Week one is almost done and I’ve finally got some time to talk about our arrival, first impressions and experiences of Vietnam. Yes we’ve been busy, exploring Hanoi, cruising Halong Bay and sleeper training it to Hue, but it’s also taken me this long to process the whole transition.
As far as a first step in to Southeast Asia, Hanoi couldn’t have been a better choice for us. Vietnam’s capital arrests every sense from the moment you step in to the taxi at the airport – and the driver takes you to his mate’s travel shop to kindly help you organise the rest of your trip, before dropping you off at your hotel (eventually). The traffic, choruses of beeping moped hooters, women touting rain macs for the regular afternoon showers (don’t bother, they only last a couple of hours tops and usually coincide with bia hoi o’clock) the smell of fried garlic and stewing pho bo that permeates the city (and your breath) shoves you straight in to the heart of Hanoi. There’s no time to double-check yourself. In other words, do what the locals do when it comes to everything, from crossing the road to ordering coffee. This is exactly why we’d turned to Hanoi in the first place, and she didn’t disappoint.
Ok, so this did mean that we spent an afternoon in the train station trying to figure out why people who had arrived after us were being served at the ticket windows before we got a look in. After all, we had a ticket with a number on it, why weren’t they following this tried and tested system favoured by Brits the world over? Oh yeah, because we’re almost 6,000 miles from home and in Hanoi, first come isn’t always first served. It was an experience that taught us a lot about making travel plans and about Vietnamese culture. So from this point of view, staring perplexed at the station clock and clutching our queue ticket was pretty rewarding.
I can see why some people would get the wrong first impression about Hanoi. It’s busy, it’s noisy, it’s crowded and in this respect, not unlike any other city. Saying that, choosing to extend our stay by another night was the first (and hopefully not the last) good decision we’ve made. Having that extra time allowed us to scratch the surface, to appreciate the subtler side to the city, for example, drivers only beep their horns to let you know they’re scooting up behind you and don’t want to run you over – which is nice. That doesn’t mean it’s not a tad crazy. But we loved it!
PS. Sorry about the cheesy headline, couldn’t resist. Promise there won’t be that many more film references…