South East Asia- Hanoi, Vietnam!

Beep Beep!!! Honk Honk Honk! (that means Hello in Vietnamese!) We are in Hanoi, Vietnam and it is insane here! If I thought I knew what culture shock was after landing in Bangkok I was wrong! I have never experienced anything like this!

This is the hotel we are staying at. The Golden Lotus in the Old Quarter. It is actually a fairly nice hotel and we are paying about double what we payed in Thailand (everything is more expensive here, amazing considering the poverty is quite a lot worse). But we have a nice room, hot water, tea and coffee, and free wi fi and laptops to use. Hanoi has a lot of French influence so there is also a French Quarter in the city and along with Vietnamese food you can find fresh french baguettes and cafe's scattered all over the city. TDH and I arrived in Hanoi on Friday at about 10pm at night and took a city bus from the airport to the heart of the city (about an hour drive and only a $2 fee). Luckily, our hotel was close by and we did not have to walk far because we were pretty tired. We didn't do much that night, went to bed after having a bad meal at our hotel.

The next day, after having one of the worst breakfasts of my life (think buffet with food that looks to be about a week old), we set out to explore the city.

The video above doesn't do it justice, but the first thing I noticed was the traffic. It is insanity! There are no rules here. People drive how fast they want, where they want, they don't stop for pedestrians, and they use their horns like nobody's business! It's completely insane. If anything is going to make me religious it will be this city because I have to pray to God, Buddha, or the powers that be that I can make it across alive! The crazy part is that if you walk in the street you will get run over by a bike, a scooter, or a car. If you try to walk on the sidewalk you get stuck by the many things blocking the sidewalks (people eating on the sidewalk, rubble, or goods being sold). You also have to be careful of motorists riding their scooters on the sidewalk because they will drive right into you if you aren't watching out!

Soon after we set out we were already lost. Even with a map this city is so very confusing! The first thing we came across was a street with a little market. They were selling all kinds of rice, fruit, vegetables, and birds, tons and tons of birds.

This is what a normal street layout in Hanoi looks like. Market or shops on the street level and houses crowded together and piled sky high above the markets and shops. Everything here is so crowded together (think San Francisco times 100!!!) Apparently you pay for the amount of street room you take up which explains why all buildings are so thin. It is also very unwell kempt. Everything looks very old and as if it is about to collapse. I was completely shocked by the amount of poverty that encompasses this massive city. The amount of people shock me too. There are 6 million people living in a space barely bigger than the city of San Francisco (which houses a little over 300,000 people!)!!!! The amount of people and the amount of traffic that it brings with it causes an insane amount of smog in the city. It's covered in smog, sometimes so bad you can barely see!

The other site that I found very interesting were the people cooking on the sidewalk. This setup in the picture above is quite elaborate but many people cook their food on the sidewalk, some with just a fire made of scraps of paper. They all eat their food on the sidewalk as well and it is not uncommon to see families sitting together enjoying their meal outside.

During our walk, we saw alot of women carrying around the contraption that TDH is wearing above filled with fruits and veggies and wearing the hat TDH is wearing. They try to sell you some fruit for a very high price and if you don't buy it they let you wear it and take pictures so you feel guilted into buying the fruit.

Here I am wearing it with the Vietnamese woman who sold us our $5 bananas! The other interesting thing about Vietnam is the currency. There currency is the Dong and it is about 17,000 Dong to $1!!! So if you book a tour for $100 you are paying 1.7 million Dong! It gets kinda crazy trying to covert from Dong back to US $. Luckily you can pay with US $ almost anywhere if you want. But what is the fun in that?

This is the flag tower, one of the sites we saw while we were lost in the middle of Hanoi. Apparently one of the architectual masterpeices of the city.

This is Ho-Chi-Minh's Mausoleum. He has been embalmed and lives in this tomb. He is very much loved and adored in Vietnam as he is the one who brought them independence. We didn't get a chance to go inside because it was closed by the time we got there. We will go back but even just the outside is a very impressive site!

Eventually we found our way to West Lake. A large lake on the outskirts of the city. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the center it is very serene and quiet here and very beautiful from a distance. We found an Indian restaurant along the lake and had our first non-asian meal of the trip. It was quite good but different than what we are used to. There are quite a few Indian restaurants in this city. Apparently along with apparent French influence this city has been influenced by Indian culture as well. After a long day of walking around Hanoi, and getting very very lost several times we went back to our hotel to rest and take a bath (yes we have a bath tub in our room!) We found a cute restaurant to have dinner and I got Pho (pronounced "fur") a very traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup. TDH got a hot pot (apparently a meal that feeds at least four that is cooked in front of you). So we ate until we were stuffed and it was all fairly good but we both really miss Thai food. The menu at the restaurant we went to was huge and included duck, dove, porcupine, snake fish, snail, frog, and even cat. We were not brave enough to try any of these though.

