Hanoi - Mopeds, mopeds, mopeds

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
Trip End Jun 27, 2009

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Touchdown Asia; the second phase of T.I.A. We're met off the plane by a friendly guy with a placard bearing my name, so far so good. The drive to Hanoi winds along the busy roads surrounded by rice fields, the workers all wearing conical hats, just like you see in the pictures. As you arrive in Hanoi you're immediately met by chaos and it's hard to work out whether the city is charming or unbearable. On the one hand the busy streets are filled with friendly locals all willing to help, cooking local cuisine by the roadside and offering rides on the cyclos. On the other hand, the roads are so busy with mopeds that crossing the street becomes an extreme sport, the locals throw food into the street everynight to be cleaned by the night workers (litter in Hanoi is like urban tumbleweed), the "restaurants" offer amongst other things: goat, dog, duck embryos and snake. Although I don't want to sound ignorant, these dishes become more unappetising when combined with the smells of rotting food; I want to eat the local food but without playing the food poisoning lottery. The Hoan Kiem Lake is the focal point of Hanoi and once you've crossed the Huc bridge (rising sun) you're met by the Ngoc Son Temple and its traditional surroundings, it seems like a million miles away from the noise and rush. The temple is a shrine to General Tran Hung Dao who defeated the Mongols in the 13th Century. This is definitely a welcome break for those who have just arrived in Hanoi, like us.

Not to be missed while in Hanoi is the water puppetry. This is as bizzare as it sounds. It started when puppeteers from the Red River Delta decided to soldier on entertaining despite the yearly floods. Now it's performed daily with wooden, mechanical puppets operated by puppeteers hidden behind a mesh screen, thus creating the illusion that the puppets are floating on water. More than once Charlotte and I glanced at each other and smirked, the "art form" is entertaining but so limited. But, when you look round at the wide-eyed Vietnamese kids enjoying every minute you see that it's every bit as clever as it was years ago.

We did have some great experiences with food whilst in Hanoi. We went to a cooking class where we had a personal tutor teach us how to prepare and cook traditional dishes such as spring rolls, chicken and catfish. You can find Pho everywhere in Vietnam and our hotel offered it for breakfast. It's a sort of noodle soup with chicken or beef served with onions and chilli. It's delicious and cheap. With every good meal there are good drinks. One of Hanoi's most famous institutions is Bia Hoi. For as little as 3000D (13p) you can sample the world's cheapest beer. In fact it's pretty good. Luckily, street corners are filled with backpackers downing glass after glass as the beer is brewed without preservatives and goes off quickly.  Charlotte and I sampled a couple of glasses each and were pleasently surprised (way nicer than Zulu beer). Anyway, who cares? it's 13p!

Two of our days in the Hanoi area were spent at Halong Bay, about three hours drive away. We booked onto a boat for $80 each overnight and had a great double room with a bathroom better than anywhere i've stayed. The site is entered to become one of the new natural wonders of the world and after visiting, it's hard to imagine it not winning. 3000 islands rise out of the east china sea and hundreds of boats sail between the beautiful rocks everyday.
Despite the number of fellow travellers its tranquility is its main attraction, we weren't bothered at all. As night fell we squid fished but I only managed to catch a coat hanger. We stepped off the boat onto sandy beaches and deep caves, the natural beauty of the place is incredible, although it risks going to ruin if proper restrictions aren't put into place to stop people writing on the rocks and chipping away souvenirs. The best way to see the beauty and chill in the stillness of the islands is definately by kayaking through the caverns into the huge open waters. Halong Bay is bliss.
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Where I stayed
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Prince 79 Hotel Hanoi on

Star Rating :
Add: 79 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 084.04. 3935 1776 /3926 0628
Fax: 084.04. 3926 0628
Online Reservation : 0942 006 888
Email: prince79hotel@yahoo.com
Email: prince79hotel@gmail.com

maiatt on

Very nice information. You can also find www.vietnamtouronsale.com

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