Ouch My Feet: AKA - Day One in Vietnam
I've walked 12,000kms today. Well, if feels like it! I WILL try a motorbike taxi at some stage but, to be honest, I'm a bit nervous.
Hanoi though: it's warm. I walked around in a long sleeve t-shirt all day. This is such an important piece of information I'm putting it first. After freezing in Tokyo, this is wonderful! It's a bit sweaty and dusty, but not unbearably so.
I'm staying in the Old Quarter, at the Little Hanoi Hostel. It's a pretty hectic and lively area, although it's a long time since I've seen so many white tourists in one place at the same time.
I love the roads here. As anyone who knows me knows, I never look when I cross the road and it's only a miracle I've survived 34 and a half years without being hit by a car, bus, granny on a scooter, etc. In Hanoi, the roads are packed with mad motorbike and scooter drivers and the ONLY way to get from one side of the road to the other is to just walk. They weave around you. It's great!
On the drive from the airport to the hotel last night, I got my first glimpse of the houses here. There are many houses that wouldn't look out of place in a Tim Burton movie: very tall, narrow and long. Almost spooky looking.. Apparantly it's to do with taxes from a long time back..(ie I have a vague recollection of having read something)
The other thing that amused me on the way here was the motorbikes laden with half a farms worth of fruit or vegetables on their way to markets or shops or wherever. I wouldn't have imagined so much could be balanced on one. It was quite something to observe. I tried to engage my driver in a conversation, but he didn't seem too interested. Oh well.
One little annoyance was the difficulty in getting out a map or guidebook without getting pounced on. I mean when you're walking and people hassle you it's not so bad. You smile, say no thank you, and toddle on. But when you stand still... you're a bit more of a target, aren't you? And I don't know if it's that people just don't walk around here or something but there was a hell of a lot of taxi bikes sitting around.
A lot of people in the streets just wanted to chat (apart from those hawking things) and I was accompanied by a couple of random students for about 15 minutes when wandering around the lake. I didn't really mind, though I did wonder if I'd ever get rid of them! The problem was though that I like wandering and observing and being lost in my own thoughts and talking at the same time but that considerably harder to do.
Still, it does make a bit of a refreshing change from Tokyo. It all feels much more real.
On the subject of hawking: I was surprised by the street kids. I'd expected to see lots of children but didn't in fact see any. The first woman to try and get me to buy cards I got rid of by telling her I'd buy some later. Her friend was a motorbike taxi guy and I kept telling him (kept as in he rode alongside me when I walked) I was happy walking. Incredibly, about 90 minutes later he found me again - quite a distance from where we'd been before and reminded me I'd said I'd buy cards. I couldn't really argue with that. Anyone want a card from Vietnam?!
I bought a ticket for the water puppet theatre, and managed to lose it. (Doh!) Putting it down to carelessness, I bought another one. It was fun! Lots of puppets dancing around on murky looking water, playing, fighting, acting out mythical tales, etc with pretty funky music. Bit of a shame about all the heads in the way, but you can't have it all, eh?
The area around the lake was pretty lovely. Very pretty, but a little less hassle would have made the whole experience a lot more chilled out. Finally, I found some space in the temple on the lake to get out my guide book, in peace, and figure out what I was doing. Funnily enough, a lot of other people had the same idea...
I think I may be getting a little bit templed out after Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. But don't tell anyone that!
I love the atmosphere here. It's so lively. It's fun. And I DID try to find KOTO today but had the wrong address. I also tried to find another streets kid place: Hoa Sua - but couldn't find that either. It's road numbering ended quite a few before it should have! Anyway, Tuesday I WILL go and attempt to find KOTO again. I was disappointed to not find it today.
I found a random Pho restaurant near the train station and ordered a beef pho. There wasn't anyone in the restaurant but I was hungry and it was worth it. It was absolutely lovely. When I asked them what the dish was called - well, they didn't speak any English, I don't speak any Vietnamese, but I managed (I'm an English teacher, remember!) - they told me and got me to repeat it about 1000 times. They thought it was hilarious. And no, I can't remember what it was called!
I also made it to the Women's museum which I found very interesting. It included information about women's involvement in wars here, including spying and fighting, and also about regional dress, etc. I thought it was very much worth going to.
I came back after the water puppet theatre planning to have a bath and collapse. Twenty minutes later I changed my mind and wandered back out to a couple of markets. Like I could ever not go to a market... It was rather hectic. There were loads of kids that had been dressed in cute little Santa outfits and lots of Christmas decorations for sale: a bit odd for Xmas eve, but still... (especially baring in mind Xmas in Vietnam is celebrated today - the 24th - and not on the 25th).
Tomorrow and Monday I'm doing a two day one night trip to Halong Bay and then I'm back in Hanoi on Tuesday. I'll update then.