We tried to go to bed fairly early (although it didn't really happen) because we were getting up bright and early for our first full day tour to see a temple and ride boats along to river at Tam Coc, also known as "Halong Bay on land" because of the massive rock mountains that jet out of the land.

This was a very interesting day. You know how I said traffic was crazy in Hanoi? Well we got picked up in a large van with 6 other people on it and we were off to a temple located about 120km away from the city. TDH was commenting how it was amazing there were no car accidents considering the "unique situation" of the driving. Then BHAM! Our driver slammed on the breaks and we hit the driver in front of us. Luckily it was just a fender bender and our driver paid off the Taxi that he hit and we were on our way. (I don't think they have car insurance here). As we were getting over our little excitement of the day, suddenly the driver slammed on the breaks again and BHAM-BHAM-BHAM-BHAM! We slammed into the car in front of us and the car behind us slammed into us. We were involved in a four car piled up that pretty much totaled all of the cars! Luckily no one was hurt, just a bit shaken up (amazing considering no one was wearing any seatbelts). So we all had to pile out of the car and crowd into a car of tourists going to see the perfume pagoda (a pagoda is a place of worship in Vietnam). They drove us about 10km to a market where we picked up yet another van and drove to the temple. The whole way we were jerked back and forth as we weaved through traffic honking the horn, flooring the gas, and then slamming on the breaks. We were all praying for our lives! The picture above is of the entrance to the temple. As we walked toward it we were hounded by the women in funny hats trying to sell us post cards and water. It was insane! They don't take no for an answer. This is also very different from Thailand. They are constantly trying to sell you things in Thailand but they aren't as pushy and overwhelming as they are in Vietnam!
Before arriving in Tam Coc we went to Hoa Lu, site of the tenth century capital of an early, independent Vietnamese kingdom called Dai co Viet. Two temples stand where the capital city once stood dedicated to two kings who ruled at the end of the tenth century. The first king was killed along with his two eldest sons by someone who wanted a new government and the queen chose a new king. The first temple is dedicated to the first king and his three sons and the second temple is dedicated to the second king, his son, and the queen. Shortly after the second king died, the main city was moved to Hanoi and in 2010 Hanoi will have been the major city in the north for 1000 years!

This is the entrance to the temple that honors the first king and his two eldest sons.

The seat that the king traveled on (sorry this picture is horrible!)

and the second temple honoring the second king and the queen (pretty much identical to the first).

This is what the temples look like inside. they are very crowded and elaborat. But also very very dark inside.

After seeing the temples TDH and I took a bike ride through the villages to Tam Coc where we would take boats down the river.

It was a beautiful ride and really showed us what the conditions of the roads are. Because of the Vietnam War many Pagodas and roads were completely destroyed and they are slowly trying to rebuild everything that was lost. As you can see in the picture above, the roads start and stop abruptly so you can go from riding on paved road, to riding on rubble, to riding on dirt, then back to paved road without any warning!

The scenary was very beautiful though.

This is a Buddha tree (not sure what that means but our guide made us stop and take a picture so it must be important).

Once we got to Tom Coc (a 5km ride that took us an hour) we had a buffet lunch (I was starving so I stuffed myself!) and then took a two hour boat ride along the river.

It was beautiful. Many rocky mountains, small villages, and elaborate tombs and cemetaries along the rivers edge.

Our guides rotate between using thier hands and thier feet to row the boat.

As I said before, the scenary was very majestic.

We even got to boat through the rocky mountains in caves (we went through three caves). It was pretty neat.

After getting to the end of the ride before turning around and heading back we were met by a swarm of boats full of drinks and snacks. After refusing some for ourselves we were guilted into buying beer, drinks, and snacks for our guides (those manipulative little Vietnamese!!!!!). If that wasn't enough our guide whipped our her handmade tableclothes that her kids had made and talked us into buying one of those as well! And then we had to tip her on top of it! It's ok though. She was nice so we didn't mind so much. Although I have to admit it is very different from Thailand and we can't spend much time here or we'll run out of money!
Here is TDH rowing with our guide. After our boat ride was over and we were back at Tam Coc we all piled back in the van and headed back to Hanoi. The ride back was not as eventful, only a flat tire, but it took almost three hours to get home and we were exhausted. After resting a bit in the bath we headed back out to eat. We ended up at a Spanish-French little place called "La Salsa" (I know I was scratching my head too!) for some (GASP!) non-asian food!
That's all for tonight. Tomorrow we head to Haalong Bay for an overnight cruise (if we survive the drive!)

1 comment:

Megan said...

Hi! I just wanted you to know that I have been reading your travel diary and I am finding it very informative and impressive. It's also nice to see you two having such a great time!