We caught a late sleeper bus last night to drive the 12 hours to Hanoi. We had been warned that this was the part of the trip most complained about as the Open Tour Bus (which we have not been catching - $22 to hop on/hop off anywhere the bus runs) and the An Phu bus company have very, very bad reviews. We considered the train but even the train takes about a day and since we didn't much mind the last sleeper bus we decided to go with it. Sleep wasn't easy for me; I was right at the back on the bottom in a set of 4 seats that were more like a giant double bed for 4 people in a cubby hole. It required some folding of my limbs to get in I can tell you. I was sharing with a family, and my immediate bed partner was a 9 yr old Vietnamese boy who spent much of the night trying to rest his knee on my leg, trying to touch my hair and even on one occasion pressing his finger on my forehead... I should be grateful I was not one of the poor American girls who found themselves sleeping on cushions on the floor between the beds since the bus was over subscribed!
Ultimately we arrived in Hanoi in the rain cold and tired, so we jumped in a taxi with a bunch of other easily suggestible bus passengers to another hotel tout to the old quarter where we were served coffee and breakfast while we waited for rooms to be cleaned.
Once again we seem to have come out tops though at the Hello Vietnam Darling backpacker guest house.
Water puppet theatre (just missed the fiery dragons!)
After a nap we set out for a patisserie place called Baguette and Chocolate; a cooking school by the same principals of Fifteen by Jamie Oliver at home. Sadly our closest branch had closed and moved 4km away so we settled with a fanta at a cafe and some goodies at a passing bakery. Vietnam does good cake.... From here we had to change up money ready for Laos, not always the easiest of things to accomplish unless at a branch bank that can offer that service, so sometimes we have to wander far and wide. Incom bank had us sorted with no commission and it seemed our luck was in today as every last thing we've been looking for turned up. In 10 days the streets have been lined with drinks vendors, cigarette vendors, fruit vendors and street kitchens steaming with hanging chickens and odd-looking vegetables, but the streets in Hanoi were like a treasure trove (but ironically with NO drinks vendors). We needed a sticker for Zoe's diary to remind her of Vietnam, we've never seen a stationary shop, but suddenly there was a street of stationary shops and literally as we lamented the absence of a sticker shop spotted a shop of stickers.... what are the chances? I bought long-sleeved tops for Thailand as I have been unable to find any that weren't designer rip-offs with designer prices, and a magnet, my usual souvenier of countries.
We wandered to the lake in the Old Quarter and from here to the Water Puppet Theatre. Vietnam is unique in having this beautiful art and we had been told the best shows were in Hanoi. As we approached the window though, the notice said every show was booked out for today and tomorrow, but we asked and she said we could go to the show starting now if we wished. Hurrah!
The 'stage' was water, and the musicians sat at the side of this. The backdrop was like a pagoda and had flaps just above the water which concealed the puppeteers and allowed the marionettes to dance through the openings. The programme was a series of short pieces accompanied by music; a boy playing the flute on a water buffalo, the sacred animals dancing, harvest, the fairy dance, the return of the sword by the golden tortoise (legend) etc. It was sweet, well 'danced' and often quite amusing. Photography was supposed to incur a fee but no one seemed to be enforcing it.
After the show we booked a city tour for tomorrow and then went to dinner at the Cyclo restaurant. This was unlike the Cyclo cafes in the previous cities in being quite a lot more upmarket. We deliberated about the price a bit but the menu was so delicious-looking that we couldn't resist, and took our places in some converted cyclos cum chairs. Zoe had liver pate with grand marnier to start and duck terrine with goats cheese in potato rosti and apple sauce, I had Hanoi shrimp delicacies to start - shrimp dumplings, spring rolls and battered shrimps to start, and stuffed crab Hanoi style (with mushrooms, onion and tomato) with rice.
Back at the hostel the staff and friends were celebrating a birthday, so the reception area was covered with men, food, bowls, cans of soda and beer. They wanted us to join us though we declined, though I didn't escape without being hugged and kissed, my third and fourth kisses from men in Vietnam today. Obviously I am emitting some kind of ninja pheromones, since the toothless man down at the lake selling 'grass grasshoppers' also kissed me, and the reception boy this morning. Zoe has entrusted me to deal with all hotel business from now since they like me so much....