Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hanoi, Vietnam!

After an easy flight, I arrived in Hanoi Saturday night around 11pm and went straight to the Backpacker's Hotel, a recommendation from a couple of travelers in Siem Reap. Upon arrival, there were a bunch of kids with dreadlocks sitting outside drinking and smoking, it seemed like a friendly place... For $18, I got a decent little private room, the "Penthouse," and passed out to wake up early to visit Hanoi the next day.

The following day was spent in a bicycle rickshaw touring the city. I started off visiting Ho Chi Minh's dead body, which was probably the weirdest tourist attraction I've ever seen. The line was longer than five Six Flag Superman rides combined, winding all around the official buildings in the area, but it went extremely quickly. I was lucky enough to be waiting in front of two Danish people (the only white people within a 50 meter radius), so we got to chat the line away. Once we got inside the building where Ho Chi Minh lay, the "ride" was literally less than a minute - we just walked around the body which lay under an orangey light, surrounded by four very strict looking military men. We weren't allowed to talk, take pictures or - God forbid - laugh, and Ho Chi Minh basically just looked like a dead wax figure.

The rest of the day was fairly nice, I just laid back and took pics from the rickshaw, got out occasionally to check out markets, ate at this huge local restaurant on the lake and voila! Compared to Siem Reap, Hanoi is much more modern and clean. To my surprise, neighboring country Vietnam is WAY more developed: the streets are paved, there is hardly any trash in the streets, the buildings are all made of durable materials and it's much, much cleaner. However, so far, I'm honestly not impressed with the people. They aren't inherently nice, they don't particularly like to smile, they don't speak English at all and they LOVE to rip you off. Multiple times already, once agreed upon a price, if I didn't have exact change, they tried to get more money by not giving the correct change and then trying to con me into spending more. They try to sell you everything, all the time and do not accept "no" as an answer, they are the most relentless people I've ever met. It has now become ridiculously frustrating and has put quite a damper on my feelings towards the Vietnamese as a whole. I miss Cambodia.

What I find most interesting about Hanoi so far are the outdoor restaurants where people sit on these little tiny plastic stools and hover over bowls of Phô. It's the traditional meal here and when lunchtime hits, everyone flocks to these midget tables to fill their tummies with warm noodle soup. The markets are also quite interesting in Hanoi - some of the shopping streets seem to be organized by type of product, for example, there will be a full street full of toy shops or a full street full of tin products or fabrics. It makes competition pretty fierce.

When arriving back at the hotel, I realized Hanoi was nice but hadn't really impressed me that much and wanted to spend the rest of my Vietnamese days somewhere else, so I ended up booking a last minute trip to Sapa, a mountain town 9 hours away by overnight train... To be continued...

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