04.07.2013 - 24.08.2013
Hanoi is by far one of the craziest places I ever been too (I can count on one hand the countries I have been to so maybe that is naive of me). Walking out of the airport with my glad wrapped backpack - which seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be the biggest pain in the ass as I couldn't cut it open for about 2 hours - Odette and I were hit with a solid wall of heat. We were told it was hot so naturally we were prepared - I was wearing long harem pants, closed in shoes, and a cardigan - the ideal choice of clothing. Once we were kitted up for the weather (at this point I had nearly stripped down to my under wear) we found our hostel driver (who did not speak a lick of English) and we got into his car. At this point we just assumed he was the correct guy as he could say the words of our hostel to us plus the golden words - air conditioning.
Once strapped into the 'death machine' as I have now labelled it with our stunt man driver, we sped off at about 100km an hour ignoring all road rules which are non-existent in Hanoi anyway and were on our way to the hostel (we hoped). We had not slept in about 24 hours so our brains were a bit fuzzy, but after about 2 minutes on the roads we were wide awake and holding the side doors for safety whilst our driver had an arm out the window like he does this everyday (which we have come to learn that he and everyone else in Hanoi does). The one rule in Hanoi when it comes to driving and walking on the roads is this: Don't Stop. Ever.
Fast forward 40 minutes (our 1 hour 20 minute trip from the airport to the hostel was that much shorter) we finally made it to our hostel. Staying at the Hanoi Backpackers Downtown Hostel was both a blessing and a curse. It is known as the party hostel of Hanoi because apparently the party never stops. We drag ourselves in looking like we just spent 24 awake and 40 minutes in pure fear while all the other travellers are cool calm and collected and enjoying a drink (at 1pm in the afternoon). It is safe to say we both took long showers and made ourselves a little more presentable before facing that crowd again.
Hanoi is a very interesting place... at first you are very shocked by it. I will admit, before experiencing it, I was very intimidated by it and I was scared to go outside. I couldn't understand why so many travellers were smiley and relaxed... had they looked at the chaos outside the door? Odette and I decided to tackle this place head first (with a trusty map from the hostel that clearly stated all the areas of interest). We stuck to this map for a few days and we had gotten lost a few times, but eventually we both fell in love with the place. Walking the streets you come to realise that not only in this a tourist area, it is a way of life for the locals and they love it. It is all a hustle and bustle of shouting, haggling, car and motorbike horns, and constant chatter but there is a real charm to the area. The famous 36 streets of Hanoi are pretty crazy. Each street has a theme - shoes, fine dress, silk, wooden crafts, propaganda posters, hats, flowers, smoothies, north face bags, books and the list goes on. You can start at one end of a street and reach the other having been offered the same product at least 10 times. It is good fun though as you can haggle your way through the entire street before you realise your at the end with empty hands. To get the real bargains you have to find the shops that are not in the main tourist area. The people are generally nicer and you will be a lot more successful in your haggles.
There are a ton of interesting things to do in Hanoi, and a lot of the travellers I have met rushed through the city and unfortunately did not experience any of them. There are museums, malls, puppet shows, and the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and all of these are really great and shouldn't be missed, but there is nothing like strolling round a city and experiencing the culture the way the locals do. Eating street food on little plastic chairs on the side of the road, watching morning exercise groups down by the river, heading out of the district and shopping in the local food market, street performers along the lake, or sitting down and chatting to a group of young Vietnamese kids who want to improve their English. These are some of the things I got to experience as I stayed in the city for 2 weeks. I wish I could have stayed longer but I know I will be back as the first time round, the city stole my heart.