Insanity vs Complete Serenity

Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
Trip End Dec 21, 2009

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Where I stayed
On a very beautiful boat!

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, October 30, 2009

First impressions of Hanoi was that it’s completely hectic. More like a long lasting one actually. And there are days it actually seems to increase those levels. Or perhaps those are simply the days when my tolerance is running low. I’m not entirely sure. I just know there are days when I’m flying through the city on a bike thinking how wonderful like is and then next I’m cursing the city for being what it is. But that just makes you appreciate the positives all the more and on the whole it’s a great and unforgettable experience.

Our first day was a bit of an experience with the combination of lack of sleep, being ripped off in the taxi from the bus station and the general overwhelmingness of the city! Once we’d located, checked into and inhabited the hostel it was time to brave the shower with the practically see through door before heading out into the madness for a wander round some markets which turned out to be the instigation in a certain fake watch fetish despite them being over all a bit of a disappointment. Full of not so delightfully tacky and sparkly Asian tat.

Lunch changed the general standard of the day though. Green Mango. Probably not a regular haunt for backpackers but a bit of indulgence every so often never hurt anyone. And to justify our splurge it still only cost us about 5. Including an after lunch cocktail!

The day concluded with warnings about storms/typhoons and an introduction to the soon to become regularly frequented Bia Hoi corner. Which is quite a place. It serves the cheapest alcohol I’ve come across throughout the entire world, it’s completely crazy as you sit on little plastic chairs (the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was about 8 and in primary school) on the side of the road in the middle of a busy crossroads and try to avoid, well everything really. Bikes, dragons, beggars, people selling things - for example: books, fruit, donuts, themselves, other people and of course the occasional ‘mystery being’ in your beer. You just know your day is on the right track when nothing dodgy appears in your beer, it’s relatively cold, you don’t get ripped off, run over and or hit by a bike. It’s a lovely place really. And if you stare at the Vietnam Airlines sign for long enough your sure to see a rat. However the best kebabs in Hanoi are sold just round the corner, you can buy ‘delicious chips’ if you dare from the lady with dodgy glasses or go healthy and get a lovely bowl of Pho just around the corner for a nominal price. What more could a person want? And if your lucky you can even narrowly avoid being smacked in the back of the head with a glass of pottery bowl if you by accident step into the next doors bia hoi and the women decide to get personal. Although I am yet to witness this. I just get dirty looks and they take my chair away and so the end result is you feel uncomfortable hovering over someone trying to maintain a conversation while they are 30cm above the ground and you’re not allowed to sit as you have accidentally bought from the wrong woman. So in the end you end up back at the original Bia Hoi and are forced to wave and hold a conversation over and through the multitude of bikes whizzing past. At the end of the day though it’s 10p a beer and your sure of some conversation with friends or randoms for that price too.

Then came the point in the day (one) when we got lost and the boys got all ‘we don’t need a map - we know where were going’ while me and Miriam tried to work out where on earth we were to no avail. To be fair no one actually told me they were following me and I was just aimlessly wandering in what I thought was the general direction of the hostel. Turned out in the end that it wasn’t but then people should tell me that they’re delegating important tasks to me rather than just assuming. We did eventually get back. And it’s so strange as I now know the streets like the back of my hand (until I get lost where I end up without the faintest idea where I am or how I got there - hence my number one rule for Hanoi - ALWAYS HAVE A MAP ON YOU). The day had finally come to an end and it was time to say goodbye to our new found friends or rather a see you back in Chiswick for a pint and a Thai. The world really is a small place!

Leaving Vince and Ritchie in the hostel myself, Miriam and Nathan headed out to Halong Bay despite the imminent storm warnings as they wouldn’t have had the chance to see it otherwise due their looming departure date. It was so beautiful. The weather admittedly wasn’t the very best it could have been hence the limited photos but it was worth it. We only got caught in one torrential downpour - went kayaking anyway as we were already wet and had immense fun jumping off the very top of the boat. Don’t know how tall it actually was but it was the highest thing I have ever jumped off that’s for sure! It took a while to pluck u the courage (yes I know I’ve jumped from 15,000 feet but it’s a bit different when you have a parachute attached to you!) eventually I jumped as when you have 20 people counting you down you just have to go without thinking about it. The scary part is the amount of time you have to think after jumping and before the anticipated smack. The thought process goes some what like this; ‘Ok I did it, I jumped, there’s everyone looking at me, I’m still falling, I’m STILL falling. I must look really silly. I’m still falling. Oh God this in going to hurt. I’m STILL …….. SPLASH. Ouch. And yes there goes my bikini.’

The boat we were on was AWESOME. It was like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean and the rooms were en-suite and very plush. I narrowly avoided having to share a double bed with a complete stranger and ended up just having to share a room which was a distinct improvement than bed while Miriam and Nathan were treated to a beautiful ‘couples room’ with their own little private deck. My random canoe/room mate was lovely though - an American embassy official who lived in Jakarta and was much more chilled out that you’d expect from an embassy official!

The evening deteriorated into a drinking game session and so when that lost it’s appeal spent the rest of the time chatting to Miriam (doing some final catching up before she left) and David our Mexican tour guide who’s living in Hanoi and said he’s introduce me to his friend teaching English in Hanoi when we got back. There was also a possibility of getting a job on the boat but however attractive a proposition it was thought teaching English would be a more rewarding experience for various reasons. Mainly culturally and also financially.

Halong bay itself is stunning. Would really love the chance to go back out in better weather before I leave as was going to go on and do an extra day on this island that the hostel own but what with the weather not being ideal and Miriam and Nathan leaving the following day I decided I’d prefer to go back to the city to say bye to them and get started with the job search. A vast bay with countless limestone features jutting out of the sea. There are small uninhabited beaches everywhere and it’s beautifully serene. We did later learn though that the night we had been out there, there had been a ship wrecked due to the weather and a bad anchoring position. There were a number of fatalities and on hearing this we were highly relieved that all we had woken up to in the morning (asides from sore heads in a number of cases) was the gentle lull of the engine and the lapping of water on the side of the boat as we had started moving. I actually woke up as some one had opened the cabin door (I think in an attempt to get me out of bed) and so opened my eyes to the back drop of the bay itself as we slowly glided past the imposing limestone features. It was perfect.

And there concludes my Halong Bay adventures. Only about a month after they actually happened! At least I’m still in the country though - there have been blogs written from entirely different continents so at least I’m still actually in Vietnam in this case. Getting a clearer picture every day of how the country works and gaining a better understanding of it’s tough people mainly due my teaching role. It’s a little strange - I’m supposed to be the teacher and yet I am constantly left in awe with how much I am learning about the culture from dealing with a complete range of ages and abilities of English. 3- mid 30’s at the moment. Also living where I do now helps enormously. I will leave it there for now but will continue with tales of life in Hanoi very soon!
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pipparush on

you'll never come home ...
it just looks incredible. You might fall in love with it forever .... what a crazy life .... just don't lose your sister in all that madness when she arrives !

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