Hanoi: Overwhelming

We arrived at Hanoi Airport in the evening of Saturday 8 December. Our flight and visa immigration went smoothly.

We chose to catch the airport shuttle, run by Jetstar, assuming that it would be more ‘legitimate’ than other taxis – apparently there are a number of scams that operate from the airport. We should have negotiated the price but didn’t and ended up paying about five times what we should have. The driver told us we would leave in two minutes, turned on the vehicle, took our money, and then walked back to the terminal. We ended up waiting more than half an hour while he touted for more business. We’re not so worried about paying too much – the money is worth a lot more to him than it is to us. But we were upset that he took advantage of our naivety by taking our money and then leaving us to wait for much too long.
It was such a shame to have this as our first experience of Hanoi, as first impressions often last…

The next day, we braved the streets of Hanoi. We heard that Vietnamese traffic was bad – but we had to be there to believe it. Road rules and traffic lights are just a suggestion. If you want to have any chance of getting across the road, you have to look left and right, wade calmly and steadily through the traffic, and just hope for the best. The scooters, bikes, and cars will swerve to avoid you. The footpaths are covered in scooters, rubbish bins, and chairs, so you often end up walking on the road.

Eventually, we made it to Hoan Kiem lake (Lake of the Returned Sword). On the weekends, they close off the streets around the lake, which was a welcome relief! The lake is beautiful and the outside of the temple gorgeous. We didn’t make it into the temple because there were so many tourists.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Hanoi, taking in the sights and the sounds. Cooked food is really cheap here. For lunch we had a big meal of rice paper rolls, salad, lemongrass skewers, a Coke, and a beer – about $8 NZD between the two of us. We arrived at the locals’ entrance to the restaurant, and were escorted through a door to the tourist side. It was shame because we were looking forward to eating with the locals!

In the evening, we went to the crowded night market and bought Gore-Tex rain jackets for about $25 NZD each. We have been unlucky with the weather here – usually there is only one day of rain in Hanoi in December, but our whole trip has been rainy. Negotiating is also hard and stressful – although I’m sure we’ll be pros at it by the end of our trip. I messed up in one of the negotiations for a jacket, thinking we had more money on us, and we had to leave without buying. This is a big faux pas in Vietnam, and the lady looked pissed. We scurried out of the store.

For dinner we had a banh my (a filled roll with hot meat) for $1.50 NZD each. Bahn my are everywhere here, and they are delicious.
After our first day, we were wondering what on earth we were thinking, coming to Vietnam for the better part of a month! Thankfully, things improved over the next couple of days…