I’m here! I’m in Hanoi! In the past 24 hours I took China Southern from Amsterdam to Guangzhou and waited on the airport for my connecting flight to Hanoi. The flight to Guangzhou went pretty smooth and there was enough space for my Dutch legs. When serving out the meal, this friendly Chinese flight attendant coughed a couple of times above the food trolley before handing me out my meal. ‘Bless you!’, Next time use your hand to cover your mouth. Here the differences about social behaviour already did start. Thank God!, the food was covered with foil.
After a short sleep I woke up by the cabin light, which is on its brightest mode. During the descend to Guangzhou airport there was nothing to see outside. So much smog. You barely could see the end of the wings. While I was waiting at the gate on Guangzhou Airport for my connecting flight to Hanoi I was witness of more Chinese politeness. Staff calling each other by raising their voice, shouting from one end of the hall to the other end. Next to my gate another flight was boarding. Out of nowhere this ground stewardess starts to shout at an elderly Asian lady, maybe Chinese as well. ‘You shut up, you wait!’. When the elderly lady wants to say something again, ‘No! No talk, wait here… Next!!’. I did miss out the context, but overall it seemed pretty rude for me already if the staff initiating this aggressive communication. All I could do was to laugh this situation away. What a hilarious setting this is…
The flight to Hanoi was full with tourists and backpackers. My conclusion based on the fact that this was a flight between two Asian countries and most of the passengers were white skinned, and some even brought a big backpack on board. After a flight of two hours, trying to catch some sleep I arrived in Hanoi.
Leaving the airplane and just following other passengers it leads me to the Visa desks where everything is handled very smoothly. I have the authorisation letter ready and also the entry and exit form filled in. I handover all documents with my passport to the visa officer. Together with some other passports and documents he walks across his office from one desk to another, filling in information in computers, making notes, giving stamps, till he finally got back at the front desk. Above the front desk is a big screen displaying the passport photo and full name of the person who is next to pickup his passport. With every pickup name displayed, a Google Translator voice read out the full name on a monotone voice as well. Not that it is more accurate, but at least it draws your attention. Last year when I was getting a visa in Cambodia the visa officer, who called my full name to let me pick up my passport and visa, had to call my name at least twice before I figured out he tried to pronounce my name. I couldn’t make any sense out of who he was calling. After visa handling I go through immigration and after that I do already see the baggage belt.
A few weeks ago I bought a flight bag for my backpack and I explicitly wanted to have a bright yellow one. Not a common used black one because that wouldn’t draw my attention when I would look for it on a boat, bus, train and now baggage belt. I see my bag immediately, awesome! At least I do have all my stuff with me now. I put my carry on luggage in my backpack and start my way heading out. First destination: ATM.
Now here’s the thing. When I’m in holiday mode, most of the time I don’t mind to get an easy accessible transportation to the city. Either a train, shuttle bus or taxi. Depends on how familiar I am with the destination. In those situations, prices didn’t me bother much. Hanoi airport only does have a taxi, minibus and public bus. Since I’m travelling on a budget I’m not keen on paying 300000 dong (6 euro) for a taxi ride to the city. On Facebook I did already read a tip about taking bus 17 to the city which would cost me 9000 dong (0,37 euro). That did sound more affordable to me! The only thing is, where is the bus?
It turned out I have to take a free shuttle bus to the other terminal. Outside the terminal is the bus stop, the lady at the tourist information said. Great! When I arrive at the other terminal there aren’t any signs leading me to a bus stop, so again I have to figure my way around. Finally, after turning down so many taxi drivers with a simple ‘No, thanks’, or just ignoring them, I found the bus stop.
When you don’t know how things work, you sometimes just copying what other people are doing. In Holland, before we changed to electronic chipcard system, we used to buy our ticket in front, at the bus driver. But when boarding this bus, there is not chipcard checkin nor does the driver have a small desk to sell tickets. Nobody seems to pay attention to the driver anyway. So I follow everybody, and sit down. When we set off I notice there is a bus inspector and he is the one in charge of selling the tickets. That did remind me of my bus rides in the Philippines where such a same system is applied. When the bus inspector is approaching me and makes eye contact I tell him ‘Long Bien’, it’s the bus stop near Old Quarter where my hostel is located. Without further questions he hands me over a bus ticket of 9000 dong and I give him the money. So, that’s settled!
