After a noisy, jolting overnighter on the train from Sa Pa, we arrived in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, at the ungodly hour of 4.30am. As the train doors opened, wild yells and angry arguments could be heard, as numerous touts and cab drivers jostled for the arriving business. Amongst this bedlam, we managed to negotiate our taxi fare from an initial 120,000 Vietnamese dong to 80,000, then back to 100,000, and finally all the way down to 50,000 dong, without actually saying or doing anything. Eventually, we arrived in a dark alley, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, so we happily gave our bemused taxi driver a thorough dressing down, whilst getting soaked in the pouring rain. After wandering for a while in the darkness, we finally discovered the May De Ville hostel, up the street, in another tiny alleyway. Apparently, 50,000 dong only gets you so far.
Our Hanoi adventure may not have started well, but events soon changed for the better. The night shift manager happily checked us into our room at 5am and even said that we could help ourselves to a free breakfast at 6.30am, when they began serving. Feeling much better about the state of our world, we dumped our packs and decided to head back out in the pouring rain to experience Hanoi and the lake, before it got too busy. This provided us with an interesting view of the old city, watching all the stall and shop owners setting up for the day, as they opened their shutters, put out their wares and received their deliveries, including very large blocks of ice, which seemed impossibly big for the bicycles they arrived on.
Later that evening, we went about experiencing Hanoi in full swing. “You buy from me” rang out in a constant cry from each street vendor; selling everything from bananas and pineapples, to t-shirts and even zippo lighters. Here we learnt how to cross busy streets without being skewered by the multitude of motorbikes, travelling in every direction, on both sides of the street and the pavement. An old women carrying two heavy baskets, balanced on either end of a yoke, provided the lesson. Even though her back was bent from the weight, she seemed to negotiate this madness, as if she were out for a leisurely evening’s stroll. So we closed our eyes and very slowly wandered out into the traffic. Amazing! Rather than die horribly, the traffic magically maneuvered around us.
After a lot of hinting, I became acutely aware of the next day’s major event; our second Wedding Anniversary, so we asked the staff where we could find a really great place for dinner. That evening we dined in a lovely Italian restaurant, but later, when we arrived back at the hotel, we thought that someone had broken into our room. Then we noticed the items on the desk. The staff had, of their own accord, organised a very decadent looking cake and a single long-stemmed red rose for our anniversary. To say how marvellous they made us feel, is quite the understatement.
The next morning we walked out to West Lake for a look at the Pagoda and strolled the streets outside of the Old Quarter, spotting a posh looking French restaurant along the way. We decided to come back there for dinner later on. It didn’t disappoint. We picked out the most impoverished looking Cyclo driver from a loud competing bunch, who rode us very slowly through the traffic, towards our destination. It might well have been romantic, except that our very elderly rider tired visibly, as we proceeded, so we ended up paying him for the entire journey and walking most of the way. Eventually we dined on tempura crab, roast duck, salt & pepper squid and beef with lemon grass.
On the walk back to our hotel, we heard a voice call out “Ken” from within a large unruly crowd and we found ourselves looking at a tall, bespectacled guy, who seemed to know us. After a few moments of befuddlement, we finally recognised Danny, the traveller from Alsager, who we met at the top of the chair-lift in Dali. We also spotted his lovely partner, Michelle, so we joined them for a few beers and traded travel stories, before heading back to the hotel.
The next day we’re to be picked up early by Tien; our guide for the next three days on Ha Long Bay. Could this place be as wonderful and picturesque as they say? Tomorrow will tell us for sure.