I arrived in Hanoi yesterday. A truly mind-boggling place. Right now, I am supposed to be on a junk in HaLong Bay, but hey, does anyone actually believe I am EVER going to make it on that boat? ;-)
My stomach starts rebelling around 10 pm and by 3 am I am certain that I am going on no cruise tomorrow. I can't believe this!!!! I sent an e-mail to the Ms Ha at 4 am and resign myself to being a mess for the rest of the day.
By now I noticed similarities between 2 of the episodes and intend to NOT eat anything 'cooked in tomato sauce' EVER AGAIN.
I skip breakfast at 7 am (food is the last thing I need now) and try to convince the hotel reception to let me keep my room today. Around 10:30 am I'm able to wobble down to reception but the receptionist still mentions "You look VERY tired." I feel worse ;-(
It being out of their hands, they are very nice in motivating me to move to their sister hotel about 2 blocks from here. The new room will be ready when I get there, which is nice of them. The receptionist walks me to the other hotel and even offers to carry my luggage, which fortunately I am able to decline. (In the coming days I will talk a lot with Mong, the helpful receptionist, so that is why you see a picture of her here ;-)
I collapse onto the new bed instantly and nap until almost 2:30 and wake up refreshed!
Now it's time to go out; I'm in Vietnam for God's sake !!!!
I walk a few blocks, in a direction I believe to be towards a rather large lake I've spotted on maps not far from me. When using the GPS on my cell for directions, a girl on a scooter stops next to me and asks me whether I'd like "motorbike?" At first I say my Cam On, shake my head, and walk on. Of course, I'm still lost, so I have to consult my phone again, and who else stops again but the same girl on her scooter, who turned her ride on a side-walk. Yet another student returned to the homeland and looking for ways to earn money. I point at the lake on my cell display and she quotes me 30,000 VDongs, about $1.50, to drive me there, even though I only asked for directions.
What's my problem? I finally think. I nod to her, she provides me with a red helmet, and we delve into insanity. If you think this traffic looks insane from the outside, try riding right in the middle of it, with a driver who is trying to prove to you that you didn't pay too much.
The almost-encounters would be fun if they took place in a bumper car ride on the fair grounds, but this is real traffic. The fact that after 1 block I take my hands off the bars behind me and start taking pictures, probably doesn't do much to increase safety ;-)
|We're MOVING !!|
After a further quick stop (she pulls out a map and offers to drive me to various tourist sites), she drops me at the lake. Ming (by this time we have exchanged names and life stories) then offers to walk around the lake with me, so she can drive me again afterwards. I finally agree to enter her cell number into my phone and promise to call her tomorrow if I'm in town, but decline all other offers because I'm getting anxious to explore on my own instead of being shipped to 'the sights'.
|The 'small lake' close to the Old Quarter. Its real name is "Lake of the Restored Sword"|
There is a small bridge that leads to a small island.
I pay 30,000 dong to visit the temple on the island (actually, in my current state I would have paid that amount just to get to that island).
I walk along the lake and see various vendors, usually women in their 50s, offering tourist merchandise. But I've never seen any of the stuff on sale here. After paying 30,000 Dong to visit the temple on the island (to be honest, I cared more about the island than the temple) I finally succumb to buying a fold-up card that in fold-up card intricacy surpasses everything I have seen before in my life.
I start noticing my empty stomach more acutely now and since I had noticed a store selling yogurt close to my hotel, I walk back along the same shore instead of circumnavigating the lake on the longer route. Good thing too, because I notice an HSBC bank machine, which actually accepts my bank card and gives me MILLIONS of DONGS , in contrast to the one at the airport
Thank you, Uncle HoApparently this church is one of the main attractions in Old Hanoi, but I stumble upon it by accident when turning a corner. Best way to discover things ;-)
Then I notice I'm standing next to a post office. It can be quite difficult finding one of these in strange lands, because you're not even sure what colour you're looking for. Vietnam Post's colour seems to be yellow, same as that of La Poste, maybe that's why I noticed it.
I buy 2 more postcards and stamps for all 3 items for an almost ridiculously low amount.
I keep walking (no need for help from Ming this time) and find some yogurt and some German cherry juice in a small store.(BUT I will NEVER find this store again ;-( The German Cherry juice only costs 10,000 Dongs (~$1.2), it is more expensive in Germany ! I also buy a pack of cigarettes for the same amount.
Now is the time when the little home cookers move their tiny plastic tables onto the sidewalk and offer various fried-right-there foods to passers by. The smells are amazing and I SOOO wish I could eat what they offer. The annoying thing is that most likely can eat their food without ill side effects, but the fear of an upset stomach still rides deep and I stick to yogurt.