The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Fifty cent beers and crossing the road in Hanoi.... what traffic?

My pulse is racing and the adrenaline pumping,  I'm in the thick of everything crazy. Frenetic and vibrant. Where just about anything goes and if it doesn't fit, it soon will.  I've dived into Hanoi and been hit with a tsunami of traffic - both people and vehicle.   I have never in my life seen so much chaos and movement on a street in my life.  Everything from scooters, cars, push carts, bicycles, rickshaws, strange little three-wheeled trucks and six seater golf-buggies to conical-hat hawkers with bamboo poles across their shoulders carrying the freshest of fruit, the heaviest of hazelnuts and the sweetest smelling flowers, spill across the street in a crashing of horns, bells, yelling and above all chattering and laughing.  The sights and sounds send my senses reeling as M and I alight from the taxi after an all nighter flight and along with our luggage, we carry our jetlag across a crowded footpath, dodging red, kindy-size stools, tangles of power lines that hang dangerously low and another sea of scooters -this time parked- to our hotel. 

We've jetted off to Vietnam to celebrate a milestone birthday and re-charge the batteries, and judging by the pulsating vibe of Hanoi, we are going to be well and truly energised and zapped to awake.  Our hotel is situated in the Old Quarter, up near the 121years old Hang Dau Water Tower that looks like an elegant but fading wedding cake.  After stowing our gear, showering and collecting a map from the front desk, we take life and limb and step out onto the road. And it is literally onto the road, because there is absolutely no way we can even contemplate walking along the footpath.  
It is chokablock full of parked scooters.  Or scooters driving onto it to park, or reversing off.  And where there is no (or little) scooter parking, there are thousands of tiny red plastic stools around tiny plastic red and blue tables in front of small makeshift kitchens cooking the most delectable smelling culinary delights. Tiny little stoves atop with bubbling pots and open fire flames lick across grills. Next to them sit plastic dishes filled with meat, vegetable and edibles I have absolutely no-idea of. 

The smells tickle the tastebuds and tease us, but we're not game enough to try anything just yet.  We pin-ball down the road, darting here and there, franticly missing the traffic, trying not to knock against low hanging tangles, all at the same time spinning around ogling at our surroundings.

Hanoi's pace might be fast and furious, but her façade is one of graceful shabby chic and I quickly fall in love with the architecture of her French colonial past. Shabby terrace buildings with lacy balconies and shuttered windows cascade down the street and butt up against Asian style concrete structures with box like angles and hardness.  Trees espousing enormous limbs hang over the streets, their roots pushing up the footpath paving, adding to the dangers of walking without looking.   We finally make it to the end of the street and lo and behold, what a sight!  In front of us, sits Hoan Kiem Lake, but we can barely see it for the traffic that streams in all directions with absolutely no rhyme or reason to the flow, across the massive round-a-bout. 
Over looking the roundabout is an enormous building with storey after storey of pubs, filled with patrons all sitting on the balconies taking in the views.  This is where we aim for. Close to half an hour later and almost in tears, shaking like a leaf and thinking, surely no way in hell will we survive, we've crossed the traffic and are safely tucked up in one of the balconies to try our first Vietnamese beer.  Imagine our disappointment when we're offered a Dutch beer (they sold no others) and then it was at a price one almost needs to take out a bank loan for!

The following day we decided to visit the resting place of the Father of the Nation - the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Presidential Palace.  Rising early to beat the traffic and the crowds - absolutely no hope - we made our way down the wide tree-lined boulevards past faded mansions that serve as government buildings and consulates, past petit coffee shops and an enormous church painted in mustard yellow.  Yellow appears to be a favourite colour for buildings in Hanoi as they are everywhere, even the gorgeous Presidential Palace is a vibrant shade of lemony-gold. By time we reached the Ho Chi Minh complex, the traffic is so bad we could hardly hear each other. We can't see too far in front of us either - the pollution so horrendous, the smog covers everything with a grey blanket. 

