Taking a walking tour of a big city a few hours before sunrise can be an interesting way to explore it.
In September 2007, I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia via train from Budapest at 1:00am with absolutely no plan. I tried a few hostels/budget hotels and they were either full or closed. So, I ended up walking around the city with my heavy, stuffed backpack and a map for 3 hours taking in the "sights" of the capital, slept in a city park and took a bus to some random town on the coast. Flash forward to early 2009 and here I am again in a capital city before dawn, with a few hours to kill before checking into Hanoi Backpackers. Surprisingly, the morning markets were already getting underway, motorbike drivers were already fighting for customers, and a decent amount of traffic was flowing through the main streets. I desperately needed to stretch my legs, so accepting a motorbike ride was out of the question. It was nice to see a city in its quietest hours, especially in Vietnam where you can't go 3 seconds without hearing a horn honking.
Hanoi Backpackers Hostel was definitely a change from the type of guesthouse I had been staying at previously in my trip.
Multiple 12-bed dorm rooms, 8 computer stations, 2 bars, a movie room and a lobby constantly buzzing with backpackers of all shapes and sizes. The English-speaking staff are ready to help with tours, transportation, or general travel advice. I met another American (CU buff alum by the way) and we signed up for the "Snake Village" tour not really knowing what to expect, which turned out to be one of the best days on my trip.
2 Aussies, 2 American, and 2 Brits. All guys.
Team new world vs team old world in a snake eating and drinking extravaganza that I will always remember. Before the tour, we all decided that we were all going to try everything the Snake Village had to offer. This included holding snakes in our arms, drinking snake blood and bile,
eating fresh snake heart, devouring a full 5-course snake feast and downing multiple bottles of whiskey. The snake ribs and spring rolls were my favorite, the blood and the bile shots...eh, not so much. Throughout the day, we all acted as if we had been friends for years, talking about random things and consuming various substances for hours.
What happened after the Snake Village may only be known by observers and people we supposedly met.
The rest of my time in Hanoi was spent exploring sights and museums with the CU guy, a French girl learning Vietnamese Martial Arts, and a Vietnamese guy visiting from Saigon, playing badminton with locals and sitting at Bia Hois, the best people-watching activity in Hanoi. I could have done without the complimentry dried squid that left a terrible taste in my mouth but hey, I was curious.
The Museum of Ethnology was an interesting experience, especially learning the history of water puppet shows.
Between my two stints in Hanoi, I went to a little place called Ha Long Bay. I originally planned to go there on my own, but decided to book a tour through my hostel which was well worth doing...
Next Stop: Ha Long Bay
4:00am in Hanoi. Still dark. No sleep and back aching from the overnight train. I smell like cigarettes and rotten bananas. Nowhere near my hostel. I'm offered 20 motorbike rides. What to do?