Saturday, April 21, 2007

Good Morning, Vietnam

12th of October 2006 - 16th of October 2006

Despite a missed flight, I managed go make my way to Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, 17 hours later than planned. When I landed, I went to the ATM to take out a bunch of cash to get started. Had no idea what the currency was worth, so I took out 100.000 and thought I had heaps. But turned out it wasn't even 40 DKK/7 USD... Oh :) So I took out 1.000.000 instead - I'm a millionaire!

All text below was written on April 21st, five months later, so bear with me...

K.L. had honestly made me hate cabdrivers, so I completely refused to take a cab to Hanoi City, and decided to find my own way somehow. I would rather fool around for hours than get ripped of. Luckily and ironically, a bunch of the cabdrivers turned out to be really friendly, and found me a bus to the city. This ride would cost me 5000 dong (2 DKK or 0,40 AUD), even though it took two or three hours (because of all the stops and the crazy traffic)... By the time I was sitting on the bus, and we were on our way, it was clear to me that I was in for another culture shock...! As I was sitting in the bus, with people staring at me (being the only white person on the bus, or on the road we were on for 2-3 hours for that matter) like I was a new animal to the local zoo, I couldn't believe how crazy the traffic was! At first I thought our bus driver was completely bonkers, since he was honking CONSTANTLY. But after a while i realized that everyone did it - the busses, the cars, and most of all: the motorbikes! An unbelievable number of scooters in a big zig-zag mayhem.

Two or three hours later, I was in the center of Hanoi in the worst traffic I had ever seen! It took me about 15 minutes before I dared to cross the road, plus I had to shake of quite a few hopeful local blokes who were trying to get a new guest for "their friend's hotel". After a short bus ride and a fair bit of walking I got a bit sick of fooling around, so I decided to ask for direction. Obviously, the only "helpful" person around was a cabdriver... F*ck. Anyhow, we agreed on a price (30.000 dong), the guy drove for a little while till we were at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel (I later realized I could have walked there in about five minutes... Damn cabdrivers).

Coming from the legendary Red Palm Guesthouse, I was quite hard to impress when it came to hostels, but Hanoi Backpackers Hostel turned out to be nothing less than great! Being owned by to crazy Aussies, it had the same standards as the good hostels in Oz, AND it had the same social "come sit down and have a chat over a beer"-kinda atmosphere... Awesome! So... I grabbed myself a beer, sat down and joined the group of happy backpackers exchanging crazy travel stories. At night we went out for a bit of a piss-up at the Bia Hoi, a famous Vietnamese tourist attraction - it's pretty much just a very small shop with a whole lot of very small plastic chairs outside, selling beer for 2000 dong... Less than one Danish krone! Brilliant!

Policemen in Vietnam aren't very good at their job, or maybe they just don't care. Probably the latter. Later on, when we were in some bar down the street, they suddenly turned off all the lights and music, and told us to shut up. I quickly learned that the bars and cafes aren't allowed to stay open past midnight, hence the shutdown. As soon as the police car had passed the bar, the lights and music went back on. The police came back, but by the look of it, they just couldn't be bothered to "crash our party". Strange. Even though I was with backpackers from westernized countries like myself, staying in an Australian backpackers hostel, everything felt completely new. No doubt I had come to a very, very special place...

In the early hours of the morning, I was randomly telling a kiwi dude named Gareth about my plans and ideas about what I wanted to do in Vietnam, among these some sort of motorcycle trip on a rented bike, which a guy in Cairns, Australia recommended me. Gareth suddenly looked like he couldn't believe his own ears. "Shit, I've been waiting here for three weeks for someone to join me on a motorcycle ride up north!". Gareth was now happy - he had found someone to do his motorcycle trip with. Few days later, we had found another two - I invited Morgan, and Alex, a Dutch guy from the hostel, heard too much of our excitement and decided to postpone his other plans and join us too.

Other than going out and hanging out, I didn't do a whole lot in Hanoi. However, I did go see the Temple on the lake - Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple, which had a huge stuffed turtle. Not super exciting, but still a bit interesting at the same time. Naivety overcame me when I was studying a Martyr's monument near the lake. Two Vietnamese fruit-pushers suddenly mounted me with a stupid rice hat and one of the things they use for carrying the fruit they sell, pulled out my camera and took a picture of me. I was keen on buying a bit of pineapple, but definitely NOT keen on paying the 100.000 dong they wanted for the photo. After a bit of discussing and cursing, I threw them a couple of 10.000 notes, grabbed some bananas and pineapple and took off, half laughing at my stupidity ;O)

Next few days I didn't do a whole lot (hmm, deja-vu? Feel like I've written that a few times on my blog ;)) - mainly because my stomach was a bit, eh... funny, after eating not properly cooked meat with my noodles at a not especially decent food vendor :) But that's the only time I've been a little bit sick on my whole trip so far! On Sunday, we went to the motorcycle rental place and picked up four bikes. Man! I had had one short ride on Mike, the hostel owners, bike, but riding an old Russian two stoke with a manual four speed gearbox through Hanoi during rush hour was quite a challenge... Nevertheless, we survived the ride back to our hostel. We even filled up the bikes at the gas station on our way back :) Morgan arrived late in the afternoon, after quite a fight with a cabdriver who wouldn't stop trying to get her to stay at stupid hotels the cabdriver knew etc. etc... We already had her bike ready, parked in front of the hostel, ready for our big trip the next day! Neither Morgan nor Alex had ever ridden a motorbike before, so they were up for a challenge when we were to leave Hanoi in morning traffic the following day...