Dates I visited: 3-5 September 2011
The start of my three-week trip around Asia was an early one. 3.30am to be precise. By 4am, I was in the car on the way to Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which was somewhat tricky to find due to an apparent lack of signage. Thankfully, I managed to check in with bags of time to spare. Today’s flight was with Jet Airways, with a stop-off in Mumbai- my one and only trip to India (but hopefully not my last)- before changing in Bangkok and on to Hanoi.
The first leg took about 9 hours, due to an extra hour’s circling over Mumbai airport due to runway closures. Thankfully, I had plenty of movies and sitcoms to keep me entertained. Mumbai Airport sadly wasn’t as fun-filled and our flight was delayed for 1.5 hours, as it sat on the runway. The TV in the airport lounge had explained the situation; bad weather. According to the news, the runway had been so slippery that a plane had skidded off onto the grass. At least from what I could tell, the broadcast was talking about the very airport I was sitting in. Great, that was comforting.
In Bangkok, passport control seemed to last forever- it seems that I have a talent of picking the slowest moving queue. I swear, I was almost in tears. I mean, being a Brit, I do like a good queue but this one was beyond me. About 24 hours later and after another connecting flight with Vietnam Airlines, I was finally in my room at the Hanoi Astoria Hotel. The room was a little grimy but I had a private bathroom and a big double bed so I was still happy. I also only spotted one little cockroach during my stay.
I emerged from the air-conditioned freshness that was my room and wandered around the streets of Hanoi looking for a close-by market that was marked on my map. Needless to say, thanks to my navigational skills, I didn’t find it. However, what I did find was a restaurant called Quan An Ngon.
It was styled like a food court, with the kitchens arranged around the (I think) communal tables (sorry, bad memory), with a big tree trunk in the middle and lanterns covering the ceiling. The restaurant was busy, with a buzzy, laid-back atmosphere. It was certainly one of my best finds in Vietnam and the perfect place for my first night in Hanoi. Since it was my first day, I decided to go for a dish I recognised, just to ease myself in: grilled pork balls and noodles. When it arrived, I didn’t recognise it as much as I thought. They were in strips and not particularly meaty- I’m still not entirely sure what the “balls” on the menu referred to. Still, the food was good and the Tiger beer was flowing. If you’re in the area then you should probably try this restaurant- this was not my only visit.
When I awoke the next morning, I had no idea what time it was. My room had no windows so I couldn’t even make an educated guess, so obviously I went back to sleep. Thankfully, I just about made it down in time for breakfast, where I found a spread of green tea, fried eggs and warm bread with butter and jam.
I then had to check-out to move into hotel number two, as part of my forthcoming tour to Ha Long Bay, which included a stay in a Hanoi hotel. As my voucher said, I checked into the Nam Hai Hotel on Duong Thanh Street, just before the monsoon rain hit. I was settling into a relatively luxurious room that came complete with a computer, before I got a call from reception to say I was at the wrong hotel. It turned out there were three Nam Hai Hotels and my booking was at a different one. The staff were lovely and let me stay in the room long enough to freshen up and then paid for my taxi to the hotel I was actually meant to be at. I have to say, I was disappointed to be leaving!
Hotel number three- the Hanoi Style Hotel on Ma May Street- wasn’t quite the same as the Nam Hai but, even so, I liked it. It was cosy and in a great location for a tourist like me. Finally settled, I went out for lunch. After getting forced into buying pineapple by a lady in the street, who popped her conical hat on my head and her baskets over my shoulder, I found a restaurant called Mam, where I had some delicious fried rice and chicken.
The first place I wanted to go in Hanoi was the Revolution Museum. On my last trip to Vietnam, I went to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city and whilst it was hard to read about the details of the Vietnam War and harrowing to see images depicting the effects of Agent Orange, it was certainly important to understand the history of the country I was visiting. For this same reason, I thought I should go to this war museum, which focused more on the country overcoming its enemies.
Before heading back to my hotel, I decided to pay a visit to Dong Xian market, which I had failed to find the day before. En route, I saw a car hit one of the many, many, many bikes that covered the streets. The bike driver was obviously delivering drinks, as crates of bottles spilled all over the floor. Thankfully no one was hurt. It was the first time I had seen an accident in Vietnam and perhaps this was surprising. I have never seen traffic like that I’d seen in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. When crossing a road, you pretty much have to check for cars and hope the bikes- which have uses that range from carrying families to delivering goods- dodge around you. Stepping out into the sea of bikes is probably one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I have ever had.
The market turned out to be in a totally different place to where my map said. Whilst it wasn’t a bad market at all, I decided I should probably leave my souvenir shopping until the end of my trip, which finished in Bangkok, so that I didn’t have to carry it around.
For dinner, I headed to Lake Hoan Kiem and found a place right on the waterfront, which I went to after a walk around the lake. The restaurant turned out to be Thai, so I ordered… a burger. Not the most cultural option on my second night in Asia, but I really wanted one. Sadly it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, it seemed that burgers weren’t their specialty, which is probably fair enough.
As my second night drew to a close, I went back via the St Joseph Cathedral for some quick photo-taking, as I assumed it would be all lit up at night. It wasn’t but I still got some shots before going back to my hotel, with only a quick stop off at a convenience store for snacks and Lipton Peach Tea.