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Please Ha Noi - Can I have a motorbike??


View Around We Go on LauHot10's travel map.

We caught our first sleeper bus to Ha Noi, and we were quite excited about it. I like the combination of covering necessary miles while in the land of nod and we were both hopeful that we would be blissfully unaware for the majority of it. There was a tourist bus we could have taken directly from Hoi An but being us we caught the local bus back to Da Nang and then waited for three hours in the stuffy bus station until it was time to leave.
Unfortunately we weren't quite as happy as when we'd got on the previous long haul bus. Everything was a little tired but then again it served the same purpose. There were three rows of beds, one by each window and then a central one and there was an upper and a lower bunk. We couldn't see any numbers so we estimated where we should be and took two beds up top. Your legs lie flat and then you can adjust the back so you're anywhere between sitting up and almost lying flat.

I was by the window and it was nice to gaze out from this reclined and lofty position. We both settled down with our ipods and attempted to relax. We came to a large-ish town and a few Westerners got on, they didn't seem that pleased with the accommodation as they were resigned to the back where there is no aisle just five beds side by side, all a bit cosy. A little later on it was time for dinner and we all filed out. Now understanding the process we sat down for our food and an English boy asked me if it was free and I said, as I believed it was, 'yes.' They were a little hesitant but the bus driver motioned for them to sit down, so they did. It all got a little heated after the meal when they were asked to pay, they seemed to be suggesting it might be something to do with their skin tone as no one else had paid, but then neither had we. The logical explanation was that they had got a slightly different ticket, one bought through an agent probably rather than directly from the bus company and meals were not included. In the end they reluctantly handed over the money and back in our bunks the trip continued.

I didn't sleep very well, no better than I had in the chair and I don't think Adam did either really. The movement of the bus and the small proportions didn't help. We were awake earlier and much to our surprise we arrived in Ha Noi before we expected, at around 6am. Having figured out all the Hotels were in Old Ha Noi from a quick flick through the guidebook we climbed in a taxi. As we drove through a waking Ha Noi it immediately felt quite different to Ho Chi Minh, not quite as modern or cosmopolitan. It felt a little more rigid and formal. Thankfully our surroundings didn't distract us too much because the taxi driver was trying to rip us off. One second the metre read 70,000 and the next it jumped to 100,000 when it should have been going up in 5,000 increments every km. When I told him his metre was wrong he looked at me blankly and so I repeated myself a little louder and did a bit of pointing, at this point we stopped at traffic lights. Clearly he didn't want anyone to hear me complaining because he rolled up the windows, but still he acted as if he didn't understand. When he pulled over at our destination we informed him we would only pay what we thought was the correct fair and in the end he didn't put up much of a fight, he knew he had done wrong.

Old Hanoi is situated just north of the Hoan Kiem lake and is a cluster of narrow streets, with a continuous row of buildings on either side. At this time of day it was quiet, as people were only beginning to stir and so we wandered about quite freely. The hotels were open though, so we began to check them out. Most of the time we didn't even make it up to the room because right away the price put us off. One place we did go and have a look and it was a very spacious room with high ceilings and a balcony, it was also down a little alley way which we hoped would mean it was quiet. Just in case we were missing a bargain we checked out a couple of other places before deciding it was the best value for money we were going to get.

Now we had the room sorted we both fell asleep for a little while before venturing out. We walked back down to the lake, trying to get our bearings a bit.
The little streets can become a bit of a maze and most of them look the same as they are a collection of hotels, travel agents, cafes and shops selling souvenirs. We walked to the south end of the lake and went into a book shop to buy a map of the North-West. Having had the best time on the motorbike in the South we wanted a repeat experience. We then went about trying to rent a bike but it was not the easy experience it had been in Ho Chi Minh.

Asking for an automatic automatically ruled out a number of rental places as they simply didn't have them. It was annoying because it wasn't really that we needed it to be an automatic we just wanted a bigger bike because it would be a long trip. The next hurdle was the fact that we could not hand over our passports as insurance. While in Hanoi we planned to get our Burmese Visas which would mean giving our passports in for a few days and as we had done in the South we wanted to use this time for exploring. The final nail in the coffin was the price, it was double what we had paid before and would almost certainly blow our budget.

A little disillusioned we returned to the room and put our thinking caps on. As well as seeing the North we also wanted to go East to Halong Bay and so maybe we could do this while our passports were not in our possession. We didn't want to make a snap decision so in the meantime we continued to discover what Ha Noi had to offer. One of the things we had been looking forward to was the Dong Xuan market and so that is where we went next. The Ben Tre market in Ho Chi Minh had been really good and we had read an article that put this market at number 4 in the world. So our hopes were high, and then they were then dashed. There were three floors but two of them were of no use to us, full of material and clothes. The bottom floor had a few stalls selling some interesting handicrafts but it wasn't the wide array we had been hoping for. Still we managed to find a couple of items that took our fancy and we spent a bit of money before heading back out on to the streets.

