The first time I arrived in Asia, in Mumbai more specifically, I was 21 and had three hundred pound in my pocket to last me three weeks! Now a few years older, having promised myself for years to do this trip, I have finally arrived back. This time I am starting in Vietnam and we will be working our way back to Singapore meandering thought Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia along the way over the course of a month.
We landed on time in Hanoi at midday on Tuesday 9th July. The first thing that hits you here, as soon as you leave the plane, is the humidity. Like in most of the South East Asia Vietnam has a tropical climate and we arrived at the height of the wet season.
I remember when I first arrived in Mumbai seven years ago that there were people everywhere - you literally couldn't move an inch without someone trying to sell you something or offer a service of some kind (and that was before you had even gone through passport control!). At the time I was offered curry in the toilet, by the luggage hall, from a group of persuasive women who had set up camp there. They then expected me to tip each one of them for something I didn't end up even purchasing! I remember this being quite intimidating and was expecting (and slightly anxious) that Hanoi would be the same upon arrival but I was wrong. Instead the airport was calm, clean, relaxed, it's easy to get your visa and no problems with bureaucracy or ten people trying to do the same job confusing the hell out of you! It was easy and stress free!
To make life easier (and being on a slightly less tight budget than back in 2006) I arranged a driver to pick us up and take us to our hotel in Hanoi. I though there may have been some confusion with this as I first arranged it a few weeks back but even this was smooth and we got to our hotel easily with no fuss.
The journey took us from the outskirts of Hanoi, where the airport is, to the city centre's old quarter. The journey was fine but the driving is certainly different here! We made the trip to the hotel safely, navigating our way over both sides of the road (in fact if you didn't know which side of the road they drive on here - you wouldn't be able to guess by looking at which way the traffic flows!) People drive on either side dodging one another miraculously! Crossing the road as a pedestrian as we discovered later in the day is even more of a gamble.
We checked into Hanoi's Elite hotel for the night (which I can very highly recommend) and went out to explore the nearby sights before dark. After standing beside what we know of at home as a zebra crossing for a few minutes we realised none of the traffic was going to stop. Instead you have to just go for it and hope for the best - the more you do it the more you get used to it!
The streets are mazes of food stalls, clothing shops, moped repair centres, restaurants and pubs making it easy to get lost and discover things. However, I was surprise with how stress free it was, sure it's busy, but not like other foreign cities and no one stopped to bother us at all. Trees and street vendors line the way as well as lots of live wires! I stopped off and tried to withdraw some cash but after getting to the third digit of my pin code I had to give up as the electric shocks from the cash machine were too much and had disabled my elbow!
We only managed to make it down to the Hoam Kiem Lake before our journey and jet lag caught up with us so we decided to stop for a beer and some food. We nipped into a restaurant close to our hotel and were taken to the upstairs onto their balcony which was very cosy and sloping heavily downwards. We shared Hanoi special spring rolls to start and had noodles and soup for main. The food was amazing and I could easily eat it every day especially when it all came to about £12 with two beers and G and T's.
We headed back to our hotel and both fell asleep before 9pm and slept through until 3am when I was wide awake which brings me to now! Today we are off to Ha Long Bay to the east. We will return to Hanoi the following day to explore some more before getting the overnight train to Dong Hoi.