Tuesday, 18 January 2011

HANOI VIETNAM Janurary 2011

The air quality was pretty awful when we were in Hanoi
On the morning of the 18th Jan we flew from Kuala Lumper to Hanoi in northern Vietnam to meet Vern, my brother, and Jo for a few weeks of traveling together. We met at the airport as planned and in spite of all the warnings about taxi scams we still got caught. Our “taxi” (not a taxi) quoted us VD400,000 for the trip but when we arrived he said he wanted that amount for each passenger! We didn’t pay him and when David went into our hotel to get them to come and sort it he quickly accepted the agreed amount and fled!. We discovered we had paid twice the going rate! Advice… don’t get a taxi that is not a taxi, ie. Not marked. Red ones and blue ones are OK apparently.

The streets get pretty busy
We checked into our hotel, Nam Hai (more on that one in a separate post) in the old quarter, and set off to explore. The old quarter is extensive for the walker and the traffic is pretty lively but very easy to negotiate. You just shuffle into the traffic and keep walking slowly. It miraculously just separates around you! I wouldn’t try that in Perth. So having become acquainted with the road rules and the traffic we ventured up many interesting lanes and alleys. Our first brief was to get some warm clothes. We’d all arrived dressed for summer and with no fall back position. The unseasonably cold weather caught many travelers by surprise and the heat was on to get into some woollies! (Temperatures are usually around 12c to 20c but plummeted to 5c to 12c.)

One of may lovely facades.
The dealers in coats, particularly North Face copies were doing a roaring trade and our group alone bought 10 coats from him. Vern and Jo had some other Australian friends flying in next day as did our sailing friends Chris and Daun from SV More Magic. Coats alone weren’t enough for those of us used to the perpetual summer of the lower latitudes so it was onward for tights, scarves, gloves, shoes, socks and beanies! Now very nicely attired, and warm, the real agenda could be pursued, that being eating, stooging in assorted interesting shops and of course galleries and Museums.

Vern and Jo and their friends went off to Halong Bay to do the boat thing but being yachties, ourselves and Magics decided to stay in Hanoi. David and Christo spent hours walking the streets checking out the casket of dead Ho and the war and ethnology museums. Daun and I virtual shopped. That’s to say we didn’t buy anything but at the end of the day would decide what we would have bought if we had…(a) somewhere to put it. (b) enough room in the luggage now that it was full to capacity with woolies. (c) the need or the budget for it! It was all extremely good fun.
All decked out in our new woolies.
We did purchase some very good coffee called Civet coffee. Producers use a technique to select the best beans which involves the participation of Civets. Apparently these creatures are coffee connoisseurs and this penchant is employed by growers who harvest the dung of the coffee eating weasels, clean it and roast it for sale as Civet coffee. Its defiantly the best coffee I have ever tasted! 

There are an exhaustive number of galleries and clothing shops of a very high standard scattered around the area. It wasn’t difficult to explore just within the Old Town for 3 days. There was still plenty to see.

A visit to the Ethnology Museum was a must do for Daun and myself, however it was very cold inside and although the displays were good we only spent a couple of hours there. Getting there back on the local bus was the biggest adventure because we got lost. Finally we found a severely overcrowded bus going our way.

Eating is always an adventure in a new place and Hanoi had plenty of choices. Our favorite Vietnamese food was Ban Me. A really delicious bread roll, better than any Ozie bread, filled with spicy pork, lettuce, green stuff, coriander relish and something pretty hot. They varied from seller to seller but we usually at them for lunch. There was a delicious restaurant called La Restaurant near our hotel which had terrific food at great price. Vietnams legacy of the French occupation is very obvious in architecture and food and very much to the benefit of the western traveler who occasionally likes to eat familiar cuisine.

Bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake
Vietnamese people are very friendly without harassing you. We found that English is reasonably widely used and we had very little difficulty communicating.