The adventure begins…Hello Hanoi!
Kicking off my long awaited travel tour, I headed to Vietnam, which I had been told housed some of the most stunning scenery, idyllic beaches and lively cities in the world. For the next 8 months I would be travelling around South East Asia, Australia and South America!
So, first stop Hanoi, Vietnam’s buzzing capital. With a population of 6 million, and one third of these owning a motorbike, the streets of Hanoi were a zipping death trap for a newby traveller like myself. I soon learnt that the only way you will ever get across a road in Hanoi is to just walk and hope for the best!
By day the city would be a busy hub for the thousands of people going about their daily business: tour guides attempted to manoeuvre groups of tourists around the streets without one of them being squashed by a moped and local ladies sat on the pavements with large steaming cauldrons filled with delicious street food. As I wondered around trying to familiarise myself with the labyrinth of streets and alleys that make up the not so easy to navigate grid system in Hanoi, I noticed countless shops, each selling exactly the same goods. Silk dressing gowns and bed sheets seemed to be a firm favourite, as was the classic Vietnamese conical hat.
In the centre of the “Old Quarter” was a beautiful lake which played home to a 200kg giant turtle. Despite my best efforts I wasn’t lucky enough to get a glimpse of him. With the daytime in the city reaching around 37 degrees, exercise was impossible, but at night the lake area came alive with aerobics classes and yoga. In an attempt to not feel too guilty about the gallons of local beer I was drinking I joined them a couple of times for jogs around the giant lake.
The local food mostly consisted of noodle soups, meat with fish and a delicious green vegetable named “Morning Glory”. Having never experienced Vietnamese food, but being a keen lover of the Thai cuisine I was optimistic about finding at least one thing on the menu I would like. But with a firm determination to cater to their tourist friends, almost every restaurant you went to would have at least one type of pizza and a good old Club sandwich to fall back on if you really needed to.
We had been told that there were three things we had to do when in Hanoi: watch one of the traditional Hanoi puppet shows, drink the local “egg coffee” and book a trip to Halong Bay.
So first stop, the puppet show. Call me a cultural philistine, but the only way I could describe what I saw as so incredibly bad it was actually amusing. Sat in a small theatre like room, we watched as a small pond on stage came alive with dancing puppets. Strange figures of men and women danced from side to side and we all watched with mouths open as a dragon puppet had sex with a swan. It wasn’t Punch and Judy, that’s for sure, but I do laugh every time I think of it now!
Next the egg coffee…a local delicacy we had been told about. One particular coffee house was recommended to us and so off we went. Sat on a small plastic seat in a backstreet cafe, I felt a little dubious when the coffee arrived. Mixing a regular coffee with the beaten yolk of an egg and resting in hot water, the traditional drink was meant to taste delicious. And it did. If you are partial to a few spoons of sugar in your coffee, this would be right up your street! After half a cup I found it a little overbearing so left the rest and of course this was soon hoovered up by Mr Hooper (the other half).
Opposite our hostel was a small tour company called “Lily’s travel”- we popped in to see if she could help us with a Halong Bay trip. Lily turned out to be one of the sweetest and most helpful people we had met on our trip. Keen to make sure we had a tour to suit us, she patiently explained each different type of trip we could do and the quality we would get on each. We decided to book a 3 day 2 night trip leaving the next day.
To celebrate our last night in Hanoi we went out for a few local beers in a quirky bar, which had walls plastered in reviews written by travellers from all over the world. We soon got stuck into the beverages and carried away with a game of cards that we forgot the time. The owner of the bar, a chirpy local man dashed past us, out the front door and began to wind the front shutter of the bar down quickly. Thinking this was an indiscreet hint for us to leave we looked at each other puzzled. A few seconds later the shutter came back up and on the other side of the glass, glaring back at us were three Vietnamese policemen. We had forgotten that Hanoi had a 12pm curfew and we were well past that. Sheepishly like school kids caught being naughty we edged out of the bar, muttering apologies to the bar owner and the police before heading home as quickly as we could.
Our Hanoi adventure ended bright and early with a 8am bus to take us to the much talked about Halong Bay…………….