It’s funny looking back, because I definitely though that things couldn’t get more chaotic, busy, noisy and overwhelming than Bangkok was when we first began our travels. Oh how wrong I was. Cue Hanoi.
If arriving in Bangkok was like a dusty and dry sandstorm, then Hanoi was a full-on monsoon of the senses, a hurricane of sounds. I’m sad to report that it rained pretty much the entire time we were there, and that it got so cold we were forced to go out and buy rain jackets, woolly hats and thermal layers. But never mind that, because we also has the most amazing and crazy time in this amazing and crazy city.
Not ones to let the weather hold us back (we are British after all), we did a lot of things during our 6 day stay in Hanoi. We visited Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Hoa Lo Prison, Halong Bay, a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show, the Vietnamese History Museum. We stayed in an amazing boutique hotel as our group tour finished, and then moved 4 doors down to a young and noisy hostel which handed out free shots every night and finished the evening with a group rendition of Robbie Williams’ Angels. We ate delicious Viatnamese food, nachos, pizza, slow drip Viatnamese coffee. We wandered the streets and the markets and found that you can never really wander anywhere in Hanoi, especially not the Old Quarter, where you must have your wits about you 24/7 as well as a 360 degrees turning neck lest you be run over by the millions, and I mean millions, of mopeds which dominate the small and cluttered roads.
A 2 day trip to Ha Long Bay was definitely a highlight and a dream come true, and the greyness and mist only added an element of otherworldliness and mystery as our boat cruised through the thousands of islands which jut out of the water. Kudos to the group of Viatnamese boys on our boat who provided us with the most surreal memories of the trip as they turned the dining room into a full on techno rave at about 8pm and refused to let anyone leave until they danced with them.
My time in Vietnam was only brief and very limited – I only wish we could have gone on to see some more of the country down south, and some sun too, but it’s definitely inspired an interest in me about the country’s tumultuous political and military history. I’ve just started Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and intend to read Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War too as a means of beginning to piece together the fragments of the Vietnam War through literature. I hope that when I return to Vietnam in the future, I will understand a little more about this fascinating country.