Saturday, 21 February 2015

First day in Hanoi

We arrived in Vietnam this morning, to a newly refurbished airport in place of the quite basic affair that we flew into last year.  Travelling from the airport to Hanoi city it became obvious that the airport isn't the only thing to have received a bit of spit and polish during the last year.  Where there was once a dusty 2-lane bumpy highway running approx 20km or so into the city, there's now a pristine 3 lane motorway which is largely unused. Perhaps it was the time of day, but we saw more sports cyclists than cars or scooters.  Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. While I appreciate progress never stops, I can do without the attempt to sanitise the area for the benefit of tourism - especially when just 50 yards away from the highway there's still the usual ramshackle huts and buildings.  I come to Vietnam to see it as it is, undiluted.  I can't help thinking that by adding this veneer of neatness to a country that's actually very raw and alive, it's somehow missing the point.

I travelled with Jim and Bryan, who are both new to Vietnam. Since it has just been Vietnamese New Year (known as 'Tet') it was actually very calm and quiet by VN standards. So it wasn't the complete culture shock that we had last year. Many of the displays and decorations from Tet are still up in the streets.

Hoan Kiem Lake

By the time we arrived at the Hotel Tirant, we had been awake for around 20 hours and counting. We didn't manage to get any sleep on the plane. We had a quick coffee then met up with Del and Joe who arrived here a few days ago, then went out for an explore while the hotel staff got our rooms ready.

Aside from the subdued atmosphere, not much has changed. It was still the assault on the senses that it always is.  We visited Flamingo travel and made last minute arrangements before heading out for a beer.  First stop was the Green Pepper, one of the cheapest bars in the Old Quarter, at the Bia Hoi junction which is entertainment in itself.  We were sat on these little seats about 10" tall, way out into the junction and having scooters and cars literally brush past you as they maneouvred their way through.

Del had booked us into an unusual restaurant that turned out to do the most incredible pork with lime and chilli, and five spice chicken. Any concerns from the new pair about how they would get on with the food in Vietnam was soon put to rest.

After a couple more drinks we called it a night early, since we have to be at Flamingo at 8.30 tomorrow then get packed loaded and on the road.

In the morning when we've got the bikes, we will ride from Hanoi out to Ba Be. We're all keen to get going, and I plan on getting some GoPro footage of the craziness that is Hanoi traffic - even if it is Sunday morning traffic I still expect it to be pretty bonkers.

Tomorrow and the night after, we'll be at the Homestays where wifi is quite unlikely.  I'll try and write up the day's events along with some photos then upload them all on Tuesday when we're at a hotel.

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