Originally published on facebook – September 26, 2010 at 3:18am ·

HANOI – day one.

So, apparently when your flight leaves at 2:45m on September 21st, you shouldn’t show up at the airport at 11pm on September 21st. Yeah, oops. Fortunately for only $50 cdn I am soon placed on a flight leaving at 3:45am on Sept. 22. Unfortunately this means that instead of a 55 minute layover in Hong Kong airport I now have to kill 6.5 hours until I can catch my connecting flight to Hanoi. Double oops, and no upgrades either this time. However not too unpleasant though as I managed to sleep for most of my 13 hour flight, bringing me into HK airport at 8am, it was almost like starting a regular day. Easy on the jet lag. Little drawback to all this kerfuffle was that instead of arriving in Hanoi at noon I got in at 4:30pm.

I find the airport minibus to take me into Hanoi central, I’m crowded into the far back corner of the bus, this feels familiar I think. I am wide eyed on the ride into town, see my first water buffalo beside the highway and start to experience the craziest traffic possible. It’s indescribable, thousands of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles, cars, everybody’s horns blaring constantly, nobody stays in their lane, nobody seems to signal, everyone acts like this is perfectly normal. I don’t do it justice with words, it must be experienced to understand but I may never complain about Vancouver traffic again.

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I am unceremoniously dumped at the bus station near the Old Quarter in Hanoi, it looks like it’s easy to find a hostel on my map so I head out, only a few blocks I think. But apparently I have lost my map skills, it’s gotten dark as I walk, i don’t feel unsafe but I certainly think I should be there by now. A bicycle rickshaw guy sees me, “where you going?” I show him on my map and tell him where I think I am, he laughs, not a good sign and hows me where I actually am. So in the wrong direction it’s laughable. I pay him $3 to take me to the Hostel, oh well at least I tried.

I decide to stay at Hanoi Backpackers (original no?) am given a top bunk in an all girls dorm called “The Nunnery” *chuckle*. I shower and give you all a quick email home to let you know I am safe. Outside the hostel I met a girl from San Francisco, Nicole, she is Vietnamese American and my savior, she “speaks really good food”. We went around the corner for street food, sitting on low plastic stools at a grimy table I have seafood congee which costs me a whooping $1.75 cdn. Very early night to bed and I slept almost 12 hours.

HANOI – day 2.

Up early, 8:30am. Had free hostel breakfast, Nescafe coffee, baguettes with butter and jam and bananas. Started walking…..bought a little gift for my niece Helouise at a very cute shop on Nha Tho, it was made in Sa Pa (or near there anyways). Lot’s of other nice things. Walked to Hoan Kiem Lake, chatted with a couple middle aged South Korean guys who asked me to take their photo and then progressed to asking me to join them for drinks, as it was about 10am, I declined.

Wandered around the area of the lake and headed up towards Dong Xuan Market. On the way I found a street that was selling nothing but shoes, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, shops with shoes, but predominately ugly so was not tempted. I also passed by the Old City Gate without seeing it, oops. Streets around the market are full of food sellers, fruits, veg (many I don’t recognize), meats (no refrigeration). I watched a woman cutting the heads of frogs, they were still jumping around as she threw them, headless, into a basket. Ew. Quick browse through D.X. Market, revealed lots of crap, a million and one small things, candies sold individually, hair ties, a multitude of things I really don’t need. Streets around the market much more interesting. Lots of cooking supply shops, pots, pans, chef jackets etc.

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And then I got lost.

Ended up off my very mediocre little map. No panic, just keep walking into the sort of direction I think I should be going to get back onto the map. I end up on a road between the Hanoi Citadel and the Military Complex (these are, perhaps, the same thing). There are big walls on wither side of a very long road, I am stuck heading in this direction. Guys in uniforms blowing their whistles at me, waving for me to cross the road so I don’t walk in front of the entrances, guess I look pretty threatening. Finally I see an English couple headed towards me, they have a better map then me and help me figure out where I am.

Turns out I am very near the army museum, which is actually ON my map, joy! It was closed but from outside I took pictures of various Vietnamese and American planes, tanks and helicopters. Including one massive helicopter that looked to be the size of those Sea King(?) ones we have at home for rescue missions, but maybe even bigger then that, cool.

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Right next to the Army Museum was the Hanoi Flag Tower, it was closed also but I could still get a picture. It’s quite old from the looks of it but I have no idea of it’s significance, sorry. Right in front of the Flag Tower was a cafe, hot and sweaty and kinda needing a break. I sit down open the menu and find to my delight…carrot juice! Yay! My body was so happy.

From the cafe I decided to visit the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. There wasn’t much to my personal taste but it was interesting. A lot of soldier and war themed painting but surprisingly (to me anyways) only one showed a devastating scene of shattered trees, tanks rolling in, bombs exploding and planes dropping out of the sky…completely devoid of bodies or blood though. I sound morbid or something but I suppose I thought there would be more violence in the art of a country with such a violent history. There were a lot of scenes with soldiers in them though, eg: in a mountain hamlet at night, soldier playing with small child etc…. In the basement there was an historical ceramic exhibit, it didn’t excite me but I though Dad would have found it interesting and possibly inspirational however I was not allowed to take pictures.

After the Museum I was starving, had Chicken Pho and Mango juice. Strongly suspect the Pho had pork broth as it tasted sweet and my stomach was unhappy after. It went away soon enough. It’s likely that I will eat pork accidentally while in Vietnam I suppose.

Next I visited the Temple of Literature. It’s the country’s first national university and was built in the style of the 11th century, there are 5 courtyards and a variety of “gates” that you pass through. It was pretty, garden-like with lots of details to look at. There are Stella (statues) of turtles with massive headstone like rocks on their backs, they are representative of certain Doctors from the university. Many, many larger format Bonsai, took pics for Dad. A whole gaggle of art students were scattered around the grounds sketching, pretty talented bunch from what I could tell.

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Finally time to go back to the hostel, walked for over 6 hours, nestled into a cafe nearby having veggie spring rolls and a lemon ice with mint, yum!

Back at hostel later ran into Nicole. We hung out for a bit and then went to a restaurant called Quan An Ngon. It was a large open space with tons of shared tables and benches. Around the perimeter of the room were street stall type kitchens,, you could go look at your food. Massive menu. We had shrimp paste around sugar cane sticks, a crepe with shrimp and bean sprouts (bahn xeo), sauteed greens, and shrimp and yam pancakes (kinda deep-fried). This massive meal cost about $4-5 us each. Back to hostel after and exhausted we were both asleep by 10pm.

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Random Observations.

– Almost everyone wears a motorcycle helmet, was surprised.

– There are areas or street for certain shops eg: the shoe street, cookware, paint, paint and more paint.

– 1.5 liters of water for $0.50cdn

– Most motorcycles riders are wearing pollution masks.

– As in Latin America, whole families fit onto one tiny scooter, amazing.

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