Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vietnam - Hanoi

I flew air Asia (discount airline) from phuket to Bangkok and then vietnam airlines from Bangkok to Hanoi. It is a very nice airline and even served a nice meal - move over air Canada. My southeast Asia book as well as hotels in hanoi warned me about taxi drivers at Hanoi airport. Apparently they get your name from the government visa folks and hold up a sign with your name. Instead of taking you to the hotel you have booked they take you to their 'friends' hotel which they say is much better. So the hotel said my driver would have a sign Hanoi moments hotel welcomes Lorna Curtis and not to go with anyone holding up a sign with just my name. When I get out of customs there is a guy holding up a sign with my name no hotel and I could not see any other signs. I asked the guy which hotel I was staying at and he nor his buddies seem to know so I told them I would not go with them. Then a guy who seemed to be their boss asks me to wait for their taxi and I said no you do not know my hotel and my driver would. A few minutes later a young man comes up to me asks if I am Lorna staying at the Hanoi moments hotel. Apparently he was my driver and had got stuck in traffic so called his buddies at the airport to flag me down and ask me to wait. Unfortunately there is a bit of a language barrier.
My driver was a lovely, young Vietnamese who was from the country but came to the city for work. He was very informative and his English was quite good so he was able to tell me a bit about Hanoi.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, located on the red river with a population of 6.5 million people.
Besides the thousands of motor scooters, on the drive in from the airport a few things jumped out at me including the number of international factories located here such as canon and Toyota. Also the number of Lexus Mercedes Bentleys and suv's. My driver told me the cheapest cars are Korean made and start at $45,000 US plus you have to pay the government another $30,000 to license the vehicle. I had always thought of Vietnam as a poor country but it is obvious there are a number of wealthy people. I asked my driver how they make that kind of money and he was not sure - I have my suspicions. He also told me the cheapest place to live that one could buy in Hanoi costs about $700,000US.
Upon my arrival at the hotel I was delighted that I had been upgraded to an executive suite. I felt like I was back at raffles in singapore with the excellent service, flower arrangement, complimentary bottle of wine, fruit tray, turn down service with a goodnight note and a goodie on top of a beautiful and roomy suite all for $50 a night.
I decided to take the map supplied by the hotel and walk the streets of Hanoi. This was going to prove more of a challenge than I realized. The stores have their wares out on to the sidewalk, motor scooters are parked all over the sidewalks, people are cooking on the sidewalks and plastic tables and chairs much like those found in a preschool are set up on the sidewalk for locals to eat. So you have to go on and off the sidewalk dodging the obstacles as well as dodging the hundreds of scooters, bikes, cars, trucks and buses on the road. There are few traffic lights and no one stops for pedestrians. So you must have no fear and look straight ahead and just start crossing the road-the scooters etc just dodge around you but don't stop as you will get stuck in the middle of the road. One consolation is that no one speeds as there is too much traffic.
You know how frustrating it is when roads change names all of a sudden or at an intersection there are different names on each side if the road-well it takes on a whole new meaning and challenge when you don't know the language and all the land-markings and stores look the same. After a few days here I am finally feeling a little more comfortable walking around without getting lost as often. I have seen most of the old quarter, the French quarter, the opera house and the water puppet show. The city is quite dirty and there is lots of litter everywhere and often you will see males going to the bathroom in the street. The French quarter is cleaner and sidewalks are kept clear so they are easier to navigate. The French quarter definitely has a European flavor.
With the exception of the hotel staff i have not found the people in Hanoi very friendly. Tours, food and accommodation are very inexpensive but shopping is not. Anything of quality is the same price that it would be in north America. The food is very good and the hotel has sent me to some great places to eat.
I did make one purchase - a book'the girl in the picture'. I probably paid too much for a knock off xeroxed book that the girl tried to tell me was original. It cost 210,000 dong which is $11. I gave her a 500,000 dong note about $25 and she gave me back 25,000 dong which is just over a dollar. I very quickly told her she was incorrect and all of a sudden she could not understand English. So I said give me the right change or take you dam book back as I will not put up with this kind of crap (I think I was tired from dodging traffic but I got my correct change).
Anyone who would like to borrow the book when I get home is welcome to it. Some of you older folk may remember the famous picture on the cover of time or life magazine during the vietnam war of the little girl who was napalmed. This book is about her and the Vietnam war. This girl who is now an adult is living in Toronto. I am almost half way through the book and can barely put it down
Some of the interesting sights in Hanoi:
Selling meat from a basket on the sidewalk (not covered) - no food safe here.
Guys that sit on their motorbikes at street corners all day I have no idea how the make a living or maybe I don't want to know.
There are thousands of motorbikes on the road the traffic is crazy and everyone is beeping their horns.
Some of the most beautiful flower arrangements I have ever seen.
All sorts of sights on motorbikes-no helmets on children, 3 on a bike, transporting what looks like enough product to stock a store all carefully balanced on the bike.
Skeptical electrical practices as you can see from the pictures I took.
Weddings they too are on the sidewalks. They tent up an area bring in fancy furniture and the wedding reception takes place (not big on destination weddings here).
The staff at my hotel have been fabulous and have organized a trip to halong bay and to Sapa in the mountains as well as my flight to Danang so stay tuned for more adventures. I also met a couple staying at my hotel from Vancouver so we are going to meet up again in a couple of days when we both finish our side trips.
One thing I would recommend if you ever visit Hanoi do not bring a purse. Thank you Joan and Donna for the the money pouch it is getting lots of use.


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