Hanoi…. the Land of Shoes – Caroline

Drinking Vietnamese coffee on the street, they drink it with condensed milk here, which is a little strange but you get used to it!

We decided to fly from Bangkok to Hanoi with Vietjet, it was cheap, quick and we could get a visa on arrival. We had already applied for our visa through an online company and had them all ready to present (this cost a little more I think but was pretty straight forward). The flight was fine, comparable to flying Ryan Air at home (rustic and gets you from a to b). The seats were the biggest problem for Ben as there really wasn’t any leg room. There was probably half the leg room you would have on a Ryan air flight (legs round neck), it was a short flight so we just bought a beer and suffered it. We did not realise that this was a very good indication of what was to come in Vietnam.

When we arrived we were ushered through to the visa on arrival desk and we paid our 50 dollars and 15minuets later we had our visas and made our way to collect our bags. With our hostel there was a free Airport pick up, (which was really useful as the airport is a fair distance from town) and the man was waiting with a wee bit of paper with our names on when we walked through the gate. He ran and got the car (which was a mini bus) and we jumped in an drove the 40 minutes to our hostel. This was to be our first impression of Vietnam roads…..we were speechless.

Arriving at our hostel (white and a little sick from our white knuckle ride) we were to find that it was the wrong one. The same company but the sister hostel we were staying at was a short 2 min walk. We were told to stay put and someone would be to collect us shortly. Through door bursts this young 18 year old boy very eager to take us, he picks up my bags and takes off down the road leaving me and Ben running behind. To help you understand the full comic value I will paint the picture for you. It is 8pm at night and dark outside, there are street lights though and lots of light coming from the shops and restaurants that spill out on to the pavements. In Hanoi there really is no pavement as the shops, restaurants and people eating take up all the room forcing you to walk on the road. This wouldn’t be a problem if you could see the road let alone fit on to it. It is filled, and I mean Filled with scooters, motor bikes, push bikes, hawkers (people selling food they carry) and the odd car. The traffic seams to move as one and just toots it horn…all the time. You have to just be as pushy as them if you want to walk or cross (this is scary as you don’t have an engine or horn and can lose my legs). Our man has ran off among all the traffic and we are struggling to keep up, I am holding on to Ben for dear life and almost closing my eyes. It seems like we will never make it there alive, I am having images of Vietnamese hospitals and wondering if they give morphine there and before I know it we are there….thank god! He shows us to our room and it is lovely, it has a balcony. We drop our stuff and lie back on the bed, our ears are filled with the hustle and bustle and  nonstop horns of Hanoi. It was the sound track to Vietnam, we weren’t complaining, that was what ear plugs are for.

One of many street side Pho stalls

We stayed 3 nights in Hanoi, which in hindsight was a little to long. We did literally do everything though. We went to the lake and the temple in the middle, the prison and the temple of literature which were all thoroughly enjoyable and very worthwhile (the use of our student cards came in very handy by dropping the price dramatically). The best bit for me was when it came to meal times (those of you who know will probably not be surprised to hear this) though not for the obvious reasons. The food was not the best I have tasted on the trip but it was certainly entertaining. Trying to find a restaurant that serves food in our price range was near impossible as they are all for westerners with much deeper pockets. We were forced (I say that lightly as we were very eager) to eat like the locals on small tables and chairs on the pavement. This was very funny as poor ben looked like a giant trying his best to not fall off the chair meant for a 5 year old. The locals laughed along with us and I think admired our enthusiastic spirit. Often we had no idea what we were getting, we would just sit down and smile as a lady spooned a soup with no descriptive meat into a bowl and placed it in front of us finishing with the biggest smile you have seen. We had no choice but to give it our best, it turned out to be called Pho and wasn’t bad once you got passed the weird meat. We ate this at least once a day and we were very satisfied.

Ben's Reheeled Shoe

Ben’s new Michelin heel

My final highlight of Hanoi brings me back to the title, Hanoi…the land of the shoes. When I say this I am not exaggerating, I have never seen so many shoes in all my life. By the river lining every street for miles is shoe shops selling every type of shoe you could ever want or need. We were taking a wander looking for camera shops so were not at all interested in this shoe bazar. Ben gets stopped by a man trying to take his shoe off saying “hello sir, you need heel”. Although Ben was saying no and trying to move away, the man was too quick for him and had his shoe off in no time. He brought out some glue and a some rubber (we later found out tyre rubber) and was gluing a heel on to Ben’s £6 sports direct espadrille. Ignoring Ben’s constant “no thank you” and “please I don’t need a sole” cry’s. He carries on and to add insult to injury brings out a tiny blue flip flop so he can rest his foot on the ground. Feeling like a right fool Ben turns to me and says “Well I’m not paying for this”. Meanwhile I am being attacked from every angle from hoards of street sellers selling everything from trainer socks to lighters that light using a match. Once the man had finished on his left shoe he started on his right explaining that it will be much more comfortable with the car tyre he was gluing on and would with no doubt improve the shoe no end (absolute rubbish). He finished by trying to charge £30 for his handiwork, luckily we were not so silly as to fall for this and after much argument Ben paid him £2.50 and walked away. It was a quarter of the price for the shoe but in my opinion priceless entertainment. Needless to say we will be keeping our shoes firmly on our feet from now on.

Hanoi was a mad place that we felt quite pleased to be leaving, maybe it was because we stayed to long or maybe we weren’t ready for the hard ruthlessness of the streets or sometimes the people. Either way it didn’t seem to capture our hearts but it is definitely a must see, but maybe only for a couple days.

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