05.06.2007 - 07.06.2007 35 °C
I am now in Hanoi and the remainder of my journey here was okay. Due to the delay and the time difference I just about managed to catch my flight in Bangkok not realising how late it already was, indulging myself in Sushi and other shopping in Bangkok airport... upssiii.... that was a close call again.
I got ripped off at the airport again and wasn't happy. Sorted that out at the hotel straight away as I overheard the receptionist quoting someone else..... bastards....
The ripping off already continues, so far it unfortunately seems true what everyone else has told me. I bought some fresh pineapple this morning and was told by the water lady that I should have paid maximum half the price but I haggled already and was originally asked 4 times the price. And that is already the tourits price anyway, as they pay about 4 times as much as Vietnamese anyway. It is difficult to work out how much things should cost if you just got here...
Apart from that I ended in Hotel Prince and have a huge room with A/C, fridge, TV and it is very nice and clean, so that is a good start. I am based in the old quarter which is the heart of the city and really busy. The place is full with shops, merchants, markets and I have never seen so many motorbikes in my life. Everything seems more developed here than in Nepal and Tibet, Western toilets and I even had a nice / safe taxi with even A/C, so that was quite a difference. Felt quite civilised. The driving style is very similar though. A lot of beeping, the more you beep the safer driver you are, no helmets and quite chaotic, as they seem to be no traffic rules. Well, I am sure there are some, but no one seems to take notice. So quite chaotic, but nothing like Kathmandu. After I got here I slept about 11 hours, probably needed that and are also not used to the luxury of an air conditioned room and complete darkness. So, I got up a bit later to explore the Hanoi.
I started with Hoan Kiem Lake, continued with Ngoc Son Temple and then followed the Lonely Planet walking tour. The heat in this place is undescribable. Apart form my hiking tour in Fiji which is the only thing that mildly compares, I don't think I have ever been so hot. Unbelievable. By the time I got back, everything was soaked.... disgusting! After a shower I had to stay in my cool room for a while as I thought I might pass out going back into that heat straigt away. Even during my sightseeing I had to escape a couple of times into tourist offices which were air conditioned, as I thought I wouldn't make it back to the hotel. Crazy!! I hope I get used to this. I also booked a two trips today, one to Halong Bay which should be amazing and one to to go trecking in Sapa. It only occured to me afterwards that I must have gone mad due to the heat. Who on earth would want to go trecking in this heat???
Anyway, Hanoit, or at least the old quarter is nice and really busy. It seems that a lot of things are gathered in the same street, i.e. in one street you find loads of shoe shops, then mats and all sort of bamboo stuff, then food, then buddha statues, then tins and boxes, then jewellery and so on. People have also everything out in the middle of the street, like preparing and cooking their food, eating, bathing their babies in a bowl, haircuts, (yes, people are sitting in the middle of the street getting their hair cut), playing games, drinking tea, reading newspapers, welding (don't ask me how they cope welding in this heat...), etc. If the above doesn't happen than the curve is coverd by parked motorbikes, so it is impossible in Hanoi to walk on there you have to walk on the street. Crossing the street here is also quite an adventure. You basically have to take a deep breath be brave and just start walking straight into the traffic. Don't move to fast, stop suddenly or make any other sudden movements and they will drive around you. As there are no rules there is never a time where the street is clear, so that is the only chance you have crossing the street. Just keep walking..... So, Hanoi is certainly never boring with all that going on.
It is a bit annoying that you are hassled all the time but ususally they stay away after one or two times saying "no".
You can certainly see the French influence here. It used to be one of the French colonies and you can see it in the architecture of the buildings and you still find baguettes and delicious pasteries on every corner.
So far the food is incredible, the herbs and spices they use are just delicious. I can't wait for my cooking course. Also, shopping is again a big temptation here. Might need to get a couple of things...:-)
So far, so good and I have to say I quite like it Hanoi and Vietnam. I love it that you can get fresh fruit on every corner from those little women that carry two baskets on a long stick over their shoulder.
My second day in Hanoi was again quite eventful. Where to start?? I was on my way to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum when I got pissed off the first time. The hotel offered to call me a cab to get there and told me it would be 30,000 Dong. When getting into the cab I asked how much it was he said straight away 60,000. I argued that I was told 30k but he wouldn't have it and said it depends on the meter. However, if he says 60k straight away I am sure he will make sure that the meter will end up there too, so I had to open the door while driving as he wouldn't stop to get out. Even the hotel people then argued with him but he stayed stubborn and left and they called me another one. I get the feeling that they try at least to charge you double of what the actual price should be, even when it is coming through a hote. I also can't help thinking since I am now without the boys and by myself again that they take the piss even more. I have to say haggling is fine, but not when a hotel calls a cab, for a bottle of water, some fruit and all these daily things, I find that quite annoying. The only thing that seems okay are the restauarants and entrance fees, at least you can see your prices there and they also seem fairly cheap too. Euro 2 for a nice meal and a beer, Euro 0.50 for a theatre ticket to the Water Puppet Theatre.... happy days, you really can't complain about that.
