Hanoi is completely mental

Hanoi Travel Blog

 › entry 17 of 26 › view all entries
Got my flight from Vientiane on the afternoon of Thursday...walked across the tarmack to a tiny little 'Laos airlines' plane, i was sitting next to an old Laos woman going on holidy to Hanoi for 3 days (must be similar toa weekend break to Barcelona or Amsterdam for us!) and chatted to her.  Plane fine, even got a sandwich on the 1hr 20min flight, just the desent which was terrifying, pilot slammed on the breaks and seemed to be nose diving towards the ground as going down through clowds, very bumpy and then the plane suddenly swerved to the left.  Very scared thinking i was about to die!  But it landed ok...tagged on to 2 aussie and 2 enlish guys to get a taxi from the airport into city centre (45km)...we got a "VIP" taxi...big mistake.  We had the driver and this dodgy Vietnamese guy with an 80s style suit jacket on both in the car with us...when we got to the bridge to cross, the accompanying guy said we had to pay the fare on top of the $10...we said we'd never agreed that and one english guy who lives here says he's never done it before.  The dodgy suit guy just went mental and had a fit at us (thought he was going to cry)...saying he was going to turn round and take us bak to the airport, this was a VIP taxi not just an ordinary that's what he did, went all the way back to the airport got everything out and then got into a normal taxi (looked almost exactly the same).  So had my first taste of scamming etc that I have heard so much about.  
Made it to the 'Backpackers hostel' recommended to be an American called Keith in Vientienne.  Very nice hostel, clean, modern, free breakfast and internet, very central in Old Quater (next to St Josephs Cathedral (strange to see a church again after all the temples - walked in to Mass on Thursday evening, only to be stared at and out of the building!) with an Aussie running it, + English and a Canadian....rop bunk in a room of 10.  So exhausted each day by the madness of Hanoi that i slept soundly for 3 nights, not disturbed by anyone coming etc - a miracle!  First evening I walked around the lake and tried to cross a few roads (this is a big event in itself!) and ate pizza in a restaurant, playing christmas tunes sung in Vietnamese such as Jingle Bells. On the Friday I attempted to visit a few museums - first the Hoa Lo Prison Museum where the French brutally kept Vietnamese at the beginning of the centuy up to the 50s - nto much of the building left, but saw some of the cells, a guilotene, and lists of food they used to have to survive on, oh and where around 100 people escaped, through the sewer.  I then walked to the 'Women's museum' - extremely hard to identify places in this city as not large signs and such a crammed together city - walked 2 blocks too far - very tiring as it takes about 10mins to cross each road and get heart palpitations each time i do it! Museum focused on the female Vietnamese input in the Vietnam war - lots of photos and clothes they used to wear, sons letters written to their mothers etc.  I then walked down to the small island on the Hoan Kiem lake, crossed the oriental bridge, looked around the small temple called Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) temple - it's amazing how different their temples are to Thailand and Laos - lots of plastic flowers, ornate vases, incense, offerings of beer and wine and anything else they think the Buddha would enjoy i guess! Saw the massive preserved turtle that lived in the lake around 70 years ago - absolutely massive - this matches the myth that a huge turtle came from the depths of the lake and grabbed a sword off a warrior to return it to some kingdom (didn't read story that closely!).  I then went back to have a break at the hostel - the noise, beeping from the motorbikes is intense.  And you think you are safe on the pavement only to find the bikes come up on it to jump all the traffice - aghhh!!!  Walked further into the Old Quarter - visited Memorial house - traditional Vietnamese house, which has been preserved - lots of beautiful ornaments and plants, beds and wall hangings.  Then on to the oldest temple in Hanoi - Bach Ma Temple.  This has another story attached to it, something to do with a white horse - a plastic replica is inside.  The temples are soo elaborate - painted rich red, wooden chinese carved doors, huge altars again with the biggest vases, and incense sticks constantly burning - chinese influence seems so much stronger in Vietnam.  I then went on to the massive indoor market - hundreds of stalls selling materials, clothes...more for the Vietnamese than the tourists.  After walking through this I realised i still had to make my way back to the hostel - I nearly felt as if i couldn't face it again...every corner there are guys offering to take you on their motorbikes.  I decided to walk, I think i encountered the worst street - couldn't even get on the pavement as goods/people/mini-makeshift restaurants/motorbikes were all positioned here - so walking on the road praying one of the hundred motorbike wouldn't hit me!
In the evening I went to the barbeque on top of the hostel - beer and burger for 45 000 dong.  Chatted to 2 very nice American girls - Amber and Laura - ended up going to the street with a number of bars where we sat and had a drink - we made a semi plan to meet up in Cat Ba Island in the next couple of days.
On Saturday I booked myself on to the Perfume Pagoda tour - $19 for a day trip - first a bus 2 hours to the massive mountain range, a Vietnamese woman rowed 4 of us in a tiny tin boat for about half an hour - along the river running between the mountain ranges - impressive!  Very hard seats though.  Very strange group - made up of 2 south africans, 2 greek, ad aussie family, an old german guy and me!  Walked to one of the many Pagoda temples, ate lunch where I had my first taste of the spring rolls they eat everywhere - delicious!  We all voted to get the newly built cable car up through the mountains, as opposed to the 2 1/2 hour walk. Great views of the valley, and then guided to sacred spot - massive cave, down a huge staircase, lots of incense burning - where the name perfume pagoda comes from.  Then decided to make the walk back down to the base rather than the cable car - did it with an australian family.  Thn back on the tin boats, with a crazy  German guy joking all the way!  Back in Hanoi I walked around a liitle - finding the cinemathque cinema in the old quater - very hard to find but what a find!  Off the road in a quiet court yard, fairy lights and very french in feel - i must go back!
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photo by: mario26