge. Unfortunate timing really though as the Hanoi Backpacker would have been a quality place if that was the sort of atmosphere I had wanted at the time. The guys working there were well helpful though and through them I have organized a trip to Ha Long bay for a few days on the north east coast as well as brought a 5 stop hop on/hop off sleeper bus ticket heading south which has now given my trip to Vietnam some sort of structure. So tomorrow morning I will be hitting Ha Long bay to see a bit of the Vietnamese landscape. How nice.

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