Hanoi, Vietnam

Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
Trip End May 01, 2008

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Because of a flight delay of nearly an hour and a half, we arrived in Hanoi close to 11pm. Being budget travellers, we opted to take a minibus (3USD) instead of a taxi (10USD) into Hanoi. Little did we know that the minibus doesn't run on a schedule. Instead the driver waits until the bus is full before going. We were the second people on the bus, which meant a long wait. After gaining passengers then losing passengers then gaining them back again, we were still waiting. I saw the lights go off in one wing of the airport meaning the last flight had arrived and got ready for the minibus to go. Nope, still more waiting. After about 45 minutes, the driver decided that he wasn't going to get more fares and decided to go. He asked everyone where their hotel was and feigned knowing each one. At some point during the trip the driver was on his cell phone. Next thing we know a buddy jumps into the van and starts asking us which hotel we were in. Again we repeated the names and sure enough we were caught in the famous Hanoi scam: tourists arrive in minibus at a hotel bearing the names of each of the passengers mentioned hotels. Being late at night and not knowing where they are said passengers are not in a position to argue and accept a room. Fortunately for us, this hotel was fairly clean and relatively safe.

The next morning we set out to find our planned guest house because we were told that if we wanted to stay at our present establishment, we would have to join them on a tour. Not optional. The hotel we were at was clearly marked on our map and we used that as our starting reference. At this point we didn't know that we were in an unidentified location. According to the map we were just down the block from where we wanted to go. How hard it is to find where you are going when you don't know where you are starting from. In between being asked by cyclo (cycle with two wheel and a large seat in front and the pedaler at the back) drivers,  motorcycle drivers, fruit vendors and book vendors to use their services, we had to stop and ask for directions. We were pointed in a diagonal line through buildings and streets. Eventually, we found the most round about way and checked in. With that done, we had to find our way back to the undisclosed location of our previous hotel.

After dropping off our bags, we were off to explore the town. First order though, lunch. We stopped at the first place we saw, just happened to be a space between two buildings that a woman had set up her food stall with stools, cutlery, plates/bowls and all. We didn't know what to order but that was ok as there was only one thing on the menu, bun cha. A bowl of soup, a side plate of rice noodles, another with cilantro, mint, and other greens, and a third with BBQ beef. Delicious.

The first thing to get used to when getting around Hanoi is the traffic. Traffic lights are rare and are rarely obeyed, unless there is a cop at the intersection. The main thing to keep in mind is slow and steady and they will swerve around you. The worst thing to do is stop like a deer in headlights when the horns start blaring.  At times, we let the old ladies guide the way across the street, occasionally they tried to charge us for the service. One of the attractions in the Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem lake. People come to the lake to stroll, relax and perform interesting excercises.  Also on the lake is Ngoc Son Temple. Built in the 19th century on a small island on the lake, it was used to worship one of Vietnam's literary intellectuals and also a war hero that freed the Vietnamese from Mongolian invaders. There is a small wooden bridge leading to the temple and the temple gates are adorned with Chinese style plaster reliefs. Our walk about town led us to the opera house.   A very interesting building set behind a roundabout. On our way we were fortunate to see one of the many banners proclaiming the strength of the nation. Other things we saw were women balancing baskets like scales on their shoulders, baskets on top of their heads, and a pig on a scooter. We continued on the other side of the lake along side roads to the cathedral. It was closed so we could only admire it from outside. The barricades infront of the cathedral weren't stopping the boys from playing badminton at the top of the steps.  
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