We arrived in Vietnam on the 19th of January, one month since we landed in Beijing. The soft sleeper train from Nanning china was comfortable and we shared it with a nice family, whose young daughter was learning English . we didn’t get much sleep as you have to get off the train twice at border controls, one of these times taking all your luggage. We arrived in Hanoi at 4.30-5am and with our new friend James from the train we embarked on finding the Old Quarter, though we were staying in different hostels.
Lee had researched how to get from the train station to a closer train station, our hotel advised us to get Taxi’s only from 2 companies, neither of which were to be seen at the station. So we walked (lonely planet book in hand) to the bus station nearby and got on a bus going near to the other station. In fact they dropped us near the bridge over the water, from here we negotiated a few streets and were in the old quarter! We said farewell to James and he went to find his hostel, and we walked down a few very quiet, dark streets until we found our Kangaroo hotel at about 5.30am.
They let us straight in our room and we had a few hours sleep before our first day in Hanoi. When we ventured outside, the quiet, dark streets had transformed in a hustle bustle all day and night New Years market that lives along the whole street, selling fake flowers, and red and gold New Years decorations. Also the amount of westerners was a real shock, in China outside of hostels, we were used to be the only whities in the supermarket, on a bus, in a waiting room or on a train.
We walked to the Lake nearby , we were getting hungry, but were money less as we didn’t bring any Dong into the country. I had read online about an ATM which will let you withdrawal more than the standard 2,000,000 which includes a 40,000 fee, not to mention fees from the bank at home. We found a HSBC that would limit up to 5,600,000, but then found the famous branch of ANZ which says it will limit to 10,000,000/ 10 Million Dong with the same fee.
Along the way we were accosted by some fruit sells, (never make eye contact, such a mistake) who though not only did we want fruit but we wanted to have a picture holding the stick with baskets they used to carry them, so in our first few hours I found myself ducking/running away from becoming a Vietnam fruit seller, we smiled but had to walk away quick to convey the message.
We stopped from dinner/breakfast/lunch over looking the water and the busy moped traffic on a 3rd floor cafe, the prices were crazy expensive, but we hadn’t really worked out how money converted yet and as we were almost at the point of passing out, so decided it was worth it. Lunch for 2 at 250k Dong.
Our second day we spend organizing our Ha Long Bay tour over the free hotel breakfast, from here we went to the nearby indoor market surprisingly quieter than street markets but still busy. We then went to find the Quan Thanh temple, only to get distracted along the way by an early lunch at a branch of Loving Hut, vegan chain that was set up to follow the Supreme Masters Religious ideology. The place looked very clean and quaint and had a lot of locals inside. I ordered the classic Vietnam dish, the famous Pho, my first Pho, a rice noodle based soup!
I had the Hanoi style one, Lee ordered a Pho style salad with rice noodles, and we had some rice paper spring rolls too. After China I has somewhat lost my faith in fake meats, not the biggest fan anyway, but the beef and chicken in our dishes was amazing, Lees beef had a lemongrass twang to it and a lovely thin texture. They both had rice noodles, my Pho had thick rice noodles and such a great flavour.
It was delicious, and I’m so glad that despite being Vegan and Vegetarian we can still enjoy real Vietnamese food, which I find to be fresher and lighter than Chinese and love all the lime being used. This kept us full for most of the day, with only one small stop for a few squares of chocolate in the afternoon.
We walked to the Ho Chi Mi Mausoleum, unaware that it is closed Mondays and Fridays, as is the museum. We got chatting to a friendly motorbike driver who was looking for business but chatted to us about English football and didn’t pressure us into anything.
Then we went to the QuanThanh temple, which was very pretty, we were confused about which religion it was referring to, but learnt it was the temple of the Snake and Tortoise. There were a few locals giving offerings and we saw offerings of money, fruit, cake, ice tea powder and cigarette.
We decided to go full circle walking back to the Mausoleum on the way to the Fine art Museum, which I initially thought was just full of ceramics and textiles, but read that it was also a home to lots of Vietnamese contemporary painting. Lee said that he thinks Art Galleries can really show you the differences in countries. It turned out the gallery was actually mostly paintings and had a huge volume of work spanning a few decades. The stone works and paintings were wonderful and a really enjoyable way to spend an hour or so. The style of engravings and gold paint used was really different to what I usually see in art galleries, and was being used in fairly contemporary work as well as older pieces.
The gallery was quiet and mostly for tourists I think, costing 20,000 each, and a tour bus arrived just before us but is a haven away from the hustle bustle of the scooter filled streets, which could still be heard out the windows in the corridors.
On our way back to the Hotel we made it our mission to get a picture of a scooter with an orange tree on the back (New Years Tradition?), having seen 3, in quick succession. We also saw a lot of babies with parents on scooters. The English standard to health and safety is totally redundant here.