Views from the coach
bus from Nanning to Hanoi took about 10 hours, and was remarkably
simple, considering we had to cross the border in the middle! We got
off the bus, and a little golf buggy took us to a run down building,
where some guards asked for money to stamp our visa to say we were
healthy enough to enter!?! It was only pence, so we really weren't
too worried. Back on the bus, and the scenery seemed to have changed
Look at the blur of motorbike going through the people?!?!
Where before we were driving through
lots of 'nothing', now there was green EVERYWHERE. Mountains popped
up out of nowhere, and there were huge stretches of rice paddies
complete with workers wearing conical hats. It was so pretty, it's a
shame that we couldn't get out and look, but we'll have to make do
with hastily taken photos through the bus windows.
When we arrived at the bus station we
realised that we were still quite far out of town, so would need to
get a cab down to the Old Quarter where our hostel and most of the
action was. Literally as soon as my foot touched the floor to get off
the coach, I was accosted by a persistant little man who drove me
mad instantly. We hadn't even got our bags off, and had no idea where
we were, but he wouldn't stop saying 'taxi, taxi, taxi'.
Do you want to buy postcards?
We had no
Vietnamese money, so made our way up the road to a bank Lisa had seen
on our way past. This was confusing in itself, as 1 pound is 33,000
Dong. So we each got 2 million (!!!!) out of the bank and turned
round to be greeted once again by our little grinning taxi friend. In
the end we went with him anyway, as we did need a taxi and we
bartered him down on his price a bit. It wasn't until later that we
realised he wasn't even a proper taxi, as he had no markings on the
car, plus the back door handle was falling off......oh well!
A quick comment about Hanoi traffic is
probably needed here. We feared for our lives several times in China,
they appeared to have no rules of the road, and sometimes drove down
the wrong side if the mood took them. That was nothing, not a patch
on Hanoi. We couldn't decided if they were the worst or best drivers
in the world, there are hundreds and hundreds of motorbikes, and the
only rule is, there are no rules!!
Crossing the road started off as impossible, turned into terrifying,
and then we started to understand.
You literally just GO. There were
times when there were so many bikes, that it was the equivalent of
crossing a motorway with your eyes closed. But they swerve around
you, you just walk down the road, and they all swerve. We found it
actually far more dangerous to look, as if you hesitate or faulter,
then they don't know which way to go round you. All I kept thinking
was 'if my mum could see how I'm crossing the road, she'd have a
heart attack' (yes I took a video to show later!!!). Walking on the
pavement was no safer, as the bikes pull up often, they even pull
their bikes INTO shops and restaurants!! Their safety mechanism is
the horn, which they make full use of. I have never seen such madness
and heard such a racket in all my life!!
The lake looking surprisingly beautiful!
hostel was down a 'quiet' haha side street near St Joseph Cathedral,
a completely bizzare thing to see in the middle of Asia.
inside one day and it was exactly the same atmosphere as in a
cathedral in England, very strange and a bit unsettling as we knew
what chaos was going on outside. The Old Quarter of Hanoi is centered
around Hoan Kiem Lake, so we wandered down, and were immediately
accosted by a woman selling postcards. Sarah entertained her for
quite some time, and we did get a good deal in the end, but I don't
think our vendor was particularly pleased with our insistance! It
became a real pain being round the lake, as people were constantly
coming up to sell you things, and wouldn't always accept 'no
thankyou' as an answer.
St Joseph Cathedral
as annoying were the vendors carrying fruit in baskets. They looked
typically Vietnamese, with the conical hat and baskets of fruit so
at first it was quite nice to see them.
People in Vietnam really DO
wear those hats, it is not simply a stereotype used for the tourists'
benefits. However, we soon learnt to avoid 'pineapple' ladies who
tried to put their basket on your shoulder so that you could take a
photo and then pay them for the privalege. I really dislike that
about vendors here and in China, they have no qualms about touching
you, grabbing your arms, stroking your shoulder, *shudder* although
the whizzened old lady who hit me with her hat as I walked past and
didn't put money in it did make me laugh, sort of.
has such a lot of 'recent history', so we were really interested to
go to the prison, or the 'Hanoi Hilton' as it was jokingly refered to
by American POWs.
The prison was originally built by the French to
house Vietnamese revolutionaries who had plans to overthrow them.
This was what much of the exhibits were about, and it was in parts
quite graphic. The way they were treated was appauling, and models of
Vietnamese prisoners had been set up in eerie looking poses so that
you could visualise the setting. The latter half of the exhibition
was related to the Vietnam War (or American War as it was known),
where the prison was used to hold American pilots who had been gunned
down. The Vietnam War is really not my field of expertise, but when
they showed photos of happy US soldiers playing table tennis and
having a dance to some music, accompanied by information boards about
how well they were treated and how everyone was one big happy family,
I did think they might have bent the truth JUST a little. A big fuss
was made about how US senator John McCain was held there, and they
even had apparent photos of him being 'rescued' by the Vietnamese in
the sea, and his army suit on display.
Want a hat?? Yes we bought one, not from him though!
It was all a bit weird and
resulted in Sarah and Lisa having a VERY long winded debate about
human nature and all things philosophical, during which I soothed
myself with happy hour beers.