So, I got to the Mausoleum and there was a massive queue. Fortunately it was moving quite fast as the heat was unbearable. I am sweating so much, that I am convinced I get pitiful looks from everyone, as no one seems to be as hot as me and probably no one looks so close to passing out than me. The Mausoleum was quite eerie. They bring his body 3 months each year to Russia for maintenance, although rumours say that Mme Tassaud has the contract now. They are very strict here. You can't bring anything, have to be dressed descent, can't talk, can't have your hands in your pockets and so on. At least it was nice and cool in there, so I would have loved to stay there for a while even with a dead body in the room, but they push you through. Apparently the mausoleum is meant to look like an orchid from outside... hmmmm not sure about that. I don't think I have ever seen a buliding more square than that one, so not sure where the orchid comes into place.
The dead body lies in the middle in a glas coffin and is guarded by 4 Vietnamese. It is quite strange to look at a dead body.....
Afterwards you can see the two houses where he used to live. It is very touristy but still quite interesting. As everything closes already at 11am I had to give the museum a miss but who can expect them to close at 11am???
As I said before, the heat seems to be getting to me, as I now thought it would be a real fun idea to take one of those motorbikes that offer you a lift, like a taxi but on a bike to the Literature Temple, my next destination, as I decided it was quite clearly too hot to walk. No helmet, only flip flops, shorts and a T-Shirt and a guy that drives like a nutter, like everyone else. He was driving over red, into junctions without looking, in the opposite direction against the traffic and so on. Som many situations where I had to close my eyes and hold my breath as I didn't really want to see what we were getting into.
In complete shock and grateful for being alive I agreed to the guys suggestion to not pay him straight away but that he would wait for me and then bring me back to the hotel.
Big mistake that was.... Never let anyone wait for you unless the price is agreed, or better just don't do it at all. After I told him that I wasn't interested in a sightseeing tour but just wanted to go back anywhere in the old quarter he got really pissed off and now started driving really aggressive. Before it was just mad, but as everyone else seems to do it too, you just get on with it, but his driving style certainly changed now and I wasn't happy about that. He dropped me off literally around the corner and said he wanted 20,000 but by the time I got off the bike he changed his mind and wanted 300,000 Dong!! The reasoning behind it was that he had to wait for me. We had a massive arguement and I obviously refused to pay him that much. After a while he dropped to 100,000 which was still 5 times the price. After I gave him the agreed money and ran off, he followed me and through the money back at me and called me all sort of names and got so aggressive that I was asking people who stopped around us for help and to call the police. Of course, what a surprise no one spoke any English anymore and not even the word police seemed to make sense to them. After he wouldn't let me go and got more and more aggressive I got so scared that he might pull out a knife or something that I just through the money at him and ran off not without checking every few seconds whether he is following me to stab me from behind. Fortunately I realised on time that it isn't a lot of money and certainly not worth dying for, I just got hung up on the whole principle. I have to say I was quite shaky after that experience. What a bastard and what a stupid mistake of myself to do... but again, you live and learn....
After I had calmed down again, I realised that I even forgot to take a picture from the Ho Chi Minh Mauoleum as the driver picked me up on the back entrance and I originally wanted to go to the front again. Damn! Not being prepared to live Hanoi without a proper picture of it, I ended up walking all the distance the taxi drove me in the morning and the distance of the motorbike, but there was no chance I was leaving without a picture nor that I would get on to another motorbike. I must have looked like death on legs, close to passing out.... and got even more pitiful looks. Every motorbike driver got dirty looks from me from now on... maybe not the way forward but at least for today ;-)
When I finally got back to Old Quarter I went to the Internet Cafe, as I realised that I had lost my credit card in India or had it stolen. So, to check wheter anyone had taken anything but it seemed okay, apart from the shipment company in Kathmandu who has withdrawn the amount twice. I straight away called my bank to find out that they in fact have tried to taken the same amount 6 times!!! Really not my day today!
In the afternoon I went to the Water Puppet Theatre which was excellent! A whole show for Euro 0.50! That's what I call great value! Absolutely loved the show. Couldn't understand a word as everything was in Vietnamese but the choreography and the setting and band were brilliant. The eve was spent on the Internet again still struggeling to catch up. Tomorrow morning I will start my trip to Halong Bay and can't wait...