Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Travel Diaries: Good Morning, Vietnam!

It barely seemed like I had time to settle down in Hong Kong before Jossi and I were jumping on another plane and heading off to discover Vietnam. I was incredibly excited as I had never been anywhere like Vietnam before and so I couldn't wait to explore somewhere totally different.

Our first evening in Hanoi was terrifying to say the least. We walked out of our little hotel in the Old Quarter to be hit by a barrage of noise. The street was heaving. Motorcycles, loaded with people and goods, were whizzing past in all directions, weaving in and out of each other and squeezing through impossible gaps, horns blaring. People sat on low stools in the street, cooking over open fires and BBQs, or frying things in huge vats of oil. Stool holders hawked their wares to passers by. As we wandered the streets we had to be mindful of the motorbikes that would suddenly mount the pavements to buy something from a stall or seemingly just take a shortcut around some obstacle. To two weary travellers, this first experience was daunting to say the least.

After much wandering around, we finally found somewhere for dinner. (Joss had flatly refused my suggestion of the local fast food joint, despite the fact we were dying of hunger.) We ended up in a little open sided corner restaurant, where the food was cooked out front on an elevated open fire and we were seated on child-sized stools at small plastic tables. There were no menus and so we just asked for what the people next to us were eating. Our dish arrived and we had a hilarious few minutes trying to discern exactly what we had ordered. We settled on 'mystery meat with potato and egg' with a side of cucumbers and french bread. Once we'd settled on this, we set about copying our neighbours who were hollowing out their bread sticks and stuffing them with their food. I can't say the meal was the best of my life, but it was okay and definitely an experience.

The next day, we were to leave for Ninh Binh. Our bus drive was in itself an adventure. We drove to the bus station in a taxi. The moment our car appeared around the corner, it was mobbed by men trying to get our attention. We later realised that they were selling tickets to the various buses. The system seemed to be that your bus could go the moment it was full...

After navigating all the clamouring ticket touters, we were lead to a small minibus and before long were on our way. Looking out of the window as the rainy streets slid by was fascinating. Most the houses we passed seemed to be very tall, yet very narrow, (apparently this is because people used to be taxed on how wide the front of their house was!) and beautifully painted and decorated. The French colonial influence was apparent, with even new builds adopting the style.

 Every few minutes along our way, our bus stopped to pick up seemingly random people from the side of the road. We'd be trundling along when the touter would fling open the sliding door, yell to a random passer by who would then hop aboard. It was bizarre! However, the locals were all incredibly friendly although slightly fascinated with Joss and I (the only tourists using local transport it seemed). They kept mistaking Joss for a Vietnamese person and assuming that she was showing me around. One or two people found my hair hilarious and were surprised by the fact my arm hair was blonde and not dark. Another local took my iPad out of my hands and insisted on playing games on it for the rest of the journey, which passed surprisingly fast despite all of our unscheduled stops.

Therefore, finally, we reached Ninh Binh where our explorations were about to start in earnest!

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