Travel Journal

Hanoi 8- 10 July: Vietnam is a foreign country they do things differently there.

(Sunday 10 July 2011) by Julia Bartholomew
Hanoi’s old quarter is lively, noisy and crammed with motorbikes zipping in all directions and filling up every space on the pavement, so that tourists (and it is only tourists who use their feet here) share the road with the motors. There’s a constant buzzing and hooting of motorbikes, slowing down, accelerating, adeptly dodging pedestrians and other motorbikes. Vietnamese motorbike drivers must have the best reactions in the world. You can tell a person who has arrived recently in Hanoi as he or she will wait patiently on the pavement for several minutes, nervously looking right and left, before finally venturing into the thick of the roaring stream of motorbikes. After China, there were many more Western faces, flushed with the heat and humidity and mostly looking rather overwhelmed. The streets are jammed with shops and often a whole row will all sell one thing: jewellery, household goods, gravestones... There are little pre-school plastic stools on every corner, presided over by a Vietnamese lady with her mobile kitchen selling noodle broth, chicken rice or baguettes filled with pork and spicy sauce. At night time there’s a street corner with a couple of establishments - effectively the ground floor of a house- serving home-brewed beer for about 20p a glass. Locals and tourists balance on the same kiddie stools, spilling out all over the pavement , in constant peril of being mown down by a wayward bike. I spent one morning in Hanoi at the ethnography museum, learning about the many tribes living in Vietnam and padding around in recreated traditional buildings with thatch roofs and bamboo floors, built on stilts, including the long house, where women sleep and another very tall house where the men gather. I was surprised later on, during my trip into the hill villages in central Vietnam that such buildings could still be found there and were in use.

People are ridiculously friendly, sometimes to the point of arousing one’s suspicion, which is probably well-founded as signs in the hostel warn of various scams and one taxi I took had a pimped metre that clocked up Vietnamese dong three times faster than it should have. Surprisingly though, when I refused to pay up the inflated amount, and handed over the sum I judged to be correct, the driver accepted it relatively cheerfully and with only mild protests. He’d spent the journey trying to distract me from his runaway metre by running through the names of English football teams, which had failed to engage my attention!

Tomorrow I escape from this mad city to Halong bay for two nights on a boat to see the limestone cliffs and go swimming, snorkeling, kayaking...

  • yey by Millie


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