After what seemed like a lifetime in the air (16 hours from Auckland, New Zealand), we touched down in Hanoi at around lunchtime. At first sight Hanoi seemed clean, green and not particularly chaotic - the airport was certainly a lot nicer than we expected and the visa process a lot simpler than we had imagined. For us, it was a good start, and the fact that our 9-year old had also made it out of the airport without getting us arrested for taking photos of the soldiers/doing cartwheels in the airport terminal/chatting to the customs officers/trying to go for a ride on the luggage belt was the icing on the cake.
If there was one word to describe Hanoi on our first day it would be soggy. And mad. That's two words but too bad. The maddest part were the roads - however a bit of homework about how to cross the road made all the difference. We not only strode out confidently, we OWNED crossing the street. Unsure what I'm talking about? Well here are some nice photos of a typical street.
I'm hoping these pics are demonstrating just how chaotic the streets are. Probably not, but let's move on. The secret, it seemed, to owning the streets was simply one of perception. Once we'd decided that we would pretend that any car/truck/motorbike/bus who came up behind us and blasted their horn was saying "yoohoo, just letting you know I'm behind you" and not "GET OUT OF THE WAY YOU IDIOT TOURIST" it became a lot more manageable.
For those who want to practice their own role play - here is what you do. Step out onto the street (or you're probably already there because the footpaths are full of motorbikes). Keep walking, with a steady pace. Think of yourself as a rock, and the motorbikes like water. They will just flow around you. Don't panic and run or stop in the middle of the road, it just confuses everyone. And whatever you do don't expect anyone to stop on a pedestrian crossing. Think of these as pretty road decorations, nothing else.
Hanoi - information
Where we stayed: Hanoi Guest House Royal NZD$52 per room per night including breakfast - total for two rooms, two nights NZD$208/US$145.50
We did it. We found shoe street. Last night we tried to navigate to shoe street - or Hang Dao street - somehow turned right instead of left and ended up in Hang Dau street. The distinction may seem petty, but it was an important one as the two streets are a) miles away from each other and b) one is a street of shoes and the other is a street full of undies, cheap t shirts and enough hello kitty wallets for the entire world's population.
And because this is supposed to be a cultural experience - not a shopping trip, we then dragged the kids around the Museum of Ethnology, Hoam Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son temple. The temple was incredible - peaceful and green. It was also teeming with tourists - but then other tourists probably say the same thing about us. One of the nicest thing about walking around the lake was being able to walk without the fear of being run over by a motor scooter. So far the footpaths around the lake have been the only paths in Hanoi we have found that are actually reserved for feet, rather than scooters.
Speaking of footpaths, one of my favourite things here are the street sellers - you can buy anything from books to flowers to balloons to fruit. And they make fun photos...
After our temple visit it was time for coffee. We've quickly become converts to Vietnamese iced coffee, which is drip-coffee served over ice with condensed milk. We turned our noses up when this was first described to us, but it only took one sip to convince us that coffee with condensed milk is as lemon & sugar is to pancakes. I tried to get a photo of my coffee but Dylan had other ideas, going for one of his legendary 'pop up' photo bombs and messing up the focus and the shot all in one go
The traffic is crazy in Hanoi. We struggled to get around. Our bus driver was crazy. He cutted around about 17 motorbikes and two cars. This is how kids get to school:
We went on the boat in ha long bay and stayed the night. I got the signatures of everyone on the boat. Everyone on the boat was very kind. I made a new friend from Taiwan called Paul and one called Janna from Ukraine, near my old friend Mr Skolopov.
Today we are in Phong Nha Kebang which has the biggest caves in the world. We went for a bike ride but it was so hot I nearly fainted. It was 37 degrees Celsius. There is a pool where we are staying. I have had four swims today and I will probably have another one soon.
When we first arrived this very nice man took us to see his puppies. There are four. The parents are called salt and pepper. The puppies do a lot of playfighting. I'm not supposed to pat animals because mum says I'll get rabies but I still did. They feel soft.
At Cong Caphe in Hanoi (which we then stumbled on again in Ho Chi Minh) coffee was made with coconut and coffee and ice........ We will be making one last dash for a final fix.
But to top it off - today in Can Tho we visited the floating markets and and had our coffee delivered via motorised canoe. After 2 cups of that pungent sweet cold concoction (yep, we called her back for 2nds!) we were charged and ready to go! (Imagine coffee delivery on the Auckland motorway..........)
With access to an array of fresh fruit, it is little wonder that the kids have been enjoying a wide range of juices and smoothies. Mango or banana smoothies are common fare, but a peach iced tea with mint went down a treat! Limes (lemons here) made into an ice slurry with mint have also a great find.
The price for juices range from Vnd40000 - Vnd80000 ($1.20-$2.40) so the kids have been enjoying a few.
As we ventured into Ho Chi Min the local beer is Bia Saigon. My first bottle of this didn't go so well - I suspect it was loaded with sulphites which left my eyes and nose running........
Never one to be daunted by a challenge, we stepped up to Bia Saigon "Special" This was a distinct step up in beer qualify and taste and we've been enjoying a few of these.
So what's the cost been? I mentioned that the kids drinks have been Vnd40,000. Well, beers are around Vnd25,000 ($1.25) but I did find Hudas at one place for Vnd15,000......($0.95)
What I have struggled with (in the loosest sense....) is the cost of beer vs. a smoothie. They're half the price!!!!!! So yes, we've enjoyed a few beers at the end (and to be fair, sometimes earlier - but not before mid day I'm proud to say) of a long day.
Btw - the cocktails have also been cracking. Particularly mojitos with access to lime and mint. And the price? As you'd expect - less than $5 for a tall glass of Limey goodness.
So there you have it. The beer in Vietnam is in good hands - just not in my good hands for much longer as we only have 2 days left now. Guess I'll need to make the most of it!