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Hanoi, Vietnam

We arrived in Hanoi the afternoon of the 6th January. We knew it would be colder in the North but Hanoi was having the worst cold snap they have had in ages so after Singapore we immediately felt the cold.

There are boards everywhere warning of taxi scams at the airport and as we did not pre arrange transport with the hotel we went to the information desk as suggested and booked a taxi for USD30 which was a bit of a scam in itself as our return trip back to the airport arranged through our hotel was only USD10!

Our first impressions of Hanoi were quite disappointing. We had expected a congested , bustling city but  that is really an understatement. Hanoi is a noisy, dusty ,dirty, congested, industrial and polluted city. If you have chest complaints you may struggle with the pollution and most locals wear face masks for protection against the exhaust fumes and dust with all the building work going on. In general there is dust, rubble and rubbish everywhere.  

Our hotel was in the old French Quarter so on our first afternoon we hired a rickshaw to take a leisurely trip through the maze of narrow streets and what an experience!  The roads were absolute mayhem but a great way to see the street life. Just outside our hotel were a couple of small squares busy with kids practising break dancing of all things- American street culture in Vietnam a bit of an oxymoron. Badminton courts were marked on the pavements near our hotel and in the early evening we would watch people play next to the busy streets with their pollution masks on which was a bit incongruous.  Market traders and street hawkers everywhere and a complete culture shock to say the least.

Having said all that, you just have to see the funny side: The traffic is just manic! And worse in the old town; we experienced a kind of, “human motor” grid-lock where we were standing in the middle of people, motor bikes and ladies setting up impromptu roadside cafe’s – none of us could move!

At cross roads, it is only by mutual agreement and some kind of intuitive understanding that everyone needs to get to the other side and that traffic somehow moves on. With some 7million motorcycles and not too many cars you have to wonder how there isn’t constant roadside carnage in Vietnam  however somehow it seems to work. The (Vietnamese motorcycle) riders use their motorcycles and bicycles as work horses, they drive on the wrong side of the road (even motorways) they undertake “U” turns on the motorway and build ramps to get over the barriers that some safety minded official had the affront to build across their daily route to work.

 All of that though pales into insignificance though when it comes to crossing the road. Nobody stops for you,(nobody!) and nobody seems to care for pedestrians, but after a few nerve racking, frightening attempts you realise that you too are part of the intuitive body, somehow connected by a kind of sub-conscious whole – look both ways, walk slowly and consistently – remember, don’t stop – the traffic will move aside for you (although having said that, I accept no responsibility if you prove me wrong) Hanoi Vietnam – one heck of an experience for a couple of days stop over.

 In conclusion Hanoi is an experience  but use your stay in Hanoi as a stopping off point for excursions out of the city.

We stayed in the Hotel Metropole, Sofitel which was a quiet, highly welcome oasis in the old quarter of the city and would recommend this as a base. It was a real respite from the dirt and fumes of the city. Try their chocolate buffet, A great treat for all you chocoholics out there-all you can eat exquisite chocolates ,chocolate truffles,chocolate fountain, hot chocolate and chocolate crepes…Yum!


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