Oh sleeper buses… A 12 hour sleeper bus took us to Hanoi and the term sleeper can be used loosely! I’m noticing a pattern, that when I land in a city suffering from sleep deprivation and dehydration it impacts my view of my new destination. I was determined not to let this happen in Hanoi! We hit the streets after dropping our bags off and faced the mayhem.
I can’t be certain but I think Hanoi is even more hectic than Saigon (HCMC). Crossing the road is like everyone says, you just have to stare straight ahead and march confidently. The swarms of Vespers some how miss you but you’ve got no idea how. I tried not to walk quickly but I have to admit there were times when I broke out into a quick jog to avoid the mass of bikes.
For me the beauty of Hanoi is the food. Everywhere you walk in the old Quarter there are delicious treats and meals luring you in. No matter how basic the cooking facilities look the food produced from the street vendors never disappointed. We ate Pho Bo (Beef noodles) for breakfast, snacked on Pillow Cakes, spring rolls and for evening meals ate chicken with mustard leaves, beef wrapped in leaves with peppers… oh and maybe a little dog. I had never planned to consciously eat dog but after snapping lots of photos of two young ladies selling it the guilt got too much. It hardly seemed fair that we were taking photos and not buying so a bolder member of our gang who’s living in Hanoi bought a portion. I still didn’t plan to eat any but why not… the dogs aren’t pets, I rationalised it by believing it’s just like eating any other animal. It tasted just like pork and was seasoned with the most delicious spices – the women we bought the dog from giggled in delight at our shocked faces. It’s not something I plan to do all the time and I did have a battle of the conscience but hey, it’s all about doing what the locals do.
The Half Moon celebrations were in full swing in Hanoi and at night the streets were filled with children and teens. The atmosphere was incredible and rivalled Notting Hill Carnival in the busyness stakes. You can stop and enjoy the local beer hoi on most corners of the Old Quarter and for dirt cheap prices it’s amazingly good.
A few of us checked out Hao Lo (stove/hell hole) prison, now a prison museum. It’s not a huge exhibition but there’s torture equipment and various documents of interest. The prisoners’ clothes hang from the walls and standing in a cell felt disconcerting and fairly emotional. You can’t help but project and imagine the prisoners being held captive in such cramped conditions. The prison was originally used by the French to hold political prisoners captive, many were women and then later used by the Vietnamese during the most recent war – nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American troops. I was shocked to see that there is a real ‘Hanoi Hilton’ Hotel in the city – I bet it gets loads of business just so people can check into it on Facebook!