Our time in Laos ended with the new year in Luang Prabang and then a cheap flight to Hanoi in Vietnam. At the Luang Prabang airport it was noticed at the check in counter that Joe’s Vietnamese visa had the wrong date of birth on it. After signing a disclaimer we were allowed to board the aircraft, pretty nervous about what would happen upon arriving in Vietnam. We have heard Vietnamese customs can be corrupt so we were worried we would have to pay a lot of money to cover the mistake or be forced to leave. Waiting at immigration at Hanoi airport was quite nerve racking but we ended up getting through without issue. Not sure if they didn’t notice the error or if they didn’t care – we didn’t ask.
From the airport we caught a taxi to Hanoi city centre. We were fully clued up on how dodgy the Vietnamese taxi drivers were so we put the address in our phone and tracked our progress on GPS. Well it seems the GPS didn’t matter to the driver – he still drove us around in circles in the city and pretended to not understand when we explained the route with the phone. He’d just keep going the wrong way and turned when he felt like it. We had read that you need to watch out for taxi drivers doing laps around Hoan Kiem Lake and that is exactly what he tried to do. Eventually we were close enough to where we wanted to go so we asked to stop and we walked the rest of the way. It only cost us an extra few dollars, split between two other travellers who we shared the taxi with, so not too bad. It was quite funny that even armed with a GPS and all the research we had done we still couldn’t avoid a taxi scam.
Hanoi is freakin busy! Traffic is horrendous and everyone loves using their horn. Walking around is a pain in the ass because the traffic is bad, the roads are narrow and the sidewalks are an obstacle course of parked scooters, broken drains and bags of rubbish. Often there is no room on the sidewalks so you just need to take to the street and mix it with the traffic.
We did the usual roaming around the city, checked out some big new western style shopping complexes, went to the woman’s museum, the prison museum and St Joseph’s Cathedral. At the women’s museum we learnt about women’s role in the war and religion. Some Vietnamese people worship a female god called Mother Goddess. We saw a video about the life of the street vendors who work 14 hours a day for a 13 days straight to earn about $20. On the 14th day they visit their family in rural areas. Then it’s back to the city to repeat the fortnightly cycle. The prison museum was mainly propaganda about how good the Vietnamese government is, how well the prisoners were treated and how evil the invaders were.
We experienced the typical Vietnamese exchange with street vendors, where they would ask for a highly inflated price, refuse to barter, and ask you to go away if you didn’t want to pay the highly inflated price. It meant we did a lot of walking to get food or water. Water we would only buy at mini marts. Food we would walk around trying to find a reasonably priced restaurant or street food that wasn’t too much of a rip off.
The accommodation we stayed at in Hanoi was called “Hanoi Non Profit Hostel.” I think they mean it’s cheap. We did a couple of tours out of Hanoi to Sapa and Halong Bay, returning to Hanoi each time.