My time in Hanoi has two parts. The first time I was there was for four days…
Upon arriving, my motorbike buzzing along after the short ride from Ninh Binh, I noticed two things: I liked the vibe of the city, and the traffic was crazy. I weaved in and out, between and around the hundreds of other motorbikes and the few cars that shared the street with me. After stopping a few times to check my navigation, I made it to the hostel I had in mind. I didnt do much that day, just walk around taking in the sights and sounds of the busy city. I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of people honking. Add to that dozens of smells: Noodle and rice dishes being served, meats being boiled and grilled, the exhaust smoke from the vehicles clamoring the road, all cooked by the humid, sweltering heat of the city.
The next day I visited the Hoa Lo Prison museum. Its a small, grim, concrete building used first by the French to hold Vietnamese revolutionaries, and later by the North Vietnamese to hold American prisoners of war. In the section about the latter, photos depicted Americans being well fed, well taken care of, and allowed to play games and decorate their cells for Christmas. I felt that this wasn’t very realistic. In my mind, during wartime most people treat their enemy inhumanely.
In Hanoi I also had the chance to meet up with a couple friends I had made almost two months ago in northern Laos. We caught up over diner. Later while walking the streets we found a mini carnival, and decided to ride the carousel. It felt good to be the only adults on this ride. We were remembering what a day in the life of a kid looks like. In fact, we looked like we were having more fun than the kids.
My fourth day in the city, I couchsurfed with a local woman. She was extremely sweet and welcoming. The next morning an Englishman who was also on motorbike and I took a grueling 10 hour drive to Lao Cai, near the Chinese border. I spent a few days in the gorgeous mountain town of Sa Pa, which is for the next post… While in Sa Pa, a friend from Brazil decided to catch a flight from Bangkok to Hanoi to visit me during the last two weeks of her trip in SE Asia. Hence Hanoi part two…
I loaded my motorbike on a night bus and made my way back to Hanoi. I arrived at 4:30 am, not a chance of checking in anywhere. I decided to drive to the lake to take a nap on the bike. A couple who arrived in Hanoi at a similar ungodly hour spotted me fixing a few parts that got loosened by the long bus ride, and the man came over to offer a hand. The man was Scottish, the Woman Basque. We got to talking and hanging out, waiting for the time to pass. After 5 am, people started showing up and got ready to practice Tai Chi and other group exercises. We joined the Tai Chi group. I ended up hanging around with the Scot all afternoon. They were a lovely couple.
My final day in Hanoi, I picked up my friend from the airport 60 km away from the city (really far I know). We left our bags at a hotel and walked around the entire day. We stopped several times to grab a cold drink and to get some respite from the sweltering heat and humidity. We meandered through the streets of shops all selling the same items. There was a shoe street, a flower street, a pots & pans and backpack street. Besides the heat, I really enjoyed the fluidity of that day.
After 4 wonderful days on Cat Ba Island with my friend, I am back in Hanoi with the distinct urge to get out of here. I need to sell my motorbike and catch a flight somewhere. Anywhere that’s markedly different from here. Not because I don’t like Hanoi or Vietnam, but because I have spent 7 weeks in Vietnam. There is so much more to see in the region. I quote Tom Petty: “It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going, what lies ahead I have no way of knowing…”