Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
February 04, 2005
Hanoi, Vietnam! I think I mentioned in a previous blog entry that coming into Hanoi from two weeks Laos was like getting a punch in the face. It is jarring and busy and chaotic especially when compared to laid back and easy-going Laos.
Before I go on I want to answer a question from the comment section. David and Linda asked if I still plan on being out on the road for a year. I've thought alot about this in the 9 or so weeks since I left Indiana and my answer is that I doubt I will stay out traveling for the entire year. Solo travel is tougher and lonelier than I anticipated. But I'm still having a great time and seeing and experiencing things that I never would have in the U.S. so who knows what the future will bring!
Back to the blog.
The traffic is amazing beginning at dawn (not that I out and about too often at dawn - I like to sleep in!) until after midnight. Cars, taxis and motorcycles compete with people and animals and road side shops for limited space on often very narrow roads.
Hanoi was one of my least favorite places I visited so far.
I was in Hanoi for six days and spent most of my time walking around the city and seeing as much as I could on foot. The only transportation I took was a taxi to and from the airport. There are thousands of motodops (motorcycle taxis) and Rickshaw drivers (bicycle-pedaled taxis) that are so obnoxious and in-your-face every 10 feet that I just couldn't bring myself to use them even when I was tired or lost a long way from my guesthouse.
Picture of a rickshaw:
I realize that they are just trying to make a living in a very competitive business but it only takes 10 minutes in Hanoi to dislike these guys. There are often 2 or 3 of them right next to each other and as you walk towards them the first guy will jump up and put his forefinger in the air and say "moto?" and I would say either "no" or "no thank you" and then the guy right next to him would then jump up and say "moto?".
I got so annoyed one time when this happened that I said to the second guy "Why would I go on your moto when you just saw me shake my head and say no to this guy's moto?". He just looked at me and said "moto?". I smiled and shook my head and just went on my way.
Whenever I got too annoyed with these guys I would just remember to smile and remembered where I was and not to take the situation or myself too seriously. There is nothing I could do about these guys so more often than not I would smile at them and shake my head.
These guys will try anything to get you into a conversation and once they do they'll try to figure out a way for them to be your moto driver for the day or for your trip. A good strategy for them. A walker like me doesn't need one of these guys but they don't know that. They'll ask "Where you go?" and "Where you from?" If you tell them where you're going they'll say "Me take you there!". What I started saying to these guys when they asked me "Where you go?" is to point in the direction I was walking and say "That way". This frustrated many of them as they got me to respond verbally, which is their intent, but could not figure a good comeback to my response. I had to have my fun too!
Another thing that really got these moto guys going was when they saw me looking at a map during the multiple times I got lost while in Hanoi (this is a confusing city!). Seeing a westerner looking at a map was to the moto dudes like flys on honey. They all rushed over to "help" and ask where I was going so they could take me there. I either ignored them or told them where I was trying to get to to see if by any chance one of these guys would actually assist me rather than saying "Ï take you there for 10,000 dong".
I had another interesting interaction with a moto guy. I was at a museum looking at a map trying to figure out how to get to my next place.
Moto guy - "Where you go?"
That did it for me!!, I just cracked up and decided to engage him. His statement that he would save me money by me paying him to drive me rather than walking for free just begged for a response and I couldn't resist!
Me - "Okay, how are you going to save me money when I could walk for free?"
I didn't have a good response because what he said was so funny and actually would have made sense if I had limited time to see things while in Hanoi.
Me - "Good one dude! That makes sense but I'm going to walk anyway"
I smiled, shook his hand and walked away with both of us laughing.
In reality these moto guys do have it tough, there is so much competition and they may spend an entire day without a fare. On a good day they might make $5. Its a tough way to make a living and they have to be aggressive in order to make a living. Sad and obnoxious but true and very much a part of Southeast Asian life.
The constant and dense flow of traffic in Hanoi was amazing and posed the very unique problem of how to cross a street. As in the U.S. drivers drive on the right hand side of the road (in this regard, among others, I appreciate the French influence much more than the English!), however in reality they drive where ever they want, where ever there is an opening regardless of side of the side of the street they are on. Traffic lights are at main intersections but are routinely ignored, especially by the motos (and stop signs do not exist). It is quite common for a car to make a right hand turn from the far left hand lane, no matter who or what is on his right (blind side). I saw a few accidents but no one who was seriously hurt.
I became very adept at crossing streets here. As a walker I crossed them all the time wherever I wanted, not just at intersections. You have to be bold and resolute and just step out into traffic and walk slow. Let the motos adjust to you, they will manuever and go around you. They won't try to hit you like they seem to do in Bangkok. Don't, ever, make a quick move or run across or you will be hit. Remember the video game called Frogger? That is exactly what it is like crossing streets in Hanoi and Saigon.
One more thing about the traffic. The horns. This street sign has to be the most ignored ever!
It is sooo annoying hearing horns beeping ALL THE TIME. All cars drive with their hands constantly on the horn and the motos are the same and the buses scare the crap out of you they are so loud. The horns are just part of the urban pollution and the urban environment. Horns are beeped so often that they really seem to be meaningless because you don't know who is beeping at who and why. I swear that horns are programmed here to beep every 10 seconds whether or not the driver hits the button. Surprisingly you get used to it after a few days and it just fades into background noise.
