Hanoi 2nd-6th November

After being informed at Singapore airport that I needed transport booked out of the country before I entered, I sat down to try and plan what to do and how long to stay in Vietnam once I’d passed through security. I decided it would be easier if I just went with the visa waiver option and only stayed for 15 days or less. I booked a bus for 14 days later as I kept finding contradictory information about whether or not the day you enter/leave counted or not so decided to play on the safe side.

On board the plane, there were plenty of empty seats so I could spread out with lots of space. However, the VietJet air hostesses were weirdly strict about not being able to use any electronics, regardless of flight mode, until the plane was up in the air. I got my book out and started reading but then I noticed the music…. oh my word it was painfully awful with the same god awful song on repeat and thee was nothing I could do to drown it out. It was an endless chalk on a chalkboard or knife squeaking on a plate sort of thing. If you’re intrigued, listen to this song on repeat for at least 20 minutes and try not to rip your ears off in the process…

After just about surviving Guantanamo style torture from the flight, I got to Hanoi. After passing through customs with a few translation/accent issues (he kept saying a word that I didn’t understand at all and couldn’t think what on earth he was on about until I realised he was talking about the place I was born!). I then got through with my bag and found my taxi to the hostel. On the journey, seeing my first glimpse of the motorbikes and mad traffic (who even needs lanes…?!) but I made it all in one piece. It was a much more expensive journey than if I’d just taken a Grab (Uber equivalent) but at least this way there was no hassle.

A mess of wires and plenty of parked motorbikes

My first full day in Hanoi was spent wandering around in the morning with someone I met in the hostel. We walked down to the sword lake (named because of folklore that a mighty sword, once it had been used to conquer an enemy, was return to the great golden turtle who lived in the lake). The walk down was entertaining/terrifying. As my first experience of the motorbikes, I was very wary of them, trying to ensure that none of them hit me. I found it very hard to feel at ease with it to begin with as you can’t just avoid them by walking on the pavement as even though there is a pavement, it is almost always taken up entirely by shops or parking for the motorbikes – it is often literally impossible to use! On the rare occasions there was space to walk on the pavements, you still had to be wary as motorbikes would use them as well to avoid traffic… I eventually got used to it as it’s all a game of chicken. Look confident as you try to cross and they will stop for you or swerve around you!

As we walked around the lake, I tried to get cash out of every single ATM and it was only about the eighth one which finally worked. I was beginning to panic as I had no cash at all!

Sword lake with a temple in the middle

The roads around the lake were shut off to adult cars however, there was commuting mayhem from little cars with little people inside which were being driven by their parents with remote controls – very sweet! After trying to find some classic street food, I was beginning to get quite hangry and overwhelmed by the lack of vegetarian friendly food. Eventually we stopped and had lunch in a restaurant which wasn’t quite as adventurous but at least it meant that I could eat something knowing it was free from meat. I had garlic fried aubergine and it was incredible and so cheap, probably costing the equivalent of about 60p! We then headed back to the hostel for a free walking tour.

On one of the stops on the tour, we went to a market where, once again, I bought some earrings and then I promptly got very lost within the market until eventually found someone I recognised from the tour and stuck with them until we were back with the rest of the group. The next stop was the railway on a bridge. This bridge didn’t feel 100% secure as the pavement was concrete slabs, many of which had huge cracks and chunks missing from them and you could see the street 20ft below… I was glad when we got off the bridge without any incidences!

There were loads of great market displays
I felt safe on the tracks than on the pavement…
The flood plains as seen from the bridge

The final stop on the tour was at a café to get some of the famous Vietnamese egg coffee. Having not felt particularly well in the last 24 hours, I decided to stick with a nice cup of tea and not venture too far from my norm. During this pit stop, it transpired that on this tour were two members of the Canadian rugby team taking some time off on the way back from the World Cup in Japan!

After the tour I arrange to have dinner and drinks with some other people I met on the tour. The night markets are pure mayhem. They are packed with people and it takes a very long time to walk anywhere let alone when you’re also being blocked from walking on by people trying to get you to come into their restaurant. Eventually we found somewhere and had a very jolly evening together.

You can’t go anywhere in a hurry when it’s like this!

Day 2 in Hanoi was my favorite. We all had breakfast together before heading out to buy tickets for a water puppet show that night. We then went on separate ways for the morning and I went to buy a few things and wander through all the shops and stalls. I love aimlessly walking left and right, seeing what fun things or places I can find. We met up again for lunch before meandering over towards the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. We stopped for a while in a café on a roundabout and watch the chaos of the traffic. I’m not entirely sure why they try to have roundabouts rather than just open spaces as hardly anyone ever seems to obey the direction of the roundabout if it doesn’t suit them.

One of many delightful fluffy dogs – not quite sure how they deal with the heat when they have that much fluff!
Future album cover?

When we finally got to the entrance to the mausoleum we were turned away because we were wearing inappropriate clothes with bear shoulders and knees so we headed back.

In our wanderings, we stumbled across one of the many train streets. Unfortunately, very recently (mid-October sort of time), the police cracked down on the cafes in these street for safety concerns so I couldn’t do the classic Hanoi thing of watching the train pass right by you.

The water puppet show was very odd, very well done, and really quite funny in parts. I was amazed with the puppetry skill and there were really interesting depictions of Vietnamese heritage, folklore, and culture. My favorite scene was the “Homecoming of Scholars”. Vietnamese prize education so that even if you don’t have any money or land, you can still succeed with the help of an education.

My last day in Hanoi I spent wandering around the old town some more before heading over to the prison museum a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton. I had no idea how long the French occupation was and then how little time passed before the Vietnam War. What a rough ride the Vietnamese have had! I think it’s quite impressive how much of a turbulent past this country has had and yet, unlike other countries in the Middle East or Africa, it is now a stable developing country. I then went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, appropriately dressed and as I got there, it was the changing of the guard which was fun to see – I didn’t know they did that.

“[Phong] learned to speak very early, 9-month-old and could already speak clearly. Besides “mom”and “dad”, the first word that he learned was “run”. Whenever he heard the sound of aircrafts, he would […] shout “mom…mom…dad…dad…run…run…”and hold his arms out to be carried.”

Within the grounds, I was searching for quite a while for the One Pillar Pagoda. Walking through a temple, I then found it randomly on the other side. It’s a fun little building but there wasn’t much information about it, just lots of queues of tourists wanting to get in and see it.

My last morning in Hanoi, I finally plucked up the courage to try the egg coffee. The coffee took a long time to come but I’ve since read that they whip the egg for at least 10 minutes so maybe that was why. The top part is like an extremely sickly custard. It’s very sweet, in my opinion too sweet but then the coffee underneath was incredibly bitter. When I mixed the sweet and the bitter together, they didn’t cancel each other out so it was a very peculiar sensation. I’m glad I’ve tried it but I won’t be in a rush to try it again!