Before I talk about our time spent in Hanoi, I first must talk about our journeys from Vientiane to Hanoi. As you know from the previous blog, I opted to fly from Vientiane to Hanoi whereas the boys opted to take a sleeper bus. Now obviously I have far more insight regarding my journey, but I will try to fill you in on the boy’s journey too based on what they have told me (whether they are giving me the whole truth, that I can’t say). My journey was easy if I’m honest I arrived at Vientiane airport with plenty of time to spare, checked in my bag, where for some reason when asked if I had a portable charger in my check-in bag I said no, knowing full well I did, no idea why I chose to do this but it came back to bite me in the end. After checking in my bag, I made my way through security and then past passport control and was official out of Laos waiting at the gate for my flight. At this point, I put my headphone in and started writing the previous blog post. About 40 minutes before we were due to take off I heard over the airport tannoy system “Can Mr Calum Everitt please make his way to the check-in desk” now at this point it is safe to say I did kind of poo myself a little. I can’t say I’ve ever been called up over a tannoy system like that before and if I’m honest I hope it never happens again. I quickly packed up my stuff and raced back to the check-in desk. Luckily Vientiane airport is one of the smallest I’ve ever been in, so it took all of about 3 minutes to pass back through passport control, security and make my way to the check-in desk. Here I was told I had a charger in my luggage that needed to be removed and placed in my carryon luggage (still have no idea why I didn’t just own up when the lady first asked) I quickly removed the battery and then raced back through security and passport control. The whole ordeal lasted no more than 10 minutes but even so my heart was racing a little. Other than this there were no hiccups for me, I made the short flight from Vientiane to Hanoi in about 45 minutes, just enough time to be served a sandwich and drink. Once I landed in Vietnam I had to finalise sorting my Visa. You can obtain a visa on arrival if staying in Vietnam for less than 14 days however we are staying for a month, so this wasn’t the case. As I already mentioned we did sort the visa in Laos but there was still some additional paperwork to complete, I then handed over this paperwork with the paperwork we obtained in Laos along with my passport. I then took a seat and expected a long wait, luckily my wait was all of 15 minutes before my name was called using an electronic system which sounded very much like the late great Stephen Hawking. I must admit some very funny names were read out while I was waiting which kept me amused. Once my Vietnam visa was safely in my passport I crossed through passport control and officially entered Vietnam. Here I took a taxi to the hotel I had booked myself for the night and was even upgraded to a superior room on the top floor of the hotel. The double bed private room and bathroom was amazing, and I thoroughly enjoyed my night of luxury chilling out and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet away from the lads. Hanoi itself wasn’t so peaceful, however, the weather was pissing it down with rain and rather cold compared to what we had been used to for the previous 7 weeks. Additionally, Vietnam was playing Malaysia in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup Final. I watched the first half of the match in a local bar in Hanoi with many locals and found myself celebrating with them all as Vietnam went 2-0 up. It was crazy watching the Vietnamese cheer for their national team it really reminded me of how everyone in England got behind our boys at the World Cup, every bar was packed, and it seemed the whole city was watching and screaming at the action as it unfolded on the screens before them. Football really is a universal language I guess. After the first half, I headed back to enjoy an amazing night’s sleep in my double bed, not regretting my decision one bit to fly and treat myself instead of taking the bus.
The following morning, I awoke thoroughly refreshed, enjoyed the hotel breakfast before making my way to the hostel we had booked for all of us in Hanoi. I then proceeded to explore Hanoi a little on foot, wandering around some of the various sites such as the Green Lake. I also had to purchase a jumper seeing as it was rather cold, luckily on every corner, there is very good knock off North Face gear, so it didn’t take long to find what I was after. After a few hours exploring the city on foot in the pouring rain, I headed back to the hostel ready to meet the boys after their journey. The boys arrived at the hostel around 6.30 pm on Wednesday the 12 of December a good 24 hours after I had arrived in Hanoi. I was eager to hear how their bus journey had gone but I knew full well that regardless of how it had been they would tell me it was great. Their account to me was as follows, firstly the bus was due to depart at 5 pm, they, therefore, arrived at 3 pm to ensure they could try to get the best seats and had time to get some food and stuff. The Bus then didn’t leave until 6 pm, 3 hours after they arrived at the bus station. Additionally, they said they tried countless time to get their seats from the driver but were always told to wait, however, the locals were at this point being allocated the best seats. They were finally given some seats near the back but still didn’t end up sitting in them. They were shouted at and told to sit in the 3 worst beds/chairs right at the back of the bus where you couldn’t sit up even if you tried. These seats were clearly not the ones they were allocated so Ollie put up a bit of a fuse, however, was told if you don’t like it get off the bus, so couldn’t really argue with that. Once in their seats, they took some sleeping tablets and nodded off. They arrived at the Vietnam border around 1 am but this didn’t open until 5/6 am in the morning so waited on the bus here. Once the border opened they said it was utter chaos and they had no idea what they were supposed to do or go, they did say that in the end, their bus driver was somewhat helpful pointing them in the various directions and making them run in the pissing rain from border to border as they were always the last to be seen after the locals. They did finally cross into Vietnam where luckily their bus had waited for them, they did say others weren’t so lucky on different buses and were left behind. Once in Vietnam, they said some of the seats emptied so they could move and managed to get a bit more room. Overall, I don’t think they regret taking the bus as they said it was a laugh in places plus could have been worse. I’m glad it wasn’t too horrendous for them but I’m also very glad I made the decision of flying. Still, we all arrived in Hanoi at our expected times.
