We’re here – another city name that rings a bell – Hanoi. Isn’t this where Robin Williams said ‘Hanoi Hannah’ lived? Is my cultural understanding so low that my knowledge of the world is set by Hollywood films? (That’s a rhetorical question, not one to email me about. I already know the answer you’ll give me!)
Anyway, we arrived at the central station at 5am, to be greeted by crowds of touts for taxis, hotels and tour companies. Always a great way to be woken up!
We were a bit delayed getting out of our carriage by a couple of backpackers ahead of us carrying guitars. What is it with musical instruments and travellers? Why lug one of the world’s most awkward-to-carry instruments around the world? It makes my heart sink when you’re just settling in to a good book in a quiet backpackers cafe and somebody walks in with a guitar. You know you’re in for an hour of somebody playing a quarter of a tune, then running out of inspiration, and moving onto another quarter of another tune. Oh, and the out-of-tune singing that normally goes with it.
In fact, now I’m on the subject, I’ve decided that ‘Backpackers with Guitars’ are the round-the-world equivalent of ‘Volvo Drivers with Caravans’. You know how it is – you’re driving along a nice, windy country road, at a reasonable speed, when you see around the next corner the back of a caravan. Your heart sinks when you realise that it’s moving at 10 mph, and yet it speeds up just enough to stop you overtaking whenever there’s a straight bit of road. Well, try following a Guitar-toting Backpacker down a railway carriage/bus corridor/narrow street. You can’t overtake, because of the way their luggage hangs out every side of them – all guitar-toting travellers, have smelly trainers tied onto the outside of their packs, by the laces. Presumably it’s so that they can get a wider inconvenience-radius when they move. And they move at a snails pace because they keep having to stop and apologise for bumping into people who were standing within 6 feet of them (or not, if they are Israeli, but that’s a different backpacker’s story). And then, when you’ve found a lovely place to sit and relax, they then come along and plonk their caravan guitar right in front of your view.
Anyway, back to Hanoi. After breakfast, it took us 2 hours to find decent accommodation, because the standard of guest houses here falls way below that of the other cities of Vietnam. We either had to double our budget, or lower our standards. In the end, we did a bit of both!
Wandering around the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where we’re staying, reminded us just how difficult it is to walk around the streets of Vietnam. Hanoi suffers from the same problem as everywhere else, but worse. Basically the street is divided into quadrants, none of which are intended for walking on.
Right outside the building is the ‘Motorbike zone‘, where bikes are permanently parked, completely filling the pavement – sometimes somebody had to move a bike so that you can leave the building. Then there’s the ‘Poo zone‘ starts at the back wheels of the motorbikes, and completely covers the gutter and first foot of the road. This isn t entirely full of dog-poo though, it s also where everybody throws their rubbish. There is a great system of rubbish collection in the city, as ladies pushing hand carts sweep and clean late at night. Unfortunately that means that everybody can safely throw their rubbish in the gutter all day, knowing it will be cleaned up overnight. Not good for daytime pedestrians.
Then you’re into the ‘Traffic zone‘, which is definitely unsafe for walking. Its where the anarchy of Vietnam’s traffic takes over, and you’re asking for trouble walking in it. And if you do, you’ll constantly have your way blocked by cyclo-drivers, who stop right in front of you to try and get your business. Oh, and the final zone, the ‘Cooking zone‘ can appear randomly anywhere – it’s where the small streetside restaurants set up. In other countries this is normally in the gutter or a small alcove back from the street, but in Vietnam it’s right in the middle of the pavement, wherever bikes aren’t parked.
So basically, there’s nowhere to walk in Vietnam. But this doesn’t bother the locals, because they all have motorbikes, which they park on the pavement right outside their house/shop/cafe, and they never have to walk anywhere. They go everywhere by motorbike. Maybe the answer would have been for us all to have a motorbike too!