Leaving Hong Kong was both sad and exciting, we had enjoyed it more than we thought that we would, but were excited to be heading back into the 'other Asia' which seems more vibrant, chaotic and exciting than ordered Hong Kong. We managed to fit in one last dim sum at the airport.
As soon as we landed in Hanoi we knew were back, the 40km trip from the airport was as interesting
as ever, with taxi driver used the 'magic horn' style of driving, which means that as long as you have one thumb pressing the horn then everything will be OK, even if there's nothing else on the road. We've heard the style of driving in Vietnam being described as 'driving with Buddha', which means that you drive with a big dose of good luck. The basic theory being everybody else on the road needs to accommodate for you, if you pull onto a main road then the onus is on all the other traffic to get out of your way. On one trip we saw a car reversing down the motorway onto incoming traffic, I'm not too sure why, maybe the driver missed his exit but even our cab driver shook his head in disbelief.
Our second stop in Hanoi was always going to be brief and to be honest neither of us were overly concerned about that. We hadn't got off to a good start with Hanoi and this time was no different - our hotel had sold our room. But, they could put us up at their 'affiliated' hotel down the road. We could only assume that the hotel we spent the night in had recently been converted from an inner-city shelter for flea ridden dogs, and doubled as a half-way house to teach the Vietnamese how to rip tourists off.
We consoled ourselves by heading out to Bobby Chin's, who is South East Asia's answer to a celebrity chef and runs a great restaurant on the shores of Lake Kiem in the middle of Hanoi's Old Quarter. The meal was delicious, the only thing that we didn't like about it was that we had to leave the calm sanctuary of the restaurant to attempt to be run-down/ripped-off/sold-to by the rest of the inhabitants of the city.
We spent our last day in Hanoi trying to find something positive about the place. We were hard pressed. Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum was shut, The Temple of Literature sold postcards and the One Pillar Pagoda was a bit of a let down. Ho Chi Minh's house was fairly interesting, apart from the bit where we got shouted at by a guard for looking like we were going to walk in an anti-clockwise direction instead of clockwise. We consoled ourselves with a nice meal once again, this time at KOTO's (Know One Teach One), which is a restaurant set up to teach under-privileged children restaurant skills. It's been running for about ten years now and seems to be an all round success.
If you're in Hanoi and need a respite from the general crapness of the place I can highly recommend five things:
1. Eat at Bobby Chin's
2. Eat at KOTO's. A great meal and a great idea.
3. Drink beer hoi. Brewed daily, cheap and a great way to forget your worries while sat on a ridiculously small plastic chair.
4. Have a bit of fun by walking across the reams of traffic on the crazy roundabout by the north of the lake. I tried to get Sam to cross blind-folded by offering her 20,000 dong but she quickly realised that this was no more than $1.75, and sadly, neglected my offer.
5. Walk around the Old Quarter and try to guess which street you're in (is it Hat St, Shoe St, Food St?). We were lucky enough to stay in Hang Mam otherwise known as - Fermented Shrimp St.