Hello, What’s Your Name?
A three week adventure around Vietnam
I’m sure when I said to Niki 7 months ago “lets go to Vietnam for our honeymoon”, she had no idea was she was signing up for. I think I’m hugely to blame for that. For instance before we arrived into Hanoi she would talk about lazily sleeping on the beach, sipping cocktails, eating fantastic gourmet Vietnamese food and perhaps even sipping delicious French influenced coffee. You could see in her eyes the blue waters lapping against the perfect white sands of the South China Sea, she had dreamt and imagined Vietnam into perfection – I never thought once to maybe suggest it wouldn’t be so relaxing. However the only thing I saw in her eyes as we stood at an intersection in central Hanoi on our second day was fear, absolute bone shaking fear, shadowed by trembling tears in the background and a deadly look burning into me saying “Peter where the hell is my relaxing honeymoon you bastard?!”
Rule No. 1 of being married – Don’t take your new wife to Hanoi for her honeymoon.
Niki and I arrived into Hanoi the capital of Vietnam after our two week long stay in Bali for our wedding in Ubud. We did the usual budget flights with Air Asia and arrived to a small airport surrounded by farmland. You know you’re in the sticks when you see a couple of cows grazing at the end of airstrip. Our first introduction to Viet Nam and to the dodgy operators that we had read about would be a slow and steady local bus we took to the city centre. The main benefit of the bus was easily being that the cost was a mere $3 instead of the $30 the taxis were after. As we travelled towards Hanoi we gained a small glimpse into local life, with bikes carrying cages of pigs, cows grazing on the side of the road, big concrete flyovers merging into dirt tracks and slow boats working along the mighty Song Hong (Red River).
I was watching our route on the map, a bit of annoying habit of mine, and I knew that we were getting close to our drop off point. However it was hard to keep track of which road was what with road names changing every hundred metres, so when we stopped earlier than I expected and a bunch of touts got on the bus to tell us the bus stopped here, it was game time.
Niki was quick to get up and begin getting her stuff, however something wasn’t right. None of the locals were moving and I’m sure I read somewhere months ago that it stopped in town. The touts were yelling at us that we had to get off and they would take us on their bikes into town, they even tried to pick up Niki’s bag. When we said “we weren’t moving and that no one else was moving” they got even more demanding. The two other tourists on the bus were also being hounded. Eventually they got the point and jumped off – just for us to go 2 blocks over and be nicely dropped of outside the Opera House to more opportunistic touts! At least I knew where we were now and a 15 minute walk later we came upon the hotel we wanted to stay at, unfortunately though they must not have known we were coming as they had shut up shop months before (The Spring Hotel).
Opting for plan B instead, we wandered over to the Especen Hotel located down a small alley near St Joseph Cathedral. This great little hotel had clean and spacious rooms starting at about $20us a night. So after two flights, a night in KL, a long slow bus trip, some heavy handed touts and one closed hotel, we were stretching out on a big double bed smiling that we finally made it to Vietnam. This is about the time the parasite known as Giardia kicked in and boy did it make its presence known. I keeled over with cramps, my stomach made evacuation preparations and my brain started sending out emails to other parts of the body to bring them up to pace on a desperate situation. This happy little bug would haunt me for the next 2 weeks and would randomly make me run back to the hotel in need of a bathroom that I could camp out in. With this I make a heartfelt apology to any tourists or Vietnamese that I rudely barged passed on my great escape to the bathroom.
With Giardia on the mind, we rarely ventured far from the hotel on this day, instead opting to wander the authentic alleyways full of local characters doing everything from cutting hair to stirring large pots of Pho, a local flavoursome broth of goodness. We ate at a local cafe for lunch and dinner know as La Place - yes an LP recommendation. The food was divine, with a selection of gourmet Vietnamese meals such as Chicken and Mango rice, pho, crepes and great fruit juices. The walls were covered in propaganda and 1940’s coffee posters. This is defiantly were the “cool” kids of Hanoi hung out, with writers typing away whilst slurping hot cups of Vietnamese coffee. Unfortunatelywhen we came back for dinner Niki found something that looked rather like a finger nail in her juice…so what does any normal grossed out person who is absolutely appalled with this do? They pay their bill quietly and come back for lunch the next day – the food was just so damn good!
As the sun set for the day and the dark stormy weather closed in around us, the thunder and lighting made it’s ominous introduction. Within an hour a tropical thunderstorm was upon us and as we sat on our balcony feeling very unimportant in the whole picture of the world, I knew our three week travels through the ever resilient Vietnam would be humbling. Our adventures would take us from Hanoi to the world heritage listed Halong Bay, up to mountainous Sapa to the beach havens of Hoi An and Hue, before trekking south to Nha Trang to catch up with friends and concluding in Ho Chi Minh City. With images of what laid ahead floating through my mind, I got up and made a mad dash for the bathroom…