Once all reunited on the Wednesday evening we headed out for a bite to eat, we were then heading back to the hostel before we bumped into a large group of fellow guest at the hostel who somehow managed to convince us to go out for a few drinks (it didn’t really take too much convincing) We first headed to a place which served small cups of beer for 5000 Dong (works out around 17p) admittedly it doesn’t taste amazing but for that price who can argue. After a few drinks and a bit of a dance in a different hostel (Vietnam downtown backpackers) Ollie and I headed home around midnight, Fred and Connor once again continued the party for a few more hours.
Thursday morning came around and Ollie and I were fresh due to heading home at a sensible hour, Connor and Fred struggled a little. We had arranged to do a free walking tour on the Thursday morning which was organised through the hostel. Now it wasn’t quite what we were expecting but it was good none the less. Basically, two young Vietnamese women showed up at the hostel to give us the tour, with just us 4 on it. Now it basically transpired that these tours were set up as a bilateral agreement with the tour guides showing people around Hanoi while they also improved their English. After asking us where we wanted to go, which was a little odd seeing as we were on their tour we headed out to explore the city with them. We headed to several different sites such as the green lake again, some old restored house from the 19th century, a large marketplace and finally the railway line that runs through part of the old quarter. Now the tour wasn’t the most factual and was rather disjointed, but it was great to speak to the two lovely young women about different aspects of Vietnam and learn a bit more, first-hand about the culture from true locals. After the tour, the boys also wanted to buy some clothes suitable for the slightly colder climate so made use of the knock of North Face shops like me. On the Thursday night we headed out again into the Hanoi nightlife after enjoying the half hour of free beers at the hostel, in fact, we enjoyed both half-hour sessions of free beer between the times of 6-6.30 and 8-8.30. Once out we headed for a place called beer street which is lined with lots of little bars, here we were quite literally manhandled into various bars by the staff outside, they would physically grab you and try pull you into their establishment, this occurred every time we wandered up or down the street but we found it quite amusing and had good banter with the people doing it. All in all, the night out wasn’t anything special with places being overpriced and not that busy, either way, it was still a funny night.
The next day we took a little tour around the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and the old presidential palace where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked. We were also going to head into the museum but unfortunately, it was shut by the time we arrived. The Ho Chi Ming Mausoleum was also opposite the Vietnamese parliament which was an impressive piece of architecture. After exploring this part of Hanoi for a few hours we headed back to the market, so Ollie could buy a few things that he needed. By this point, it was getting dark so had a bite to eat then headed to the hostel. It was at this point I stayed in the rest of the night finishing a book and watching some TV ready to get up early at 05:45 the next morning as we had a bus leaving Hanoi at 07:15. The rest of the boys had other ideas though and headed out for Friday night on the town in Hanoi. I’m not sure what time the boys got in but let’s just say waking them up on the Saturday morning for the bus was a bit of a struggle, but I managed it and we caught our bus on time. I am however now the Gary again, but hey someone must be and I’m sure that if I had gone out as well we very well wouldn’t have made our bus, so I’ll take one for the team. At the time of writing this we are on a bus (which is so comfortable, and the roads smooth, unlike Laos) into one of the most northern provinces of Vietnam which borders China. Here we shall be spending 4 days doing the Ha Giang Motorbike loop before returning to Hanoi. I’ll detail all about the trip in the next blog post.
Before ending this post I’d just like to add a few side notes on Hanoi, firstly the traffic is insane. There seems to be no laws, no right of way, nothing! It’s just absolute carnage, with the largest vehicle on the road bullying everything else out of the way. Motorbikes zoom around everywhere zig zagging in and out of cars and other motorbikes, there is the constant blaze of horns beeping and quite simply it’s a sensory overload. Somehow though I didn’t see one accident or crash. A good way to experience the chaos of the traffic is to take a grab scooter taxi ride through the city. Basically, it’s a taxi service as you would expect but you ride on the back of a moped to your destination. For some reason, I always seemed to get the worst driver as I also had to wait for the longest to be picked up and even one time had to use my phones Google maps to direct the driver as to where I wanted to go. Secondly, the food in Hanoi has been pretty good and we’ve enjoyed the slight change from the food in Laos, Ollie and I are loving the Pho (a noodle soup dish), we have however seen a street vendor selling fully roasted dog, none of us fancied trying that though! Finally, the atmosphere and architecture of the city feels very European to me almost like Paris (probably due to the fact Vietnam was once a French colony), it has also been a bit more festive in the city too. ALong with the colder weather it finally feels a bit more like Christmas time.
The next few days we may be off the grid a little due to the remoteness of our motorbike trip, but I’ll try to update the blog as soon as possible afterwards. Until then.