Hanoi

After 30 days in China, we had to move on as our visas expired, so we got our acts together to book a bus journey to Hanoi.  We had to go through an agent, as it’s impossible (or at least, beyond our collective wits) to book onward tickets when you’re not actually in the city.  The package worked out quite well, as they also organised a night’s accommodation to break our journey and a chain of people across China and Vietnam to collect the two tourists from each bus and deliver safely onto the next.  These people were not chosen for their English language skills, but it was an easy job for them to recognise us as we were the only gringos on the bus, and we just merrily followed behind any Chinese person who waved us over, trotting along behind them like two loyal but rather slow labradors (as we were laden with backpacks, and these guys always seemed to have places to be and weren’t dawdling).  This could have gone horribly wrong, but didn’t.  We were safely delivered to a hotel in Nanning (on the Chinese side of the border), which had a mattress made of concrete and this was the only option if you wanted something softer:

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After a night in Nanning we were collected by another silent escort and delivered onto the bus to Hanoi.  After our night on the bed of concrete, I slept most of the way.  I had to wake up to walk through passport control at the border.  The two countries took a rather different approach.  On the chinese side, there was the orderly queue that I have come to expect at these sorts of places, on the Vietnamese side you just piled into a scrum to throw your passport onto a heap with everyone else’s, where the clerk is picking them to stamp in no real order and then flinging them back into the same scrum, to be distributed to the correct person by whoever happens to grab it first.

Hanoi turns out to be exactly my idea of what an Asian city would be like; shops spilling out onto the pavements so that you have to share the roads with thousands of motorbikes, people congregating on street corners to eat and drink, old men playing mahjong in shady spots, noise, smells, energy. I love it!

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We only have a few days, and there’s not many sights for us to see as such(I didn’t want to see Mao’s body and I am similarly not disposed to see Ho Chi Minh’s) so we just spend our time wandering around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem lake, taking in Hanoi’s characteristic flavour. The French have left their mark here, leaving behind some now rather dilapidated architecture, tree-lined streets and a healthy appreciation of the baguette (the bread here is delicious, and the bread in China was abysmal, so it’s a treat).

Mr Beet starts off hating Hanoii. After Yangshuo, he is out of big-city modeand the traffic and the noise condensed into the narrow streets of the Old Quarter is the most intense we have encountered yet. But after a while he comes to terms with the rules off engagement for crossing the road (it’s true what everybody says, you just have to go for it and walk steadily with no sudden moves and the motorbikes will avoid you. It just takes a few goes before you come to have faith in this technique). He also feels much more positive after we have dinner. I’ve noticed on this trip that Mr Beet’s mood correlates closely with when he was last fed.

We give our wandering some structure by setting ourselves the task of finding some new reading material. The big book shop’s English language section consists only of Victorian novels and the Twilight series. We find a more eclectic selection in some second hand stalls. We also planned our days around trips to the luxurious ice cream parlour, which did ice cream in the shape of other food. Here’s sushi:

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On our last night we go to see water puppets. It was quite fun, but if I were Vietnamese, I’d be somewhat baffled that all the tourists go and see what is essentially Punch and Judy on water as their taste of Vietnamese culture.

More photos of Hanoi on Mr Beet’s flickr page.

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