A Travellerspoint blog

Good Morning, Hanoi!

Day 02

Started my second day in Hanoi at 6 a.m. Thought it would still be dark, based on the fact that it's usually not very bright yet at 7 a.m. in Malaysia when we go for morning worship. But I was wrong! The sky has already brighten up, maybe a bit misty, but bright enough with natural light nevertheless. The road outside the hotel was exceptionally quiet, unlike anything seen during the day. Still, the lady vendors have already started working and a few motor drivers have already started looking for passengers.

Before
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This was yesterday afternoon.

After
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Where are all the motorbikes?

I started my walk by going straight to Hoan Kiem Lake. Not an extraordinarily beautiful lake, but there is seriously A LOT of people, considering it's not even 6:30 a.m.! There are people walking, jogging, playing badminton, working out on benches, and the most interesting of all -- people (mostly ladies) of all ages doing aerobics to catchy tunes by the lake side. Truly a sight to behold.

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Lakeside Tai-chi...

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...and lakeside Tai-Chi

Here is another video, there are really MANY people doing aerobics. This is just one group. There are MANY other groups.

I continued my walk through the French Quarter. Under French rule, as an administrative centre for the French colony of Indochina, the French colonial architecture style became dominant, and many of them are situated in what is known as the French Quarter today.

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Hanoi Opera House

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St. Joseph's Cathedral

While walking around, I noticed in several spots there are things like these...
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Upon closer inspection...
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... it actually provides tourist information! By using the touch screen we can see directions to our desired location. That is pretty cool! Haven't seen anything like that in Malaysia.

I had breakfast at Hapro Cafe by the lake. Seems like there are a few Hapro set-ups around this place. Things are pretty pricey too. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with french fries for 39k Dong, including 10% VAT.

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This costs RM8!!!

After breakfast, I proceeded with my walking tour into the South of Center. There I visited the Hoa Lo Prison (now a museum, also sarcastically named as "Hanoi Hilton" by the American prisoners-of-war), the ticket is 10k Dong and the museum is quite informative. The prison was originally built by the French to capture and torture those who rebel against French domination, then during Vietnam War it was used by the North Vietnam government to imprison American pilots who have been shot down. One famous captive is Mr. John McCain, who nearly became Mr. President.

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As the story goes, some Vietnamese "patriots" escaped from the jail through the drain.

In true communist style, the museum mentions about how badly the imperialist French treated their dear comrades, with torture and bad food and everything else; whereas when North Vietnam captured the American pilots who are shot down as prisoners-of-war, they claim that the Americans were treated well and not harmed. Not quite the same as what the former prisoners say, but taken into perspective (without considering the cruelty of the war itself), it's pretty comical.

After visiting the museum I walked all the way into another district -- Ba Dinh. It is so far that it is beyond the scope of the map of Hanoi that I have. Haha.. Not THAT far actually. This is where you can see Lenin and Ho Chi Minh (Lenin as a statue and Uncle Ho as his dead body). Ho Chi Minh's body can be visited in his mausoleum if you are interested, but I am not, and it's not opened on Mondays. By the way, many musuems in Hanoi are closed on Monday, so Monday is not a good day to go museum-hopping in Hanoi.

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Lenin from Russia...

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... and the house for Uncle Ho's dead body.

I continued with my never-ending walk, and went to Ha Trung Street to get some USD exchanged into Dong. USD1=17600 Dong. Much better than the 15000 Dong usually calculated by the vendors, so I had USD50 exchanged. Later events tell me that I should get at least USD100 exchanged but I didn't, so I underestimated the popularity of Dong in Vietnam. It's time to walk back to the hotel to meet David!

