Monday, April 19, 2004

And so I arrive in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

There is only one word to adequately describe this city: CHAOS.

The legal standard side to drive on here is the right, but reality states that there are no laws. Motorbikes and bicycles crowd the streets and flow down the streets of Hanoi like water gushing through. I use this analogy because to cross the road one must simply walk to the other side whilst the traffic magically weaves around you. It is quite an unnerving experience, but one you get used to. Westerners are still rare enough to attract young children into approaching you and saying "hello". But also to make you a target for locals looking for a bit of business. Expect to say no to taxis (cars), cyclos (bikes with seats at the front), and motos (moped drivers who want you to cling onto the back), and also to postcard salespeople, shoe shiners, representatives outside of restaurants, cafes and bars, and any other service you might not want.

It is understable of course when one considers that most people here are pretty damn poor when compared to the West. If only the US had paid the $6 billion in reparations they had promised as part of the ceasefire agreement, or had not waited till 1994 to end their embargo. Such pettiness. In fact with 27,000 dong to the pound, most visitors here are billionnaires. Which isn't bad when you consider that four of us ate at a street vendor last night for 30,000 in total.

So yes. It's damn cheap.

And the most luxurious thing to do here is to find the most expensive restaurants in town and treat yourself to a gourmet meal for something less than $10 per person. It's hard but I managed to find the finest place - and it is Bobby Chinn's. His steak is second to very few most likely; it melts in one's mouth.

It is thankfully cool here. After the heat of Bangkok it is wonderful to be able to wear long trousers and socks; the biting insects however still visit my room at night. The bastards. The buildings are fairly old and life exists on the street - much as it does on Bangkok. However Bangkok is a sprawling beast compared to quaint little Hanoi. The centre of Hanoi city is a lake which surrounds a small temple and an even smaller ancient ruin. And that's pretty much it for the major landmarks.

I need to stress again at this point the chaos that are the streets here. Bikes weave in and out and around each other like termites on a termite mound. I wonder at how I have yet to see an accident but somehow the Vietnamese avoid it. It is anarchy in action. Hence large vehicles like lorries have the run of the road. A lorry's method of approaching a busy crossroads is to honk its horn repeatedly and drive steadily onwards. It seems to work. The horn on a vehicle is used to indicate to others your position - thus the frequency of their use is magnificently high.

Tonight I head for mountains. Cities are only so good, but I need mountains and clear air for a few days. Frequently differing smells are good for only so long.

There is much to come from this trip no doubt.

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