Getting the cold shoulder in Hanoi

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Holy cannoli, Batman!  I’m writing about Hanoi–the last stop before heading off to Thailand!

After an exhausting, smelly and insect infested night bus ride from Dong Hoi, where we got a tour of the really cool Phong Nha cave, we arrived early in the morning to Hanoi to tons of taxi and moto drivers trying to get our services.  They really don’t know how to persuade people because they were yelling at groggy, sleep-deprived people who wanted nothing more than to curl up in a bed.  One guy asked us over and over again if we wanted a moto and, despite telling him “no” a bunch of times, he stood just a couple feet from us, I suppose waiting for us to change our minds.  Luckily, we met a couple guys with access to Google Maps and who were willing to walk with us to our hotel.  I would’ve walked an hour with all my stuff just to stick it to those drivers.  On top of that, it was 15 degrees and raining.

And that was my welcome to Hanoi.

Since I decided to slow down travelling, I knew I’d be spending more time in Hanoi than I had originally planned.  Luckily, there’s a lot to see in Hanoi.  Unluckily, I had prepared for tropical weather and now the daytime high was hovering around 15 degrees.  Never fear!  I just put on five shirts, jeans and just tried to ignore my toes freezing off in my sandals!

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The usual dreariness during the Hanoi winter.

Of course, I spent some time in cafes but not nearly as much as I thought.  Since my friend MT is from Argentina and she was also planning to head to Thailand, she is technically required to have a yellow fever shot, even though she’s been in New Zealand for over a year.  As a result, we embarked on several long, cold journeys all over the city, trying to find a clinic, hospital or doctor’s office that could administer the shot.  It was surprisingly difficult to find.

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We spent a lot of time drinking the free tea and coffee provided by our hotel to warm up after our long walks outside, drifting around, seeing the markets and seeking out street soup.  I feel like a lot of my time was also occupied trying to arrange flights, accommodation and activities in Thailand.  There was a memorable day when I found out that I wouldn’t be able to play with the elephants at Elephant Nature Farm for a week and I was so depressed that I almost bought a kilogram of chocolate.  I’m not joking.

We saw a lot of cool things, including Hoa Lo prison and Hoan Kiem lake and met some great people sitting at the side of the road drinking beer (at only 5000 dong per glass, I debated taking up beer drinking).  It’s a great city with lots going on, with some really good veggie restaurants but isn’t quite as placeless or suffocating as HCMC.  It had some serious drawbacks, though.

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Scary shit at Hoa Lo Prison!!

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First, it was cold when I was there.  It’s not really anybody’s fault, especially because someone told me that I happened to come during a cold snap but it still sucked.

Second, stuff was really expensive!  There were a few things I considered buying but there was no way they were worth what they were charging.  On a related note, shopkeepers were very unwilling to haggle, which is really annoying.  I even had one woman tell me I wasn’t allowed to buy a hat from her!

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The market where a woman wouldn't allow me to buy a hat from her.

Third, the people come off as very cold and unfriendly.  I know that not all of them are but a good majority certainly come across that way, especially to foreigners.  I had been warned about this before I came, by a Vietnamese person, but “They’re just one person.  It’ll be different for me”.  It’s strange that, in the markets, where the shop keepers usually yell at you to try to get you to buy something, they usually ignore you until you ask them the price of something.  It was a nice change but it felt very much like they didn’t want anything to do with you unless you were going to give them money.

Lastly, the traffic.  I think I have high blood pressure from that awful, awful traffic.  In Cambodia, I thought walking into heavy traffic was fun and it was actually pretty easy to get across the road because motos would just move around me.  In HCMC, there were more motos but it was still fairly easy to get across the street.  Through the rest of Vietnam, it remained a minor inconvenience to cross the street because the drivers here seem to be worse than in Cambodia.  That’s nothing like the drivers in Hanoi.

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They think that the pedestrian is the one that needs to yield to them and will show this by narrowly missing you as you cross the street. On top of that, there’s the incessant honking.  Yes, Phnom Penh was full of honking, as was HCMC but, in those places, they were just letting you know to watch out.  In Hanoi, they honk for no reason and to let you know that you need to get the hell out of their way.  We even had one guy lay on the horn until we moved and then opened his window to let us know that he was very upset that we prevented him from moving half a meter forward.

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Overall, I liked Hanoi.  I almost regretted choosing Cambodia over Hanoi to do volunteer work but, I was left feeling like the entire city gave me the cold shoulder…and wanted to kill me.

Gotta go have more adventures here in Chiang Mai!
Meggo

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