Posted by abellim 05:45 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Our Friends in Hanoi

Day 01 (part 3)

I'm back in my room at around 12 p.m.+. Have to iron shirt, take shower and get ready for meeting, which is 2:30 p.m. I went downstairs at 1:30 p.m. and approached a motor driver. Showed him the address and he seems not sure of where it is. Soon a whole gang of motor driver crowded up and started discussing in Vietnamese where the place is. Either that or they are discussing how they wanna chop me up like a vegetable (Chinese expression). A guy who seems to be the leader offered a ride at 100k Dong. He must be crazy. I said no, so he asked how much, I said USD2. He then offered USD6, then USD4, and I walked away. The initial guy I approached chased after me and agreed on USD2. Throughout the journey he seems unsure of the place we are going, but in less than 30 minutes I am already at the meeting place, without taking even a wrong turn! Riding on the motor is truly an adventure in itself.

One thing that you will definitely notice in Hanoi, or Saigon, or wherever in Vietnam for that matter, is how messy their telephone cables are set up! I wonder what is it that got them into such mess. Could it be that whenever one broke down, they just pull up a new one, and eventually it got so out of hand that they don't bother with it anymore? I mean, how do you expect them to find the cable that is faulty and actually fix it?

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In my hurry to get ready, I forgot to bring along my tie. The first person I met at the entrance was Bro. Loi, and I borrowed a tie from him (coincidentally he had an extra tie). Next I was introduced to Bro. Ha, who can speak some English as he used to be in New Zealand. I sat with him during meeting and he interpreted for me what scriptures the speaker is referring to. I can't understand a word! Well, except for the names.

After the meeting I was invited by our friends from Korea to their place for dinner. As the ladies were busy preparing food, we chit-chatted and played jenga. Jenga is the game where wooden blocks are stacked up in a tower formation, each storey being placed perpendicular to the previous. Then we take turns to remove one block out from any storey except for the top, and place the removed block on top. The game ends when the tower collapses. More exciting than imagined. Haha... Soon dinner was ready and what a wonderful Korean spread! We spent the evening talking and laughing.

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I left their place at around 8 p.m.+, took a bus with Thoa (a bible student who also stayed around the Old Quarter). The bus fare is 3k Dong and soon I am back in my room. Along the way back I saw these helmets on display. Such helmets are being sold everywhere in Hanoi, I don't know how well they can protect heads but they sure look cute!

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The balcony is super windy so I did some writing there, and enjoyed my first day in Hanoi.

Posted by abellim 05:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

First Time in Hanoi

Day 01 (part 2)

Just in case you are lost in all the destinations, here is a map of Vietnam.
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And also, just in case you are lost in all the street names, here is a map of Hanoi.
http://www.reidontravel.com/hanoi/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/hanoi_color.pdf

After an hour or so, we reached the Vietnam Airlines office along Ba Trieu Street. True enough, even before getting out of the van, several motorcycle (xe om) drivers have already crowded up to get passengers. I politely declined and decided to walk to the hotel. Thank goodness for the map! Would be totally lost without it!

Finally reached my destination at around 11 a.m. The hotel is located along Hang Thiec Street. Got my keys in a matter of minutes and up to the fifth storey I go (no lift!). Earlier our friend David Rorke had booked the room for me. It's a place where he will usually introduce brothers to stay at, thus we get a lower price than other rooms. More about David later. The staff are very friendly and the room looks ok. Not fantastic but still decent. USD10 per night. Also comes with a balcony. But the weather is really hot, so with all the windows around the room, the room is literally baking during the day, even with the air-con switched on. Anyway that doesn't bother me much as I went out again soon.

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I started walking all the way to the train station to get tickets for Hue on Wednesday night. Motor divers are everywhere! But I never felt too pestered as they always leave me alone after I say "No, thank you". The traffic condition in Hanoi must be seen to believe! Loads of motorbikes, and almost everyone drive however they like. Traffic lights are mostly for decorative purposes, and all road users are mind-readers. There is never a break from all that honking and they somehow manage not to knock into each other on the road. I am impressed.

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Here is a video of the traffic in Hanoi. This is how the roads look like every moment of the day! And this wasn't the most impressive scene on the road that I have seen there.

