A less intrusive Asian capital
At first sight, Hanoi seems like just another busy Asian capital. But the city is smaller than Bangkok for instance and has a less intrusive atmosphere than I imagined. I do have mixed feelings about Hanoi though: they range from `I want to get out of here as quickly as possible`, `And yet I love hanging around here`, versus `I want to share this with someone`. The traffic seems incredible, and dangerous even with 6 million inhabitants driving 3 million mopeds.
To get accustomed, I decided to join a sightseeing tour. My first thought at a stop underway is that the trips are over-organized here; 8 minibusses parked in front of a large souvenir shop. Or is it just the usual commission business? After a bus ride of an hour and a half, we arrive at the Perfume Pagoda. It is a Buddhist temple complex that hosts a yearly religious festival that attracts thousands of pilgrims.
Taking a rickety boat in the rain
To reach a sacred cave, we make a one-hour trip in rickety boats; per boat, there are 4 people and a female rower. It is slightly raining, so most of us open an umbrella. Surely this must be a rather foolish sight while faring. The surrounding mountainous environment is overwhelming though. Because of the beautiful scenery, the common name for the area is Ha Long On Land. It takes another one-hour walk to the sacred cave in the mountains. And because of the rain, the rocky path is dangerously slippery. I decided to descend with the cable lift. Lunch is included in the trip, but apart from being Vietnamese food, eaten with chopsticks, not special at all.
A guide who explains nothing
Once back in Hanoi, we make the last stop in Silk Village. Typical for our guide, he does not supply any explanation. It seems his role is limited to just bring us from place to place. In general, this first encounter with some of the Hanoi highlights was satisfactory, apart from the guide who still has to learn how to accompany tourists effectively. I had expected a bit more information about the sites we visited today. But that does not take away my mixed feelings about Hanoi.
Rip-off spoiling my temple visit
The next day, I want to exchange some money for Vietnamese Dong. My first ride with a motorcycle taxi immediately turns into a rip-off. I assume an agreed price of 5000 VND, the driver wants the tenfold for a 5-minute ride. A tedious discussion follows, with empty threats about contacting the police. I even end up throwing money on the ground. The scene we are making does not go unattended by some bystanders. My visit to the Temple of Literature immediately gets spoiled because of this.
Wrapped up by a poor student
After lunch, I head to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. An older driver picks me up and takes me to the Ambassadors’ Temple. Then I walk back to Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter, where I get wrapped up by a poor student from Sapa. I buy a copied specimen of Graham Greene`s The Quiet American.
Hearty conversation but mixed feelings about Hanoi remain
As I am thirsty, I end up sitting in front of a local store close to my hotel. I order a Coke but also get local tea. In a hearty, but somewhat broken conversation with the older owner, I learn that camoen means ‘Thank You’ in Vietnamese. Our small talk compensates for the motorcycle driver fiasco this morning. My overall impression prevails that I have to leave Hanoi to make the journey more enjoyable. For now, my mixed feelings about Hanoi and in extension Vietnam, remain.