who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

this blog is black for ENERGY-SAVING reasons.

thanks for your understanding.
if it's too dark, put your glasses on old one.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

first impressions

before venturing into the streets, we checked out of the 16-sleeper dorm and into a dbl room.  yes, the princess in me came out - but when you weigh up the additional dollars vs. what you're "saving" in free beer, we actually made money that way.

the dbl room was meant to sleep two couples, but as there is only one key, we had the palace all to ourselves ... much more room for Fathead to swing his cat in.  after the royal couple had moved their bags to the new room, they headed straight for highlands coffe shop for something fruity on ice, and some time to figure out what the hell we were going to do with our day.

most of the morning was spent comparing packages for trips to halong bay and sapa, as we explored the old quarter of hanoi. 

this part of town is filled with utter charm - it's been "left alone" with all the architecture and french influence remaining.  every building captivates your imagination - how old is that? why was it originally built? who lives there now?  what does it look like inside?

old and new live in harmony - with the exquisite detail and style of the tall and narrow buildings, interwoven with modern-day necessity.

vietnamese women with conical hats roam the streets, wooden planks on their shoulders, a reed basket hanging off each end.  on every street, local cafes spill out onto the pavements with minute plastic stools and tables.  all day and night, these are filled with hot and sweaty bodies of all ages, who gather in the shade to enjoy a local home-brewed beer called "bia hoi".

it's cheap and chips, and if you can get over the fact that it's slightly watered down - there is nothing better than grabbing one, squatting inches off the ground, and watching this amazing city go about it's day.  it really is exactly as the postcards depict, although it lacks the "in aid of tourists" element.  here, this is real life. 

one thing that cannot be separated from "real life" in hanoi is the motorbikes.  they are everywhere you look. they drive on both sides of the road, in both directions.  they park all over the pavements- which is a godsend, as it means they can't actually drive there.  at night, shopkeepers wheel their cycles into their stores, slide down the garage door that covers the entrance, and then retreat upstairs to their residence.

learning to cross the road here was one of the things we'd heard about, read about, had nightmares about.  but it's rather thrilling in a death-defying kind of way.  if you're ever here, remember this very important piece of advice:

the locals know how to drive. 
they've been doing it since they could walk.
they avoid other motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, busses, cars, cyclos, tuk-tuks and roaming street vendors everyday.  they will be able to miss you.  do not try to out-run them, or they will drive into you. 

the weirdest part of crossing the road here, is the counter-intuitive way you have to do it:
  • don't bother with pedestrain crossings - they don't mean anything, they were only put there because there was excess white paint and they didn't want it to go to waste.
  • don't bother waiting for a gap in the traffic - let me save you the time now, there is never going to be a gap. 
  • you're welcome to look left and right, as the motorbikes are definitely going to be coming from both directions, but don't be fooled into thinking this will actually assist you in any way. 
  • staring straight ahead is best.  just walk slowly into the chaos.  
  • don't rush, don't move in different directions to avoid anyone or thing. try not to scream.

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