I arrived at the railway station by walking along the tracks, and successfully overcame the challenge of getting a ticket. As I did not have enough Vietnamese Dong with me, I had to pay in USD, at the unfavourable rate of USD1 = 15000 Dong. The actual rate is USD1 = 17600 Dong. Anyway I paid USD 35 for a Level 1 hard bed overnight sleeper train ticket to Hue. The original intention was to get a soft bed, but they were all sold out. Since I am around here, I might as well get 2 bottles of mineral water for the next two days.

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Feeling hungry now so ordered a bowl of pho ga (chicken kuay tiao soup) at one of the stalls I passed by. 20000 Dong for a bowl, and that's my first meal in Vietnam. Doesn't really taste out of the world. The national dish sure isn't cheap, considering most people here earn so little. 20000 dong is nearly RM4! I continued my walk back to the hotel. So far I haven't met a stranger in Hanoi that I can describe as friendly, so my opinion is that folks in Hanoi aren't very amiable towards foreigners. Or maybe I don't look like a foreigner enough for them to be especially friendly?

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Posted by abellim 07:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Before Hanoi

Day 01

Woke up in sweat at 4:40 a.m. After the alarm rang twice. Earlier I have booked a room in the newly opened TuneHotels.com at RM16.18. It's 7 minutes away from the LCCT and brand new. It was only a day old when I checked in. The hotel operates just like AirAsia, it gives you the basic and you pay for the extras. My room came with a bed, fan and bathroom with hot shower. You pay if you want air-con, or towel, or hair-dryer.

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Anyway I slept less than 3 hours in that room so it doesn't really matter much. Kok Meng (a brother from Tampin who went to KL to visit his grandma) and I arrived at the hotel 11 p.m.+ last night, we threw our bags in, took a shower, and went to KLIA for a walk. The airport is pretty small compared to the one in Singapore, and certainly not as busy. Every corner looked the same and we lost our way while going back to the car. We wanted to pay our parking fee at the automated machine, but it did not accept our chip (the parking ticket). After trying all the machines to no avail, we pressed the "Help" button. Only then we realised that there are several parking blocks and we can only pay our parking fees at the respective wings. The reason was because KLIA had four parking complexes side-by-side, C and D are together while A and B are separated. So we had to find our way back to the correct complex, which is not very easy considering everywhere looked alike. Eventually we managed and returned to the room to catch some sleep.

Ok, back to 4:40 a.m. My flight is 6:30 a.m. so I have to check-in latest by 5:45 a.m., which I do not dare to try. So quickly got ready and set off to LCCT at 5 a.m. First thing upon reaching LCCT is to check in my luggage. Sent the luggage through the X-ray machine and checked in my luggage. Nearly 12kg. I got my boarding pass and went for breakfast. Everything is expensive here, a McDonald's McMuffin with egg breakfast set costs RM9.50 which is almost double the usual price! I am gonna bring my own bread the next time I come here.

Soon it's boarding time. Everything went smoothly, it's a Manchester United plane! Now AirAsia assigns seat to passengers, I got 11A, which is a window seat. 6:30 a.m. the plane took off. As I mentioned earlier, I got a window seat, but too bad it's on the wrong side of the plane! Sunrise was on the other side of the plane! This experience taught me that if ever I am going to take a sunrise flight again, make sure I get the window seat on the right side of the plane, even if that means paying RM5 more!

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There were many Vietnamese on the flight, maybe they are returning home after fulfilling their work contract in Malaysia? The plane landed perfectly at 8:30 a.m (Vietnam time is one hour behind Malaysia). Didn't even feel the plane touching the ground. No problem with immigration clearance and I am officially in Vietnam now. I expected the sky to be blue, but no, it's quite grey and not very sunny. What a difference from the sunny days with blue skys we had in Malaysia!

First thing upon arrival of airport is to get some water. So I bought a bottle of Lipton Honey Tea and went out of the airport to get transportation into Hanoi. Got into the USD2 minibus, waited for quite a while before the van is packed with luggage and 13 passengers. Once on the road, the driver started honking away several times a minute on average. Welcome to Hanoi!

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Posted by abellim 06:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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