As we come to the gates of the Palace we can see the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh across the wide open courtyard.  We head for it only to be whistled at by a guard and told to walk right around via a number of streets.  We aren't the only tourists told to do this and with the Mausoleum only metres from us, we follow the street up, along, around, then winding through various other streets - finding the entrance becomes a bit of a treasure hunt - and finally find ourselves at the back of the park complex - and an hour later.  Then we, along with all the other tourists have to line up in two very straight and very quiet lines and enter a building to have our bags x-rayed, then told they are to be handed in.  Small handbags could be kept, but anything considered large (and the definition of large is very subjective) has to be stored.  Also cameras, any large camera is a no-no, but a small camera or Iphone is allowed to be kept.  We can't fathom the reasoning for this at all.  I totally understood (and agree) that taking photos in the Mausoleum was an absolute no-no, afterall, why would one want to photograph a long past body (actually I find myself asking why I'm even lining up to see a dead body), but couldn't understand why my camera was not allowed even outside the Mausoleum but those with small cameras could keep theirs and take as many photos as they wished outside the Mausoleum.  After handing in our bags and cameras, we are then required to walk in two straight rows to the Mausoleum -but not in a direct straight line to the Mausoleum.  Instead we 'snake' our way via barriers with lots of stopping and waiting at various times.

Above us the sun belts down, not a tree in sight.  We're also parched. our bottles of water were also confiscated.  Eventually we come to the entrance of the Mausoleum and with absolute quietness (and hats removed) we enter the building and are out the other side within minutes.  Where upon only our cameras await and so too the water sellers. 

We wander around the rest of the park complex, seeing the simple 2room stilt house Ho Chi Minh lived in, the beautiful lake filled with enormous carp accessed by a quaint bridge, and the pretty little One Pillar Pagoda, but the highlight is checking out Ho Chi Minh's Used Cars - yes that's the actual name on the sign pointing to the building that houses the cars he used during his life. 

Overall the complex is beautiful, but extremely crowded and we make haste to find somewhere quieter, a small wet market selling all the usual strangely delightful stomach turners such as intestines, frogs, animal heads and distorted tongues, but I was curious to find freshly chopped, ready to go-and-fry vegetables - no cutting utensils required and all very fresh.... our markets could learn a thing or two from Vietnam's I find myself thinking - so much better than this frozen packet stuff we get!

Our next stop is Vietnams first University - the Temple of Literature - a stunning complex of gardens and gorgeous decorative pagodas with strange little topiary animals and exquisite bonsai trees, most of them ficus - with miniature buttress roots and vines hanging down.  

In the centre of the complex is the Library.  82 structures of engraved slabs each resting on a turtle - The Doctor's Stone Stelae -  erected between 1484 to 1780.  Each of the slabs are engraved with the texts of 82 exams that were held between those years and include the names, birth and achievements of the exceptional scholars of the time.   They are inspiring to say the least.
Our feet are killing us, the traffic is terrifying us, we are wilting.  Making our way back towards the old quarter we pass the mechanic shops and tool shops - delighting M to no end - then come to a cross road where we spy a small 'stool pub'.   There's nothing to this little abode, a ramshackle 'hole' in the wall with lots of tiny red stools hosting lots of adult males with 'knees near their ears' partaking in pale ale. 
We join them, order what's being eaten at the next table to us - turns out to be tofu and was incredibly delicious - and a couple of beers with absolutely no idea what we are going to get - nobody speaks English here at all.  The beer is poured via a rubber hose from a canvas bag.  Light, refreshing and going down a treat, our glass turns into a couple (plus more) and the total bill comes to less than $4aud - the beers only costing 50cents a piece. 
Armed with my beer bravery, we continue to wander back to our hotel and crossing the road becomes a breeze.  Traffic!   What traffic?


  1. Wonderful blog. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed. Amazing city - incredible country.

  3. Great stories and pictures. Thank you!