There was a chance for a reprieve though because at the weekends there is a night market and a few of the main streets are cordoned off and stalls are set up. It was Sunday night so we just caught it and we were there just as things were getting started. Soon though the streets were full and it was incredibly humid which didn't make for the best conditions to scout out a hidden gem. Again the majority of the stalls sold clothes, perfume, and sunglasses, not the interesting lacquer wear that we were looking for. Adam managed to acquire some new underwear though, so it wasn't a complete loss.

The next morning we tried our luck at getting a motorbike again but were unsuccessful once more, in the end we changed tack and attempted to get a semi-automatic just for the day. Yet again once we mentioned no passport the shutters came down and there was a resounding 'No.' Even the hotel, with the insurance of a room full of our stuff would not break the rules. Without the use of our own bike to get around we had to get a taxi to the Burmese Embassy, and once again we felt the metre was a bit dodgy but there wasn't a lot we could do. The form we had to complete for our Visa was thorough, wanting to know our skin tone and eye colour amongst other things. Once completed we decided to walk back to Old Hanoi rather than pay any more extortionate cab fares.

We returned to the market once more with the vague hope that we'd missed something amazing, but funnily enough it was exactly the same. Still we managed to part with a bit more cash and it set the trend for the rest of the afternoon. Although the market was distinctly lacking in the kind of lacquer items we were looking for, there were plenty of shops selling it. I'm not sure how much distance we covered as we scoured the streets looking at all there was to offer, trying to find the best items and the best deals. By the end of it my knees were protesting and it was time to call it a day.

Later on, in search of food we ended up at the back of the market where there are some little outdoor restaurants set up. It was a bad choice. We were hounded a little as we looked at the menu and in the end felt almost obliged to sit down. When it came to the food we were torn between shrimps and goat, I was leaning towards shrimps but Adam wanted to try something new. I was not so convinced that goat was the best meat but in the end gave in, not wanting to be unadventurous. The woman who had basically dragged us to our seats then turned on a little gas cooker in the middle of the table and proceeded to fill it with a layer of oil. She then brought over a plate with slithers of thin white meat and some onions. The oil then started to spit and I got splattered quite liberally in the face and neck. Noticing this the woman decided to drag my stool back, the plastic legs buckled as they got caught on the uneven ground and I end up falling backwards. It was not going well. Upright once more I tried the meat which had turned almost translucent so that it looked and tasted like fat covered in oil. There was no accompaniment and she didn't cook all the onions. I was very ready to leave when she brought over some shrimps, clearly she had misunderstood and thought we wanted them as well. A bit of stunted argument ensued as neither party could fully understand one another but in the end we didn't eat the shrimps and only paid a small amount extra. I was definitely missing the good food and dining experiences we'd had in the South. That bad reputation was beginning to rear it's head.

The next day we finally came to a decision about how we were going to see the North and the East. The following day we would take a bus to Halong Bay and stay one night, then we would return to Ha Noi, pick up our passports and take the night train North to a place called Sapa where hopefully we would be able to rent a bike. With a plan having formed we walked to the train station to buy our tickets, a very painless experience in comparison to all the form filling that was required in India. To keep the cost down we opted for soft seats rather than getting a bed, we had seen a picture and they looked relatively comfortable.

With the main objective for the day complete we leisurely walked back from the station stopping in various shops along the way. We discovered an area we hadn't been to before and made a mental note of a couple of items which we would look at again when we returned to Ha Noi for one day before flying to Bangkok. The day passed by quickly and it was soon time for dinner again, I just hoped the experience would be a little more pleasurable.

We ended up going to another on street restaurant but this one was packed full of locals, always a good sign.
The tables were set out in rows and we found a spot right in corner. There wasn't too much to choose from so I opted for beef and Adam decided on fried frogs legs. It was much better than the night before, the atmosphere was really good as everyone dug in and there was excited conversation all around us. Weirdly enough all the locals seemed to be eating steak and chips, I think it must have been renowned for being good at this particular place. It wasn't exactly fine dining, one of the walls behind me was black with dirt and grime but it felt more like real life.

Having had a good feed we headed back the hotel and packed up our stuff in to one bag, we were going to be leaving one at the hotel which we would pick up the night before we left Vietnam for Thailand. That task completed we fell asleep, ready to move on again to see the islets of Halong Bay.

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 05:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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