17.01.2012 - 21.01.2012
On Tuesday 17 January, after exactly 2 months in China, I leave to try and discover a warmer climate in Vietnam. Leaving my coat, scarf and gloves behind in Nanning, my bag is lighter and my heart is hopeful for sun!
Arriving in Hanoi, I soon discover that the accounts of the chaotic traffic are true. Getting off the bus we attempt to cross 4 lanes of mopeds, racing past us. Eventually a Vietnamese guy takes pity on us and helps us across the road.
A few days later, on a trip to Halong Bay, I learn an interesting (and believable) fact:
About 6 million people live in Hanoi. At rush hour there are approximately 4.5 million mopeds on the streets of Hanoi!
I have barely stepped through the door on my hostel (Central Backpackers) when I am nudged into the bar for free beer at happy hour. The beer is from a suspicious looking keg on the floor, and is poured into my glass from a old plastic bottle...but it's free so I take advantage of the offer. The next few nights see plenty of cheap drinking, including taking part the 'upside-down margherita' tournament, and scoring a point for England (although we didn't need the point as we were very much in the lead). A messy night of vodka buckets and several games of 'Spoons' resulted in most people passing out before 11pm.
Aside from spending the evenings in the company of drunken travelers from all over the world, I was keen to do a bit of sight seeing. On Wednesday a group of us went to visit Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. It was a strange experience as we were marched through a heavily guarded room where the well preserved body of Ho Chi Minh lay in a glass coffin. Later on reading up on the mausoleum, I was surprised to learn that Ho Chi Minh had requested before he die to be cremated and scattered in Southern Vietnam. But against his wishes money was invested in building an elaborate tomb to display his body to mourning Vietnamese and tourists.
Wednesday afternoon me and Isabel (a German girl studying in Shanghai, who carried around a tortoise in a tupperwear container) visited the Ho Lo Prision, set up by the French and used imprison Vietnamese 'criminals' up to the 1930s. A simple museum with plenty of detail. A genuine guillotine used by the staff at the prison towers over other more simple instruments of torture. Life-like figures of inmates gave me a bit of a scare.
Another 'tourist conveyor-belt' attraction, but well worth it for the spectacular scenery, and an escape from the city. Out on the water I feel at ease as we sail between small islands, the water littered with boats all heading in the same direction. The tour leads us to a set of caves.
Following this we are able to set off on our own (but only for 45 minutes), kayaking around the bays. As we get out of the kayak I see cuttlefish for the first time. About 8 or 9 of them, in a small netted area...probably caught for eating. I try not to think of the fate of the cuttlefish, and admire how beautiful and alien they are. Seeing them up close was unforgettable. The second day of the trip consisted of us slowly sailing back to shore.
Back on land we make the long journey back to Hanoi to be greeted with another happy hour (the bucket disaster). Later that evening three of us survive the buckets, and make it out to a club. As I sit down and consider how I am going to afford to buy a drink, Elliot kicks something under the table. Reaching down he pulls out a full, unopened, bottle of Grey Goose vodka. We order cans of Sprite and glasses, and have a very cheap night.