Last Monday morning we finally left Denmark on a looooong adventure. 23 hours, 3 plane rides and many cups of coffee later we landed safe, but tired in Hanoi, Vietnam. Underway we almost missed a flight from Hongkong to Hanoi; tired and stressed we left the plane in Hongkong and with it we left our treasured camera behind. We had 30 minutes to transfer to another plane in another terminal at the other end of the airport and 15 minutes into that we discovered that we did not have our camera bag with us. Fortunately we did not have anything else important in the bag other than the camera and because we had people waiting for us in Hanoi airport we decided to get on the next plane without our camera thinking that we might never see it again.
Fortunately we were travelling with Cathay Pacific and they were very professional and helpful. We contacted them as soon as we got to Hanoi and even though there were some language barriers we got the message through. The next few days we called them frequently with the help from our friendly and (most importantly) english-speaking hotel staff here in Hanoi and finally they told us that they had found our camera and was shipping it to us in Hanoi. Much to our surprise this service even included shipping to our hotel from the airport and for a very small fee (300.000 VND) they delivered it express so we could have it with us for our trip to Halong Bay. We are amazed and grateful that this was even possible.
First impressions of Hanoi was not entirely good. We arrived stressed, tired and a bit sick from the flight and the city is very dirty and noisy. Fortunately we got a hotel room without a window facing the street noise – well, we even got a room without windows. At first it seemed weird not to have windows but after a few days in Hanoi we now realize that it is actually a good thing – not all of the people we have met here are that lucky, and we have been told that it is not easy sleeping and trying to get over jetlag when your room has windows facing the busy streets of Hanoi. Most of the noise comes from the traffic (there are motorbikes everywhere and they use their horn every 3 seconds) but even during the night there is also construction work going on and just general people noise.
The worst thing here is without doubt traffic. Crossing the street here is an adventure and you fear for your life every time. After the first day we realized that the best strategy is actually just to walk with purpose and keep a steady pace so that the drivers can predict where you will be at any given time – and ignore that the motorbikes are whizzing past you with centimetres/inches to spare. Hanoi is a very busy place. Even just trying to follow a sidewalk is impossible because life in Hanoi gets in the way all the time – the businesses spill out into the street and street kitchens pop up whereever you can fit a pot and two kid size plastic chairs. The pollution from the traffic is also really bad and it is a usual sight to see vietnamese with face masks.
On the other hand once you get over the jetlag and learn to walk the streets of Hanoi without fear there is a lot of great things about this city. First of all: everything is very cheap. And some of it is very good; like the food. Every meal here has been a pleasure. Even the breakfast at our cheap hotel Gia Thinh is great. The selection is small, but very delicious. The prices are about 20-33% of what the Danish prices would have been. We only eat at high-end restaurants (meaning places where they speak a bit of english and not street kitchens) and the price is about 200.000 VND on average (about 60 DKK or 10 USD for food and beverages for 2 people).
And the people here are very friendly. They will help you if they can. The guides, the hotel staff and the shop owners are all smiling and will try to make conversation even with limited english skills. Life in Vietnam is very different to life in Denmark, so we can’t walk past a street corner without seeing something interesting (just don’t visit the food market – it gets a bit too interesting when you see how they treat meat, and what animals the meat could be coming from).
Oh, and have I mentioned the food here? Tasty, fresh and flavorful. Mmmmmmm.