We’re now roughly at the half-way stage of our trip, so it seems fitting that we have spent the past 5 days in Hanoi taking a breather and tending to some life admin – dental check-ups, washing, shopping for new clothes and jandals (sadly shopping in Asia is just as I remember it; guaranteed to make you feel like an obese yeti with flipper feet) and giving some thought to what the next 5 months might look like. The plan is to work our way through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand but, other than our upcoming trip through Vietnam with Mum and Dad and some trekking in Sapa, our specific plans are still largely up in the air. It’s quite a nice change after spending the first half of our trip following a carefully mapped out itinerary.
Hanoi has been the perfect place to start our SE Asia journey. We have a great little Air BnB apartment in the centre of the Old City, so all the shops, restaurants, cafes and tourist facilities are right on our doorstep. We’ve done a few of the tourist spots – Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old City Gate and the Old City Night Market – but mainly we’ve just mooched about and wandered around the Old City. It is a frantic little hive of activity and there’s always something to see, even if it is just other tourists almost getting run over by scooters. There’s also been the mandatory spa visit (for me) and trip to the driving range (for Campbell), which aren’t so much an activities as they are essential sanity savers.
It is the tail end of the wet season here, so outings have to be scheduled around torrential downpours and epic electrical storms (Mum and Dad – you’ll want to pack clothes that will look great with a rain poncho). As has become customary, they also tend to be scheduled around our appetites and a carefully crafted list of dishes/restaurants to try out. It is very nice to have a change of scene from curry and we’re loving the lighter and fresher food on offer here. We’ve tackled pho, bun bo nam bo, banh mi, banh xeo, bun cha, and lots of the other staples – spring rolls, cashew chicken, shaking beef and potent Vietnamese coffee. So far, so delicious, and so much still to try!
The Old City has also been the perfect location for us to try out our negotiating skills. We did a bit of haggling in the markets in India, but we actually didn’t do that much shopping so our technique still needs a bit of work. I was feeling very pleased with myself the other night, having scored two awesome old Vietnam war propaganda posters for almost half price. Campbell burst my bubble a little bit when he mentioned that he though the reason I got such a good deal was not because I am a master negotiator, but because I had already taken up half an hour of the shop keeper’s time ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ over the different prints and repeatedly asking her to take them in and out of their plastic sleeves, and that she was actually so worn down by my indecisiveness that she would accept any amount just to get me out of her shop. I’m not so sure about that but, whatever the reason, I’m chalking it up as a win.
We’ve also encountered our first Vietnam scam – the charming pineapple and banana ladies. I got snared when I was wandering around Truc Bach Lake while Campbell was at the dentist. I was totally engrossed in taking photos of the lake when, before I knew it, a pineapple lady had crept up on me like a ninja, put her conical hat on my head and started unloading her carrying pole and fruit baskets onto my shoulders. After that I had no choice really but to go through with the mandatory photo shoot, followed by the mandatory fruit purchase and mandatory haggle on price. It was a bit of a laugh and I kinda felt like some fresh fruit, so no harm done. The street hustlers are a lot more jovial (and less confronting) here than in other places and you find yourself laughing and smiling along even though you know you’re in the process of being ripped off.
Only 2 sleeps until Mum and Dad get here and our whirlwind tour of Vietnam begins.