November 24, 2010
Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam. After a long day’s travel, I’ve arrived at a very Westernized hotel in the middle of Hanoi.
The staff are friendly and speak some English. It is easy to communicate although I always get suspicious and nervous when they ask to take my passport and keep it for
some time. In an effort to adjust to the timezone, I do my best to stay awake. It is very difficult and I lose track of what meal I’m supposed to be eating. Is it dinner time?
Did I already have dinner today? Should I stay awake to eat ‘dinner’ at ‘dinner time’ tonight? I choose to eat something even though I’m not that hungry. I think it was the
right choice since I didn’t wake up starving this morning.
My first day in Hanoi has been pretty low key. I’m overwhelmed by the advertising and street traffic. I find the city
loud and difficult to navigate. There are a lot of peole here…I’m told about 8 million in Hanoi alone. Thankfully, the adventures have been kept to a minimum.
Fying into Hanoi was uneventful. Eva air has been a good airline to fly and thankfully, for this 3.5 hour flight from
Taipei to Hanoi, they served a meal. I will try to speak frankly and honestly about my experience and I mean no disrespect to anyone or any culture. My first issue with
my travels is the food. I already know I’m going to have a hard time eating. Although I can be adventurous with meals, I am keenly aware that I am not overly adventurous with
Asian foods. Not only is the culture foreign to me, but the flavors, texture and food combinations are, too. Take for example the fish in porridge breakfast served on the plane.
I was not brave enough to sample it simply because the aroma that came up from the de-foiling wretched my stomach.
This has also been the case with other samplings of foods that appear ‘normal.’
As I snack on a Luna Bar for breakfast, I become less concerned about my breakfast options, which turn out to be toast, jam, coffee and some watermelon. I wonder how long I can make these Luna Bars stretch.
Customs went smoothly as did my bag arrival. Upon exiting into the main terminal, I am greeted by a man with my name on a sign.
He doesn’t speak too much English and I get him to understand we need to wait for my friend who is arriving around the same time.
The short of that story and an hour later is that we never find my friend and we leave for Hanoi with me wondering what happened and where she is. My phone has died and my laptop is dying.
I discover I have no .pdf reader installed but find internet at a cafe, 4 floors up, which confirms her flight’s arrival. Despite all of that, I still have no phone numbers and no way to find anyone who can confirm I should
head to the hotel without her.
The whole ride into town I wonder how things will play out. There’s nothing I can do until I arrive at the hotel and I cross my fingers that the driver’s at least taking me
to the right hotel. Btw, I had not yet recieved the name of the hotel from my organizer so I really was clueless where I was supposed to go. Fortunately, upon checking in and the desk cleark showing me my friend’s
unsolicited passport, I am relieved to know I’m in the right place. Tamara and I had not met until I walked into the room at which point she was relieved to know I’d made it. Apparently, we shared similar experiences
at the airport and were surprised we didn’t find each other there.
Back in the hotel, I am surprised by relieved by how westernized everything is.
The French influence shows up from time to time, in the structure of the
bathroom to the jams in the market. As Tamara and I learned on our walk today, there are French bakeries around where you can buy a baguette at a pattiserie. I recall the
number of French people on my flight into Hanoi and at met several more at breakfast in the morning. That was an unexpected side bar to my experience here.
Last night in my attempt to stay awake, Tamara and I went walking around. We ended up walking in the streets because the sidewalks were full of market
items, motorbikes, or construction. The roads were insanely trafficked and although traffic moves in opposing directions, lanes are ambiguous.
Horns are common place and the whole experience
is a melding of pedestrians, motorbikes, and cars. Somehow it all works. In fact, if I stop to check for traffic, I find myself at risk of getting run over. If I just keep moving at a slowish pace,
I seem to get through even the densest, craziest, onslaught of vehicles. It’s almost heart stopping, it’s intense.
My last meal of my waking day was at a restaurant called Highway 4. I couldn’t stomach too much so I settled on the fried tofu and a
Heineken. It was tasty. Tamara and I sat and talked for a long time and I was releived to not be pressured to settle the bill and move on. After some more street walking, we retired back to the
I desperately wanted to crash. Two other Aussies are with us, Lee and Sam, and they came down and we chatted some more. They were off to dinner soon, but I couldn’t fathom another
meal so I declined. The final two from our party of six was arriving soon and I wanted to stay up to greet them, but as soon as I laid back on the bed, I was out. I woke to the phone ringing
and the front desk telling me Monique and Simon had arrived. I think I said thank-you, hung up and fell promptly back to sleep. It wasn’t until 6am local time that I woke up next.
Tamara was up as well and with the lack of street noise we curiously dressed to head out and explore the morning streets. Much to our chagrin,
we learned that the hotel goes on lock down from some time at night to 7 in the morning. We walked down the stairs to the lobby in the dark to find all of the motor bikes that line the sidewalks
inside and our hotel staff sleeping in the lobby. Not only that but the hotel was closed in by a metal door. With no way to exit the building, Tamara and I went back up and decided to shower
and get ready for when the staff woke up and the hotel opened.
Once the hotel was open, we were ready to stretch our legs. We walked the morning streets admiring the bustle and the morning routines: motor bikes were
being rolled out of shops, gates and metal doors were being opened, and food was being prepared in the shops and on the streets. We discovered a wonderfully western market and French bakery. 2 baguettes,
pain au chocolates and jam, and we were off back to our hotel. Soon we are off to Cat Ba and Halong Bay!!