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Archive for July 8th, 2009

Madness in Hanoi

A quick glimpse of our first day in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Honestly, I was a bit nervous coming to Vietnam.  Travelers we’ve met over the past 8.5 months and everything we’ve read on blogs and message boards tends to elicit the same varied respnoses.  People either love it or hate it.  The people who claim the latter responses always cite the same reasons: the people aren’t friendly, there’s too many touts, everyone’s trying to rip you off, and it’s just too intense.

It didn’t take long for us to form an opinion ourselves about Vietnam after spending just a day in Hanoi.  And while some may say that a day certainly isn’t long enough to form an opinion on a country, I say bollocks.  I am pretty confident in our instincts, and our first instinct told us we love it here.

As you can see by the videos, yes, it’s pretty crazy here.  The traffic is chaotic pretty much everywhere in Hanoi, and crossing the street is an adventure.  Sure, there are plenty of touts hassling tourists, but hey, that’s just how it is when traveling in countries with a lot of poverty.  It’s really not much different than Lima or La Paz or Bangkok or New York or any other huge city that draws lots of tourists.  That’s just how it is, and the sooner tourists realize that, the better time they’ll have.  A simple “No, thank you” and a smile usually does the trick, although it might have to be said anywhere between 1 and 10 times.

As far as friendliness goes, I just don’t see the basis for all the complaints we’ve heard.  We’ve gotten countless huge smiles from locals when walking down the street, including several emphatic waves from small children who I’m sure are quite curious about us.  The workers in our hostel our great as well.  Sure, we’ve gotten a little iciness from a server or two, and we’ve gotten some annoyed looks from a few touts after being stern with them after being hassled, but honestly, those were few and far between so far.

As with any kind of traveling in a foreign country, it pays to do your homework.  We knew going in that touts could be relentless and that there were countless scams in Hanoi.  All it took was  a little bit of research before going to a new place, which is invaluable (in my eyes) and is something that I’m starting to learn many travelers don’t do, which would obviously factor in to the fact that someone may not like a place.

So when we were on the minibus coming from the airport and a “friendly” local got on the bus when we got into the city to offer his services to help us find our accommodations, we knew he was most likely full of shit and just wanted to get us to go to a different hotel so he could collect a commission.

While  it sucks sometimes to be so negative and think that someone’s always trying to scam you, that probably explains why we really haven’t been taken for anything on this trip.  We paid attention to where we were and where our hotel was located,  and while we were stopped close to where we thought our place was, we asked to get off.  Our friendly local told us that our place was still up further and insisted that we were wrong even though we were holding a map, pointing to the street signs evident from inside the bus, and showing hiim exactly where our hotel was.  He was pretty animated about telling us we were wrong, but we trusted our instinct, got our bags, and got off the bus.  We were right, and our hotel was right around the corner.

So while there are little headaches that one has to deal with in cities like Hanoi, just simple awareness can have a major effect on how people like a certain place.  For us, the energy, excitement, great variety and quality of food, drinking, and shopping, and beautiful sites of Hanoi completely make up for any touts or scammers that we have to deal with.

Our first day here consisted of just wandering, getting to know the city (which is something we always tend to do on our first day in a big city) and researching and booking a trip to Halong Bay.

Today we started off the day with a run in the park that surrounds a huge lake in the middle of the city.  Because of the heat here, the park was absolutely packed at 7 in the morning with runners, walkers, vendors, and groups of elderly Chinese women doing Tai Chi.  After that we ate a typical Vietnamese breakfast of Pho (beef and noodle soup) before heading to the Temple of Literature, one of the most famous sites in Hanoi.

Mmmmm, Breakfast--on a side note, go to Pho Grand for dinner tonight; they do a great job of cooking authentic Vietnamese cuisine

Mmmmm, Breakfast--on a side note, go to Pho Grand for dinner tonight; they do a great job of cooking authentic Vietnamese cuisine

The  Temple of Literature was the city’s first university, founded in 1076 and educating students for over 800 years until 1919 (side note:  It’s pretty astounding to be in a country and city with so much history; for example, Hanoi will celebrate it’s one THOUSANDTH anniversary as a city next year in 2010.  ONE THOUSAND YEARS!!!!  Sorry, I just think that’s amazing and feel pretty blessed to be in a place so historic).  It’s a 14 acre complex of temples, pavilions, and courtyards that now serves as a tourist attraction and place of worship.  Despite the heat and crowds, it was a beautiful place to visit.

Entrance gate to the Temple of Literature

Entrance gate to the Temple of Literature

Courtyard of Sages (in the Temple of Literature complex)

Courtyard of Sages (in the Temple of Literature complex)

Detail Shot

Detail Shot

Constellation of Literature

Constellation of Literature

Well of Heavenly Clarity

Well of Heavenly Clarity

Place of Offering inside the Great House of Ceremonies

Place of Offering inside the Great House of Ceremonies

Statue of Confucius

Statue of Confucius

We went to a local restaurant and ate the local seafood  dish for lunch, and now are just resting during the middle and hottest part of the day.  Tomorrow we take off for a 3 day trip through Ha Long Bay, one of the supposed highlights of not only Vietnam but all of Southeast Asia.  We are extremely excited to see such a unique and beautiful place and hope that our instincts served us well in picking a tour operator, as scams and shadiness abound for Ha Long Bay trips.

Wish us luck, we’ll be off the grid for the next few days, and we’ll be back soon with tons of pictures and stories from our trip.  Until next time…

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