Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hanoi Part 1 - A New Country Where I Don't Feel The Need To Hit Someone

Blogging over the past week has come to a screeching halt due to a number of contributing factors. The first factor has been that we took a 3 night tip away from Hanoi to a place called Sapa and left all of our computer gear with our main packs back at our hotel in Hanoi. In hind sight, this was a really bad idea as we were constantly worried that some of our stuff might be stolen while we were away, but luckily it was all there when we arrived back in Hanoi - we won't be parting with all of our gear like that again! The second factor has been that upon our return from Sapa to Hanoi, Jenni feel sick and I made myself sick by not eating or drinking while running around trying to organise various things to make her better. Thus we have both been bed stricken for the past couple of days, Jenni with a nasty bout of Gastro and me with a mild touch of Gastro, coupled with dehydration, lack of food and splitting headache, probably caused heatstroke. 

Fortunately, thanks to the medicine provided by my Dad and the excellent medical advice given to us via a series of phone calls and text messages both from Jenni's mum (who is a nurse) and my Dad (who is a doctor), we seem to be well on the road to recovery. Today we managed to get some food into us at breakfast, have taken plenty of water and both feel healthy enough to write a post about our activities in Hanoi, our first stop in Vietnam.

We were both really looking forward to reaching Vietnam for a number of reasons, the first being that everyone we have spoken to that has already been there has had a blast. The second reason was that we were really looking forward to seeing a familiar face again as we had planned to meet our good friend Erik, along with his partner, Mita in Hanoi.

Upon arrival at the Hanoi airport, we were picked up by our driver, Bing, who drove us to our hotel. I never ceases to make both Jenni and I chuckle when we walk into the arrival area of an airport or train station to find my name written on a piece of cardboard and someone holding it up, as more often than not it doesn't say "Michael McGonigle" or "Mr McGonigle", it always says "Mr Michael"!. 

During our drive to the hotel, we noticed how friendly our driver was and that he could speak very good English. Over the past week of staying here we have noticed that pretty much everyone here is very friendly, although that is probably because they are trying to get money out of you. Sure people are still trying to rip us off left right and centre, but at least people are doing it with a smile on their face! However we did recently meet two Vietnamese people who were not taxi drivers, hotel staff, shop owners, tour guides, etc and they were also very friendly and very easy to talk to. Even though the infrastructure in Vietnam is decades behind China, the lack of subways, shopping malls, convenience stores and decent plumbing, the friendly attitude that people have here is making this country infinitely more enjoyable than China. (On a quick side, this is the first place we have visited during our trip where we have not seen a McDonalds or a Starbucks).

On our way to our hostel, we learned from our driver that cars in Vietnam are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. In an attempt to reduce the amount of traffic on the road, the Vietnamese government has placed extremely high taxes on cars here in Vietnam. A new Toyota Corolla in Australia would probably cost less than $30000 AUD. The SAME car in Vietnam would cost $38000.... US! Considering the average wage in Vietnam, $38000 US is probably the equivalent of an average earner buying a Ferrari back in Australia. To top it all off, the Government charges approximately $2000 US to get your car licence plates and an additional $1000 US to have it registered!

Although there are not many cars on the road due to their high cost, that certainly does not mean that the traffic is mild. It is in fact rather busy... actually that is an understatement, it is chaotic! Every man and his dog here owns a scooter and they weave all around each other, all over the road. It is quite a spectacle to watch such a large amount of traffic manage itself. It is hilarious to stand and watch (from afar of course!) one of the very few traffic lights that lie on one of the main roads entering Hanoi's Old Quarter (the busy center of Hanoi). Within about 60 seconds of the light turning red, close to 100 scooters will have piled up ready to go when the light turns green. If the light turns green and there is a bus or car, stuck in the middle of the intersection, all 100 scooters will go anyway, weaving around each other and anything else in the way. It is insane!

Upon arrival at our hostel, we discovered that it is more like a low budget hotel than a hostel. The staff are really nice and we have a large room with good air-con with windows that open out onto the Old Quarter Street. We have discovered that backpacking on the bigger budget than most others has allowed us to stay at more of the nicer places along our travels. 

The Old Quarter is the central district in Hanoi, surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a very busy place with all of the streets lined with market stalls and places to eat and drink. In the past, each street sold particular types of goods and the street was named after the goods that were sold on it. Now days each street has a variety of goods being sold on it, but as you walk down some streets, you can notice groups of toy stores, jewelery stores, sandal stores, travel agents, etc all bunched together.

Anyway, getting back to what we actually got up to. Well, we didn't really do much on our first day. The only notable thing worth mentioning is the little restaurant that we found a few blocks down from our hostel that serves a damn good Hoi An chicken rice. For the low, low price of only 65,000 Dong (for all of you with dirty minds, thats the currency here, Vietnamese Dong, not 65,000 penises!), which is about $3.80 AUD, you enjoy this taste sensation. It is so good that I have returned 4 times over the past week to order the same thing. Hoi An chicken rice is a mixture of leafy herbs, thinly sliced onion, small pieces of mushroom, steamed chicken and yellow rice, mixed together with squeezed lime, a splash of soy sauce and a little bit of chili sauce. It is very light to eat and not at all oily like most other typical Asian food. Because of the huge mix of herbs throughout the dish, every mouthful tastes slightly different, each one being delicious. When Jenni and I get back to civilization, I will definitely look up how to make this and incorporate it as one of my regulars for dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Another good night of cooking in the kitchen in Albany! of course I will do some too. FMR