Day 2 (09/08/2010)
Hello Hanoi, I hope I have a better experience this time round. I’m giving you a second chance, something I don’t always do. (I didn’t enjoy my first trip to the city roughly nine months prior.)
It starts in the backpacker’s hostel where at 7:30Am I’m one of the last of the dorm to wake up and climb out of bed.
I have made a mistake in packing; too many socks, not enough shirts. I figured three shirts… 11 days… buy one or two as souvenirs… I’d be ripened but acceptable. One problem. Humidity. Hanoi’s damn humidity. It’s so steamy-sticky (steacky? stimy?) that two shirts a day are pretty much mandatory. I’m going to be beyond ripe… closer to festering I suspect.
Okay, impending mini-ramble.
I used to believe in pure solo travelling. Doing it all on my own. Making my own way there, asking few directions, working it out by myself. I don’t dislike that philosophy and it has its merits and I still fully support going off the main roads, meeting the locals and leaving the cozy confines of all inclusives but… when I have a limited time there are things I want to do and see. I will hit the highlights and with the extra time take a path or two that looks less traveled. I want the local knowledge and experience. I don’t want to have to find every route, every hostel, every excursion and every museum. So take some of my money and do the tedious administration and transportation so I can rid a camel on the steppes, sleep on a boat amongst the karsts see a hill tribe’s market or sleep in a ger. I’ll find the time to wander the narrow alleys and dine with the locals.
Hence why I sat down at the hostel reception and said, “I want to go to Halong Bay and Sapa. I want to sleep on a boat, visit Cat Ba Island and sleep with a hill family near Sapa and do some treks.”
And Rian gave me my options. I made my decisions and he fulfilled them. At least until he had to charge me an extra $60 for my cruise but since he’s a good guy and a good tour guide he only charged me $30 and gave me two bonus drink tickets to the rooftop bar. (Due to technical difficulties that meant I had to be upgraded.)
That sorted, I have one goal for today in Hanoi.
I was tempted to only bring flipflops from Korea but since I knew I’d be hiking the hills of Sapa I wore my trainers. I met Ade at the hostel, who looks vaguely Middle Eastern but calls Minnesota home. He needs flipflops too – tragic swimming in Halong Bay Accident. Why does no one think of the flipflops when rushing for the ship back to shore?
Luckily Hanoi has a shoe-making market. Ade wants to pay nothing (60 000 Dong = $3) for his, he eventually settles on a pair. Me, my shopping philosophy differs. I want a pair that fit but have a misspelled designer brand on them. Comverse, Abibas are early contenders but the big winner… since they also FIT were my shiny, new, sleek, black… Celvin Klains!
150 000 Dong? Hell no! 100 00 Dong and we have a deal!
The shoe seller made money and I bought a super cool souvenir for about $5US. (Plus I knew they weren’t really real CK shoes.)
Ok Hanoi, it’s not yet noon and I’ve nearly forgiven you.
Ade heads back to the hostel but I need to withdraw some more Dong since the tours I booker were cash only. Doh. On the upside I withdraw 4 000 000 Dong (just over $200 US) and receive the added bonus of a bank slip showing how much money I have left in my Canadian account… in Dong.
320 000 000 Dong!
Holy crap, I feel flush! I wanna be a Vietnamese millionaire. Oh, wait. I am.
Time for lunch. An easy choice as I head back down the dark alley where my last Hanoi experience of the surreal kicked off, the little shack of fried tofu with Michael from Sweden. And it’s still damn cheap and damn tasty – fried somemeat (a traveler’s delicacy), tofu, rice noodles, lime and pepper dipping sauce and mint. Then a monsoon squall rolls through. It doesn’t last though, an hour tops.
Museum time. The history museum and… it’s a refreshing change because it put a rosy face no the history of Vietnam. There are some good ‘old finds.’ It is a beautifully designed building which actually slightly overwhelms the contents. There are beautifully carved wooden statues of Indian and Buddhist influence but the unquestioned highlight has to be the map of the ‘world’ during the Mongolian Empire showing how all the world fell before teh might of Chinngis Khan… except for Vietnam, who managed to repel those damn, dirty Mongols.
So… to the world… please… realize finally that the Vietnamese are their own proud, distinct, free people. They will resist ANY foreign occupation with all their hearts and souls, minds and bodies. They’ve successfully repelled; the Mongols, the Chinese, the Khmers, the French, the Japanese, the French (again), the Americans and the Chinese (again).
This is a wonderfully independent country.
And it always will be.
I spent a few minutes in the museum gift shop buying nothing but teaching the girl there the English word raincoat.
Yay! Fun moto ride through Hanoi during rush hour. I’m getting old, or lazy, or generous since I don’t even haggle the 30 000 Dong price of a ride to the hostel.
Hanoi Night 2
Owen (Ireland) is a quality guy. He’s 26 and well traveled. A friend of his shows up who is 18 from England. They met in South America! The world is a small place, Sam turns out to be old for his years as he’s easy to talk to. The world gets smaller as Owen meets the sister of a mate from school. Somehow we end up at an Irish Pub “Finnegans” where he chats up the sister’s friend who grew up probably 10 minutes away from him in Dublin. Long way to go for a first date, Russel and Laurie will approve.
The world gets smaller yet again, as someone calls out “Byron” in a thick, Afrikaans accent.
Bertus! Conrad’s chingu in South Korea who I met at a world cup party. Sorry Bertus, I totally wouldn’t have recognized you. Bertus is quality, here’s how… daft? deft? I am. I forget my knew friends to catch up with Bertus. Oh and his girlfriend knows me from Teacher Orientation.
(Apparently dancing like an imbecile on-stage is memorable.)
I… need to be less me. NAH!
My life is too amazing to chance.
Finnegan’s closes and I’m tempted to continue the night but the shuttle to Halong Bay leaves at 8AM and I don’t like the vibe I’m getting from the group. This night has messy scrawled across it in permanent red marker. So Bertus and I part ways.
I promptly miss the street the hostel is on and spend half an hour wandering the late night streets of Hanoi. When I stumble across railway tracks I know I’ve gone WAY too far. One touch of luck later… I spy Westerners down a side street… which happens to be the street my hostel is on.
And… time for bed at 1am.
Oh and as I opted for home, I saw a happily liquid Owen heading onwards towards the nightclubs.