Hanoi, Vietnam, 2015 July 22, 2015 at 3:08am
We are currently on a 5 hour ferry boat packed to the top deck headed to Lombok, which is a big island in Indonesia that we will use to travel to 3 very small islands called the Gili Islands. We could have taken a fast boat option from Bali directly to the Gili islands but alas we chose to try this route.. it will have taken us almost 2 days to get to our destination. I see a fast boat for the return trip..
Today is Ramadan’s last day and it’s a huge Muslim party tonight.. we are seeing the preparation all around us.. decorations and costumes.. lots of movement. Stores, hotels and restaurants might be scarce because many of them close for Ramadan.. this could be interesting. I am still a week behind with the journal… I will recant our short stint in Hanoi.
We took a fast boat from Cat Ba to get back to the main land and met a very cool Belgium family.. husband and wife with 3 young girls and 1 boy.. each member had their own backpack. All our belongings were packed tight, otherwise I would have taken a photograph to show the folks back home that what we do, can and is done by regular families.. that there are alternatives to the regular resorts in the Bahamas if you are up for seeing a bit of the world. We have even seen 2 infants so far on this trip and one of them was while scaling Mount Ijen.. wow. Anyhow, an excellent family trip.. they were very friendly and we laughed and shared stories to make the time pass.. they also recommended us a good hotel in Hanoi. Travelers always share information.. it’s an awesome network.. 365 days a year.. while we toil and work our jobs, their are always representatives of this community on the go ..
We arrived in Hanoi with plenty of time to explore the busy city. We set up camp in the old city.. it always seems to be the “old city” that travelers end up in.. I guess you want to see the old architecture and charm of a place.. not the modern hussle and bustle which serves only to remind you of where you came from. We found Hanoi to be similar to Ho Chi Minh with millions of scooters, crazy traffic and tons of merchants and markets. That night we hit the night market to pick up some momentoes and maybe some t-shirts. We had such good experiences with night markets in Thailand and Cambodia that we figured it would be the same here. Not so.. this night market located right in the travelers quarter of the city did not cater to foreigners at all. Everything here was for them.. the clothes, the trinkets, the souvenirs.. all for Vietnamese visitors from other places in the country. Even the shirts I bought.. they were xx large and they barely fit me and will never see a dryer back home. This market once again proved to me how much they really don’t want us there.. or they just don’t have a clue how to sell to foreigners. I doubt that…
The next day we hit some museums.. we found the Canadian embassy.. and we found the mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh is buried. A nice quiet day of walking around exploring. These were our last days for this leg of the trip and we wanted to take it easy. That went out the door that night when we rolled into a very cool looking bar about 20 minutes from our hotel.. we had been walking around all day and by now the scooters and people were starting to weigh heavily on our energy. It takes a lot of energy to constantly be on the lookout for scooters and cars zipping past you. You can’t simply walk down the sidewalk as we do in Canada. The sidewalks here have a completely different purpose.. they are not “free space” for pedestrians.. not at all. They are an area to setup your makeshift restaurant with plastic stools.. to set up your shop to sell your stuff.. to sit and do some work.. any work.. to park your scooter.. to extend your store front.. and of course, to actually drive scooters on. There is nowhere to rest your mind and just walk.. it’s a full time job negotiating the hundreds of obstacles of the city. So after many hours of this exercise we were exhausted and needed to stop for the night and this very cooly decorated bar was the place..
We set up camp on a nice couch near the front at around 7:00pm and didn’t leave till the police were shutting the place down at 12:30am. We talked to a bunch of expats that night ending off with 2 American guys that had plenty to say about.. everything. We had many beers that night.. this place was just crazy fun. A gathering place for sure. I remember at one point this rasta man came in with his little chi wawa dog. This dog had been to many bars. It hopped up on a chair beside someone and waited while his owner socialized .. when the man was ready to move on, he looked at his dog and gave a signal and of course it jumped down and followed him deeper into the crowded bar. Had to see it I suppose.. Another man came in with his 2 kids.. maybe 9 years old.. two very wise and cool kids who had no problem hanging out in the bar waiting on their dad to have a beer and talk with his buddy. It sounds weird to describe but all I can say is that they weren’t out of place and there really was no problem with it. Just 2 super cool kids well behaved and able to socialize with the best of them.. I am pretty sure 90% of the people in this bar were expats now living in Vietnam. Some of them worked for the UN while others were English teachers.. and a few were investors who ran businesses here, like the bar owner.. a celebrity that night who made his appearance around 11:00pm.
Not much else to report about Hanoi.. a final resting place to reflect upon and consolidate our time in this very cool country. We flew out the next day to Singapore and onward to Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia to begin the next part of this amazing journey. Our time in Vietnam was excellent.. the history was mind blowing .. the people were resilient, clever and strong. We saw some things we had never seen before. Phong Nha Ke Bang was a highlight for sure with Halong Bay coming in second. The landscapes were unbelievable .. Everything we know of this place we know from studying their history and seeing their achievements… not from spending time with them or talking with them. Just as in Campeche, Mexico, we did not feel very welcomed and we lacked the ability to speak their language .. English, which they apparently refuse to learn after hundreds of years of foreign interaction, was very hard to find and this made Vietnam the most challenging place we have ever visited.