24hrs in Hanoi

Sunday 26th – Monday 27th November

So, I made it to Vietnam. I was very anxious in the few days before my flight but as soon as I was packed the nerves pretty much disappeared.

I did have a bit of an accident 2 days before my flight when I managed to slam my car door on my hand. The door was properly shut with my fingers inside it all bent the wrong way, it was gross. I was swearing whilst fighting the urge to be sick and frantically trying to open the door again. Luckily I don’t think anything is broken and I should be able to use both brakes.

The flight was good. I had an empty seat next to me so I could stretch out a bit (as much as you can stretch out on an airplane when you’re 6ft tall) and I had a friendly Vietnamese woman who spoke perfect English in the next seat along. She was shocked when I told her my plans.

I arrived at my hotel at 6am local time after no sleep on the flight so to me it felt like bedtime. It wouldn’t be time to check in for another 8hrs but thankfully they took my luggage off me before filling me full of fresh fruit and coffee and sending me out on the streets of Hanoi with some recommendations of places to visit.

The first thing I have to mention about Hanoi is the traffic, it is just insane. I know I have come here after living on an island with no roads but even by a Londoners standard this would be crazy. It is mostly mopeds and motorbikes but there are plenty of bicycles and cars too. There’s hundreds of them just weaving in and out of each other. Junctions appear to be a free for all and the occasional red light only seems to apply to cars. I can’t believe I haven’t seen an accident yet. I did notice a motorbike on its side in the road but as I got closer I realised that it had been loaded up with so much that the wheel had buckled.

I was completely overwhelmed but after watching the traffic and how the locals crossed the road I eventually felt brave enough to give it a go on a few smaller roads before working my way up to main roads. You just have to go for it and trust that nothing will hit you. On one main road I was walking along the “pavement” (which is sometimes impossible because on moped parking or cafes on the street) only to find hundreds of mopeds speeding down the pavement towards me. I couldn’t believe they could get away with doing this but to my disbelief, a little further along the road, a police officer was actually directing the mopeds to use the pavement.

So after walking around for a while I came across the Temple of Literature which was one of the hotels recommendations. It didn’t look particularly interesting but it was like a (relatively) quite oasis in the middle of the madness of the city so I went in.

It was a welcome relief especially as it was about 8am so I had the place to myself.

I then spent the next few hours getting very lost (my map must be wrong, it couldn’t possibly be my navigation skills) whilst looking for the bike shops. About 2 hours later I had chosen my bike. That’s 1 hour 50 mins looking for the bike shop and 10 mins choosing a bike. I had been worried about finding a decent bike out here but that wasn’t the problem. One thing I hadn’t considered was that I might have trouble finding a bike big enough for me. Almost every bike in the shop was a small frame whereas I am usually between a medium and large. They had a few mediums and I’m not sure what he said when I asked about the large but I don’t think they even bother ordering them in. I just need to go back and pick up my bike after I have sorted out the logistics of the next few days.

Finally tiredness and jet lag got the better of me and despite it still being a few hours before check in I made my way back to the hotel. The streets were even busier now and I was noticing that I was getting a lot of odd looks with some people stopping me and pointing at either my hair or their own and grinning. One woman even asked to have her photo taken with me. I wasn’t expecting to become a tourist attraction for the locals but at 6ft tall with a bright purple mohawk I guess I must look quite unusual here. I don’t mind it but I do wish people would stop calling me sir.

Luckily when I arrived at the hotel my room was ready so I just collapsed on the bed for the next 4 hours.

I haven’t really figured out the local cuisine yet so I played it safe and went to a very western restaurant in the evening with some amazing views over the city.

After dinner I planned the start of my route. I am still torn between following the Vietnamese coast south or heading into Laos early to go to Luang Prabang then follow the Mekong south. Sticking to the coast will be easier and probably prettier but the Mekong will give more changeable scenery and although it will be harder I think the experience will be better. Luckily the fork in the road between the 2 routes is about a 2 day cycle down the road so I’ve booked my first nights accommodation.

I also decided I needed to try and shed as much weight from my luggage as possible starting with my guide books and map so started cutting and tearing pages out. It did feel a bit wrong, especially as I had visited the Temple of Literature that morning but I’m sure that Confucius would understand.

I’ve got one more day in Hanoi now before I head off to Halong Bay on Wednesday.

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