Hanoi, Vietnam

My trip to Hanoi began one morning when the overnight bus from Danang dropped me off at a bus station in the south end of the city. From there, I’d hoped to walk to the hostel, but it turned out to be more than 8 km. Normally, I might have walked anyway, but I lacked a few things which are sort of germane to any successful expedition:

  • A map
  • Any idea where I was
  • Any idea of where I should go

There was a map in the bus terminal, but, of course, taking it would have been likely to provoke the ire of the station chief – and it was about 2 m x 2 m. Moreover, since I didn’t really know where I should go, it wouldn’t have been incredibly useful. So, I had to rely on deductive reasoning. Given that many cities grew up around water, which once served as a primary mode of transportation, I figured the oldest part of the city would be the section located closest to the water. So, I looked at the big station map, located a suitable intersection among a tangle of streets and strolled into the waiting arms of the moto drivers to begin negotiation. The first of the guys reached out as if to shake my hand, but instead grabbed my penis, squeezed it a bit and then laughed to his friends – at his temerity, surely. I was kind of taken aback by the whole incident, and it ended before I really decided to do anything about it. Weird.

Anyway, I spoke with one of the moto driver and agreed on a price for a ride to the intersection in question. He dropped me there and, of course, demanded twice what we agreed to earlier. I paid him the agreed-upon price and told him to beat it.

After that, I headed into the nearest hotel and booked a trip to HaLong Bay. Because I booked the tour with the hotel, I was able to use the Internet in their lobby, which I did in order to find a suitable place to stay. I found the Hanoi Backpackers' Hostel, located in a great area and comprised of three separate buildings. It was a fun place to spend a few nights and I met lots of people, including many from Canada.

Unfortunately, the typhoon conspired to derail my trip to HaLong Bay three days in a row and I had already purchased my plane ticket to Luang Prabang, so I had to leave Hanoi without seeing HaLong Bay. Maybe I’ll come back another time. If not, I’ll make up for it with a later trip to FijordLand in New Zealand, which promised to be equally spectacular – at least according to the phalanx of Kiwi’s that I’ve bumped into lately.

In Hanoi, I ventured further into the ethnic food choices, trying all sorts of different meals. Though I have avoided meat, some of the things I’ve enjoyed have sometimes had a suspiciously beefy flavour to them. While wandering through the market, I noted that you are able to buy whole cooked dogs. The animals are about the size of a whippet, and eating them seems painstaking because they’re relatively lean. You’d really have to work to get the meat. Nonetheless, here animals are treated consistently, at least as far as human willingness to consume them is concerned. I am often pained by the mental gymnastics people do when they elevate pets to the status of a deity while sanctioning the cruel treatment of livestock (by virtue of their consumption).

I have grown pretty tired of all the touts, in spite of my earlier tactic of pretending my name was Moto or Tuk Tuk. So, I’ve upped the ante. When solicited by drivers of cycle rickshaws, I quickly hop on the bike as the driver might and tell him to get in the passenger compartment and ask where he’d like to go. I’ve done similar things with motos and tuk tuks. The behaviour seems so unusual that it usually becomes a topic of conversation among the drivers who then recognize me during subsequent meetings – so they don’t ask me any more questions. I’ve done similar things to fellows asking me if I’d like a massage, spinning them around and vigorously needing their neck and shoulders before demanding a payment. They laugh, I laugh and they generally get the idea that I’m not interested.

Apart from toying with hawkers, seeing markets, shrines, pagodas and temples, I also visited the Hao Lo Prison (The Hanoi Hilton), former home to US Presidential Candidate, John McCain. The prison is much smaller now than it once was, but it was still fascinating to get a glimpse into how people were contained.

Eating at all the food stalls, I think I have caught someone’s cold. There isn’t the best hygiene when it comes to plate washing, and there seemed to be little soap available to wash hands in public toilets. Nonetheless, the food was good and there is one thing I enjoyed especially: the fruit shake. It’s basically a cup of various fruits, topped with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk and a dollop of coconut cream. Delicious, and healthier than ice cream or cake.

After days spent wandering around Hanoi, many plates of and lots of time catching up on world news – including the first US Presidential debate and the nearly complete meltdown of the US financial section – I was off to the Hanoi airport and then to Luang Prabang, Laos.