The bus stopped quite far from the center, but thankfully a guy walked in and said that he offers a shared taxi service to the center for $1.75/person. The taxi goes to his hotel, but you don't have to stay there if you don't want to. I went to the backpacker hostel, but it was crazy, looked like a 24/7 party is going on there, and a dorm cost $10!!! I went back to the hotel and got a private room for $11.
In the morning moved hotels to the best rated hotel on hostelworld. The stuff there were running to assist you, to open doors, to take the luggage upstairs, the minute you showed up, they'd be running with a glass of cold water, they always had huge grins on their faces, but these smiles and their behavior is not genuine when it's over done way way over the border.
Vietnam is huge and I only have 1 month visa, no time to take days off, every day I wake up at 7, go to sight see for the whole day till my legs can't walk no more, get back to the hotel at 11, get 8 hours of sleep, and that's on a good day. Lonely planet got me scared, but nothing can be as scary as India, touts, pollution, traffic?? Give me a break! Well ok, they got it right about the traffic. It's one of the craziest traffic cities I've ever seen. The amount of scooters is unbelievable, there are absolutely no rules, 2 lanes turn into 6, and they don't even stop for red light, and would never stop for a pedestrian. Sidewalks are used as parking lots for scooters and every day I thanked someone when I arrived at the hotel alive. To cross the road is impossible, as there are no breaks in the fast flowing current of scooters, so the rules of street crossings are: take a deep breath, close your eyes and start walking in the constant pace, all the 100s of scooters will drive around you. Everybody who's been to Hanoi has some crazy street crossing stories. But the locals are used to it, so it's relatively safe. I would never rent a scooter in here, I don't think I'll be able to cross the first crossing, where the scooters drive without stopping from all the directions, and somehow in this millimeter game, I haven't seen one accident since I was here. Besides me being life conscious, LP warns about renting scooters in Hanoi. It says that there will be people from the agency following you and will "steal" the scooter when you'll park, making you pay about $800. Or the local people will take some part out, and when it won't start, they'll kindly offer you their services and will put the part back for the very low price of $20.
Hanoi traffic video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oetF3UTIwbc
(LP) Hanoi is not only the political capital of Vietnam. It is also the capital of hotel hustles. Copycat and fly-by-night hotels abound. These will rent a building, appropriate the name of another hotel, and then work with touts to bring unwitting tourists to their "chosen" accommodation. Visitors who question the alternative location are told the hotel has moved and it is not until they check the next day that they realize they have been had. These hotels overcharge on anything they can, often giving a price for the room on check-in and a price per person on check out. Airport taxis and minibuses often work in partnership with these copycat hotels, as they give the biggest commissions and there have even been reports of desperate Westerners working in tandem with these hotels, steering backpackers their way.
I constantly had to look at the map when I walked in the old city center. The names of the streets are all alike, and I can't remember one from another. Every junction I came to, I had to look at the map. Street names such as: Hang Bac/Be/Bo/Bong/Buon, Hang Ca/Can/Chai/Chi/Chieu/Chien, Hang Da/Dao/Dau/Dieu/Dong/Duong ... am I walking now on Hang Ba or Hang Ca? I never had a clue! The street names translate to what that street sells: Bat Dan - wooden bowls, Cha Ca - roasted fish, Hang Huong - incense, Hang Mau - pickled fish, Hang Ruoi - clam worms etc ... you come to a street, and every store sells exactly the same thing, until you turn a corner and go to the next street.
All their words are very short, consisting of maximum 4 letters. It seems that they divide their words into syllables: Hanoi is Ha Noi, Dalat - da lat, Honda - hon da, Viet Nam.
(LP) Old Hanoi is known for its tunnel (or tube) houses - so called because of their narrow frontages and long rooms. These tunnel houses were developed to avoid taxes based on the width of their street frontage. By feudal law, houses were also limited to two storeys and, out of respect for the king, could not be taller than the royal palace. These days there are taller building, but no real high-rises.