Because Long Bien stop is the final destination of the bus I don’t need to care about where we are. It’s a simple district bus running from the airport to the city and back. I’m the only tourist on the bus. Yes I’m the only non-local on the bus. I notice many school kids are using this bus. With every person coming in and sit down the inspector observes and sell ticket to them. Except for these school kids. They come in, show their month ticket which most of the time hangs around their neck and they can travel without need to pay. The same counts for elderly persons.
An hour later and all stiff from the uncomfortable bus seat, I arrive at Long Bien. From here its another 15 minutes to walk to the hostel. I’ve already prepared the walking map so I know exactly how to walk. I’m impressed how busy this old part of town is. Scooters all over, transporting people or products. Street vendors on the side of the roads and shops displaying all what they are selling. The smell of food, sweet, sour and salty. Everything comes all together here.
I want to stop and enjoy the scenery, but I’m pretty exhausted of the trip and first want to check in to the hostel. After all the hostel is near this neighbourhood anyway. I booked my stay at Massive Hostel. So far the weather is pretty nice for me. Its warmer than Holland yes, but the sun is hidden behind a thick layer of smog and it’s comfortably warm.
Arriving at the hostel the check-in goes quite smooth. I booked in advance, so they know my arrival. I receive my room and bed number. A staff member guides me up to the room. The room is located at the front side with a small balcony. It looks tight with 8 beds in it, but at least it looks clean and proper. I sit down on my bed and it is so tempting to just lay down and close my eyes, but I need to fight this jetlag and force myself not to rest to much. Instead of that I decide to take a shower. Every bed has a locker and my backpack can just fit in it. One of the benefits of not bringing too much. When I was packing my bag at home I set myself the goal that everything had to fit in my 45 litter backpack. Including the daypack which I would use for short trips and as carry on luggage in the airplane. So far I’m pretty happy with that decision.
After shower and a little rest, I’m going around in the neighbourhood. I eat my first phở bò in Hanoi and having my first Vietnamese coffee. I like Hanoi now. Around 10 o’clock in the evening I give up. I’m too tired and I want a long sleep. Back in the hostel I prepare for bed. The next thing I hear is far away on the background, people coming in, making noise, unconscious I turn around in bed, I hear a ‘Oh sorry!’, and I fall back asleep. I wake up again. It’s still dark outside. I guess its around 5am. It’s so silent outside. The hostel is located in a busy small street, with other hostels, hotels, and some bars, but at this hour you can’t tell that I’m at that location. It’s oppressively warm in the room and I want to open a window, but I’m still too sleepy. I fall back asleep. When I wake up again its light outside, and fellow roommates are getting ready. I also get up and notice its 9:30. I had a long sleep! Time for breakfast!
Wearing just flip-flops, short and shirt I leave the hostel. Its crowded outside. Both on the sidewalk as on the street. On every intersection its interesting to observe what’s happening. Scooters crossing the intersection without giving priority to traffic from the right. The same for cars and trucks. Everybody just horn to announce he is approaching the intersection and everybody has to move out of the way. No one seems like to release gas or use their brakes and try to continue at the same speed. On top of that there are local pedestrians crossing the intersection not giving attention to the traffic but just walk straight to the other side. And of course there are tourist pedestrians. People who come from different part of the world, where more social rules are obeyed. There are three types of tourists in the traffic. The first type is the one who will wait till there is no vehicle approaching and walk to the other side. If during their walk they see a vehicle coming, they will run the last part of the crossover. The second type is the one who are brave enough to cross the street, but they look scared and reading their body language it shows that they are not confident about the decision they just made. Sometimes they freeze in the middle of the street, if they don’t know anymore what to do, traffic just driving around them. The last group is the type of pedestrians who don’t look and just go or they do look but anticipate on the situation. I’ve learned something really quick here. You have to anticipate and not give a shit. Most of the time you can’t even walk on the sidewalk because its blocked by stalled scooters, small tables, chairs or stools. The only way around is to walk on the road aside the riding scooters and cars. Here the sidewalk is not even meant to walk on. Its meant to stall vehicles, display goods or as a workbench for the many workshops. I see many new things and get lost many times in Old Quarter. It really feels like a labyrinth down here. Every street looks the same.
For the first day this is amazing!