Hoàn Kiếm, Vietnam
One thing that hits you the moment you reach Vietnam and that’s one big welcome. Driving through the crazy roads filled with motorcycles and women with ‘Non La’ hats, you do naturally feel on edge, but all this disappears the moment the first Vietnamese person greets you; In our case it was Mr Tony. Throughout our entire journey in northern Vietnam, this kindness, and generosity was apparent in everyone we met. Hanoi is a place you can really get lost in, so, we stepped out after receiving directions for a restaurant two streets around the corner WITH a map; yes, we got lost. We managed to get so lost that we convinced ourselves that neither the restaurant or road didn’t exist after 5 mins debating right outside the restaurant we had set out to find – apparently looking up was a skill we didn’t have. Although we would say the streets weren’t as bad as India, they were still pretty scary, at first. Hanoi doesn’t have the same eclectic range of transportation, as in the main, it’s motorcycles. There are no crossings, well, at least no crossings that the named traffic pays attention to, so you are left alone to cross the road. After sharing tales with fellow travellers and experiencing crossing the road the hard way, we soon found it to be a regular mundane activity. Despite what it may look like, the bikes will go around you, even if they do drive on the pavement; with a vigilant eye you feel quite safe walking around Vietnam. Getting used to the local currency is a little challenge at first and quite a novelty. Around 32,000 Vietnamese dong is equal to £1, so working out the cost of a tea is something that takes as long as drinking it. It’s great though, withdrawing just over £30 makes you a millionaire, although this kudos only lasts around 30 minutes. Talking about kudos, we did experience eating an ice cream outside for the first time in January; I say outside, it was more like the ice cream lovers version of an underground ‘meth den’. The unease at buying a 20p Mr Whippy style ice cream soon passed after your partner, when choosing an ice cream, makes the all inspiring comment “is this more ice, ice cream, or more cream ice cream”, no darling, it’s just ice cream. After a visit to the local revolutionary museum, you really start the understand the relenting past of Vietnam. Without going into too much detail, it gives you a real education into unsettling past Vietnam has so calmly put behind them. To put this in the greatest respect to the country, we can now see why everyone wanted a piece of the country, it’s beautiful. The mix that Hanoi offers of French and Vietnam just works and the people are not afraid to express the past suffered. Coffee shops and restaurants contain used war memorabilia and design. One thing that you cannot avoid seeing at least twice, is that of a water puppet show. It’s not something that can be easily explained and I’m sure a quick you tube video would entertain the most uncultured of those who are vaguely interested. The joy of these shows, really mix the history, desperation, delight and dynamism of the county. The landscapes are so varied, the people are so genuine and the atmosphere is humble. On such a short but informative journey to sites such as Halong Bay and Sapa, you really understand that, at least the North, is a wonderful place on earth to visit.