Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

21 October 2009 – day 5 – Wednesday – Hanoi, Vietnam

Today wasn't quite as busy as the last two days. We got up fairly early, ate breakfast, and met another OAT guide named Prin in the lobby of the hotel. She took us to the Bangkok airport and got us on an airplane to Hanoi, Vietnam.

The plane ride was pretty uneventful. I fully intended to do some writing in my travelogue but didn't even have time. We landed, got our bags and met our Vietnam tour guide, whose name is Lee.

Then we got on our tour bus and headed for the hotel.

The hotel room where I'm writing this is tiny

and the beds are hard as rock; could have been granite under there for all I know. But hey, free Internet access, so I could check my email and facebook.

Lee told us that Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It's home to six million people. And three million motorbikes. It's easy to believe. Although Bangkok has nine million people, Hanoi seems more crowded. The traffic is non-stop and it's a chaotic jumble of mostly motorbikes everywhere. It's every pedestrian's worst nightmare. (But still not as bad as I remember Cairo!)

It's not only motorbikes. There are a few busses and cars here, and also quite a few bicycles.

The fun thing is that they use these vehicles for everything, and they often overload them. There are vendors, for instance, that load their bicycle up with goods to sell.

They also have these strange three-wheeled bicycles here that act as single-person taxis. They call them “cyclos.” Kathy and I own recumbent trikes, so the trike concept doesn't bother me. But these look comfortable for the passenger and hellish for the driver.

On the way to the hotel, I was surprised to spot a huge factory for Canon. I took a photo of it, with my Canon camera.

After we checked in to the hotel, we went on a little orientation walk that included various landmarks

and a small local market. The market had all kinds of bizarre foods,

including grubs, frogs, turtles, eels,

shrimps, squid,

crabs, fish heads, you name it.

Most of it was still alive.

Like many markets across the world, the meat vendors had no refrigeration, which is something Americans aren't used to seeing.

I love local markets because you see things you never see in America, and you see people going about their daily lives.

The walk was a bit frightening to some (not me) because the traffic is horrendous. That's where the three million motorbikes comes in. The problem is the sheer number of them, darting about everywhere. The best advice is to walk slowly across the street and hope that nothing hits you. Seriously. This is exactly what you need to do.

Lee told us about one time where he had a small group of travelers in his care. If I remember correctly, he was in Saigon. I'd like to believe he wasn't exaggerating. Apparently a small group of them went shopping across a busy street from their hotel after Lee's bus dropped them off. It was rush hour traffic, and Lee took the bus back to his home. When they tried to get back across the street, it was too busy for them to cross. They waited for a safe time to cross, but it never came. Finally after waiting for two hours, the people didn't know what else to do, so they called Lee on his cell phone and begged him to come back and get them. By then, it was two hours later, and it would have taken more than an hour to drive back, so that was out of the question. Lee was clever; he called their hotel across the street and explained the situation to them. At once, they sent a hotel porter across the street to fetch the travelers and help them cross the street safely. The moral of the story is that fear is the enemy and if you're timid, you'll never survive in Vietnam traffic.

Like Santiago, the power lines here in Hanoi are a jumbled rat's nest. I think it's even worse than Santiago.

We had our OAT orientation meeting, then we hopped back on the bus and went to a restaurant called the Banana Flower, and the food was excellent. I loved everything I ate. The restaurant is named after the flower of the banana, parts of which they use in a very tasty salad.

Kathy is not very happy with our hotel room. The room here in Hanoi is small and cramped. We cannot pass one another anywhere in the room without bumping. The worst part is that the bed is very hard, and it's hard on Kathy's hips. We affectionately call it “The Rock of Hanoi.”