Anyone who has been to Asia knows that conterfeit good are sold everywhere and are cheap (inexpensive and of questionable quality). There are no copywrite protections seemingly at all, both from in country brands and names and certainly not from western brands. There are so many cafes, travel agents and hotels that have the exact same name or names so close that you can't tell the difference. It seems that when one place does a great job, gives great service and get recognized for it a bunch of other yahoos rip off the name as a way to scam tourists. You see signs in windows of the original joints that point out where the rip off joints are and what their scams are. It makes it hard to know who to trust.
Even trusty McDonald's gets it here!
Back to the shopping. the Old Quarter of Hanoi was originally the province of 36 guilds. These guilds were each made up of craftsmen that specialized in one particular product or service. The streets in the Old Quarter then separated by product type and were named for the guild operating on that street. What this means is that you walk down a street and you see dozens of shops on both sides of the street selling the exact same stuff. There is a street for shoes (a big street as I guess Vietnamese love shoes). There is a street that just sells sunglasses, coffins, leather goods, headstones, shirts, toys, etc. There are occasionally other goods that creep into a street as zoning in non-existent but it is quite a scene and a shoppers paradise. I'm a backpacker and not a shopper so I did not buy anything despite being hassled by many, many vendors.
I don't know how they all make a living selling the same stuff as dozens of other shops. Again, it must be a numbers game or it could be a syndicate that owns all of these places so it wouldn't matter who sells what just so long as a sale is made.
I found the vendors in Hanoi to be much more aggressive, obnoxious and annoying than any other place I've visited. Many of the women sell stuff by carrying two baskets supported by a long pole balanced on the back of their neck/shoulder. A tough way to make a living for sure but many of these women would stop in front of me and literally block my way with the long poles trying to sell me something. Although I would never do it, there were a couple of times I wanted to shove one of them away from me they were that annoying.
Unlike Thailand there are not food vendors everywhere. You actually have to search to find a place to eat. The food was always fresh (it has to be as very few have refrigerators or freezers), mostly bought from the markets each morning or during the day as needed. Many of the places don't keep an inventory of food to make stuff off their menu. I saw numerous times that after ordering something the waiter would run to an outdoor market (there is always one close by) and come back with the product needed to make my lunch or dinner.
Heres some good stuff:
The museums in Hanoi were very interesting. Many of the exhibits were about the rise of the people overthrowing the capitalist dogs and installing the shining light of communism on a country previously ran by puppets of the decadant west. That seemed to be an over riding theme. Many of the museums glorified Ho Chi Minh the leader of North Vietnam who died in 1969. He was the person who spearheaded the country from it's overthrow of the French colonialists to the attempt to consolidate the country by fighting the South and the Americans. His image is everywhere and there are countless statues to "Uncle Ho" as he is affectionately known. Ho Chi Minh is a revered figure in Vietnam (at least in the North). His body is entombed in a mausoleum and can be viewed through a procession that walks past his clear coffin. This is the same situation as the bodies of Mao in Bejing, China and Lenin in Moscow, Russia.
Here is the outside of Uncle Ho's place of rest. Pictures are not allowed on the inside, I think if you tried they would shoot you.
The Army Museum was interesting. It's exhibits included airforce jets and missles and bombs as well as a recreated sight showing the damage of a B-52 crashing after being shot down by the army.
The Ha Loa Prison or "Hanoi Hilton" is a name with which many of you may be familiar. It was a prison in central Hanoi that was originally built by the French to incarcerate (and torture) Vietnamese and during the American War it was used by the Vietnamese to jail captured/shot down American pilots POW's. It is now a museum.
The slant of the exhibits is interesting. They document very well the brutal nature of the French as it relates to their treatment of the Vietnamese. Including a guillotine (I don't think I spelled that right) and the shackles and abhorent condition of the cells. On the other hand the stories they tell of their treatment of the American pilots makes it sound like they were in a country club and were never mistreated. I don't know the whole truth but I wonder how the American pilots who come back here to visit feel about this propoganda. Many of the pilots were POW's here for over 7 years before being released after the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty in 1974.
Here is a picture of John McCain's flight suit. John McCain is now a Republican Senator from Arizona and spent many years as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton.
I mentioned at the beginning of the blog entry that I like Hanoi the least of all the places Ive been so far and I've thought often of why. It may be a combination of culture shock coming out of laidback Laos, the annoying traffic and vendors, the fact that I was sick for the first time on my trip and had to make sure to not stray too far from a toilet and that the weather sucked for the last few days I was there (it rained and was a little cold - in the 60's and I had to wear a jacket!). Hanoi is probably a great city but my attitude was not at its best while I was there.
Here's a picture of me at an Angkor ruin in Cambodia:
That's it for Hanoi. I'm heading to the beaches of Cambodia, to a town called Sihanoukville on Saturday and will spend Chinese New Year there laying on a beautiful sand beach.
I miss Southest Indiana but probably won't next week as I try to get a tan (but will probably get sun burned).
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on February 4, 2005 10:38 PM
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