Good Morning Vietnam!

Traffic in Hanoi's Old Town

Again, couldn’t resist the title. That shirt is quite common here. Speaking of here, I made it to Hanoi, Vietnam! And boy oh boy this place is different! I’m kind of glad I got used to Thailand first, because it is really calm, at least compared with the utter chaos that is Hanoi! Lonely Planet wasn’t kidding when they described it as a sensory overload…there is no off-switch on the sound track to Vietnam, they said…so true!

Anyways, I began my morning in Bangkok where I did succeed in buying U.S. Dollars (which are reccomended for Vietnam as the currency isn’t worth much…16,000 dong to the dollar…that’s even weaker than the Lao kip!) which were actually fairly easy to come by, as they were not in Hua Hin. The new aiport is quite a ways from the city (almost 30km I think) and it took an hour and 350 baht to get there! There was much concern that the new airport wouldn’t be ready in time (it opened on September 28) and I gotta say that it still had that fresh paint smell becuase they were still working on it! Many signs were also computer printed signs taped on walls! It’s definitely an imporvement over the old airport though, and hopefully they’ll be fully finished soon.

My flight was fine. I flew Air Asia, which is this great budget airline. My round trip to Hanoi costs US$140; I’ve never gotten a domestic flight that cheap before in the U.S. Anyways budget airline here means they don’t give you anything, including drinks. They were available for sale though at “very reasonable prices” which meant about 3-4 times what they would have cost in a store! The one eventful moment of the flight was during our ascent we took a bit of a sudden dive that my stomach definitely felt. We made it just fine though.

Immigration was smooth and I exchanged money. It is kind of funny because I exchanged US$70 and got over 1 million dong! I decided to try my luck on the public bus into town, which at 5,000 dong was a pretty amazing deal (as Lonely Planet says, probably one of the cheapest airport runs in the world)! Upon crossing the Red River the bus had reached the end of the line.

I had a place to stay in mind and hoped a Xe Om (motorbike taxi…literally you sit behind the driver. They’ve got them in Thailand too) though I think the place he initially took me wasn’t the place I was looking for…they were full anyways so he took me somewhere else that had rooms for US$6 (that’s cheap here). It was nice so I started checking in, only to learn that if I didn’t book a tour somewhere with them, the room would have cost me US$10 per night! I didn’t want to put up with that so I hoped a Cyclo (bycicle taxi…you sit in front of the rider) to the street I’d originally wanted to stay on and, after finding many places that were full, found an available room for US$5, complete with satellite TV…no a/c but that’s fine.

A little about Hanoi and particularly Hanoi traffic. It is absolutely insane! The roads are complete and utter chaos and they make the Thais look like the best drivers in the world! Literally the traffic patterns are big accidents on the verge of happening constantly, yet miraculously they don’t. I can’t even really describe it, but I got so fascinated just watching the traffic pattern. Forget lanes, or sides of the road, or even traffic lights (though they occasionally exist). There are motorbikes, bicycles, and Cyclos flying every which way, cutting each other off everywhere or driving across the intersection while the traffic is going the other way (meaning people from all sides are moving simultaneously. It takes skill to cross the street here, and I found the only way I could really do it was to wait for a Vietnamese person to cross and then cross with them, as they seem to instinctually know how to meander across the street (slowly, very slowly). Hanoi is also loud! There’s an endless din of motorbike engines and horn honking (and I mean non-stop). Good thing I brought earplugs!

Aside from the traffic, the city has quite a charming sort of look to it. I agree with a description in Lonely Planet of it having a Parisian sort of look with an Asian sort of feel. I’m staying in the Old City, which is comprised of quaint little streets, some of which, as sad as it is to say, remind me of walking through some of the European-themed Las Vegas casinos…except I’m actually there (well not Europe, but in that sort of real architecture). It is definitely a picturesque city.

It is a bit amazing how important of a figure Ho Chi Minh is here. He’s on all the money and there are many photos of him everywhere. In Thailand I’m used to seeing little shrines with Buddhas in them, but here there are little shrines with Buddhas and figures of Ho Chi Minh in them! Tomorrow I’m planning on heading over to the complex that houses his mausoleum (as he is preserved like Lenin is, though Lonely Planet says the mausoleum is closed a few months each year, usually around now so his corpse can go to Russia for maintenance) and a bunch of government stuff and museums. Didn’t do too much today but walk around the Old Quarter a bit. I did see the pretty Hoan Kiem Lake which houses a Pagoda in the middle.

A note about Vietnamese food: I’d heard that the Vietnamese eat some rather odd things, and I did see some menu examples of that. These include pigeon, frog, turtle, snail, and the strangest thing…cock’s testicle. None of those were high on my list!

Anyways, it is so great to be back on the road again! I could happily do this full time…well, maybe some day. Anyways, I’m pretty beat so I should probably head to bed. We’ll see how effective those earplugs are. I’m glad I got a guesthouse in an alley…less noise!

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