I love the hassle of Hanoi, after Laos it's a very welcoming change. There are people, there are cars, there are buildings! It's an extremely interesting city, though it has nothing to offer architecture-wise, but the culture and life are thriving. Hanoi is famous for street food sold around the clock and I vowed never to walk into a restaurant while I'm here. I went to "restaurants" that served only 1 kind of soup, and it's the best soup in the city. If it's the only thing you make, and you make it for years, and it's packed to capacity with tables and low chairs overflowing to the sidewalk, it's probably done right. You just sit, and you get served. On different occasions I tried mixed jelly desert drink, wild duck with bamboo noodles, lotus tea, pigeon, staffed crab, potato mixed with seafood patty, duck tongue, everything's so good! There are many bbq places where they have a display of raw things, you place them in a tray and they grill it for you and then serve it onto a hot plate on your table so the food always stays warm. I always tried a combination of normal stuff and weird stuff, and every day I was excited as to what I'll try the next day. I didn't get the courage to eat intestines though :) Some people say that they like Thailand food, but I think Vietnam wins hands down!
Went to a prison museum where American soldiers were imprisoned during the Vietnam war. I'll write more about the war later, but it always makes me very sad to look at things like that. There is no excuse for war! And I can't believe that some people still are brainwashed to believe that they're doing something noble for their country, for freedom, no wonder most of the people who sign up for army don't have any high education.
Women museum was very interesting, huge 4 floors, nicely displayed artifacts, information about customs, cloths, their role in Vietnam. It has nothing to do with my being a feminist, but it's one of the best museums I've ever been to and LP says it too :) In there watched a short video about street vendors. They wake up at 2am, go to a market and start selling by 4am until everything's sold. Usually it's 5pm, but sometimes it's 7pm. They go back to a dorm with 10 other women which costs 35 cents/night, take a shower, have dinner and go to sleep. And like that every day. Once in 2 weeks they go back home to their village with $20. They do it usually to send their kids to school or it's the only way to support themselves if their husband dies. It's much easier to understand why they rip us off. For us it could be an extra dollar which is not a big deal, but for them it's a fortune. We get mad at them when we get ripped off, they hate us for being greedy, which produces a hate-hate relationship. Is there another way? But I still try to buy from the street vendors, that's where it counts the most.
I also went to fine arts museum. I remember how much I hated when my parents dragged me to the Louvre, but now I was sad when I was done.
I went to a theatre for the must see water puppets show - a very unique form of art in Vietnam. The music in the beginning was beautiful when they were playing traditional instruments, but when the puppets got out, I got bored. They were pretty much splashing in the water left and right for the whole hour of fun! It's such an important form of art that it was only taught to men who stayed in the village for the fear if the women got married and moved to their husband's village that they might reveal the precious secret.
While I'm travelling, I'm wondering more and more what a 3rd world country is. In these countries the roads are better, hotels and restaurants are better, government helps people if there is a food shortage, hospitals actually take care of you, public transport goes everywhere and works very well. Or is it a corrupt government, police and lack of social security?
I took a tour to the perfume pagoda. The guide told us a bit about Vietnam and how they're very proud to be number 1 world exporters of rice (they're always in competition with Thailand). That's kinda contradictory. If they're so proud, why does everyone wear a winter jacket, gloves, socks and a big hat at +35C not to get a sun tan? Not to show that they're a working class people. They wear these flowery jackets and pollution masks and all look alike. I haven't seen the masks in such a quantity anywhere yet. They've gone crazy in here! Even on the buses, even on mountains. If they think they have pollution problems, what's there to say about India? I'm wondering how much money you could get if you'll start the mask selling/importing business in India if you could successfully convince the Indians that they're the most polluted country in the world? And it's not like they look or allowed to look at each other anyway, so a covered face won't do too much difference at all.
We arrived on the bus to a river and took a paddle boat to the pagoda. Annoying ladies were paddling nearby and the whole way were whining to us to buy something from them. Buuuuuuy somethiiiiiing, buuuuuy from meeeeeee. You buy nooooooooouu!!!! (Talking to me) Missy, missy, missy missy, why aren't you answeriiiiiing? "Cause you annoy me!!". The whole boat started laughing. Missy, missy, missy, missssssyyyy! Do you have children? "No!". You need to have one boy ok!
It would've been such a relaxing boat ride if it wasn't for them.
We took a cable car up and enjoyed the free sauna inside. Who built a car with no windows is beyond my comprehension. The pagoda was just in a cave where they found lingam like stalagmite and decided that this cave is holy. The journey and the views were nice, but to come there just for the pagoda is a waste of time. We all walked on the way down. I needed water but everyone was trying to sell me water and chase after me to put the cold water to my hand for me to see how cold it is. I promised to myself that I'll buy the water from the first person who'll not tell me to buy it. 45 minutes later, I'm at the bottom and just went to the restaurant to buy it. On the way back on the boat I collected a whole bag of garbage. This river is disgustingly dirty!