We have completed the first leg of our journey, arriving safely in Vietnam and spending a few days in Hanoi (Lisa, this is official confirmation that yes, we are in fact still alive). We are en route to Ha Long Bay aboard a luxury bus and I must admit I am thankful to be leaving Hanoi behind. It was an interesting experience…but maybe not one that I’d like to repeat. Hmm, where to start? I can’t say that I wasn’t warned, given the squirrelly faces people would make when we said we’d be there for 2 days.
On the plus side, the hotel and service was fantastic, and we had a tasty Bun Cha lunch the day before. I liked the little juice shops along the road, and the Women’s Museum was super interesting. The other museums were very…educational…and Paddy was pleased that he could “open my American eyes”.
On the not-so-plus side, the weather was disgustingly humid and hot, which didn’t help the already smelly streets, which were crowded with all sorts of humanity and other obstacles. Sidewalks are basically nonexistent because they are covered with people, cars, motorbikes, trash, dead chickens, pots, and little plastic chairs for eating or playing mahjong. I’ve been in DC for far too long, because all I could think of was “where the heck are the building code and health safety inspectors?” I’m no spring chicken traveler either - but Hanoi takes the cake when it comes to developing world danger zone.
Crossing the street was an epic undertaking because there are basically no rules whatsoever, and motorbikes are everywhere. In the US, a honk means “watch out!” or “you almost hit me!” or even “the light is green, you idiot”. In Hanoi, a honk means “I’m running a red light” or “I’m going the wrong way down the street” or “I’m on the sidewalk, move pedestrian”. Essentially the honk is merely an indicator that the driver is about to do something wildly dangerous and expects everyone else to get out of the way. As someone already prone to road rage, the cacophony of honking indicating my life was probably about to end was not to my liking. Paddy had to take my hand and lead us across every intersection as I stared straight ahead and tried not to shit myself.
It was a bit disconcerting to be an American in Hanoi. The museums were very matter-of-fact about the war, and the whole city had an air of dilapidated Soviet style from a bygone era. I also had a pervasive sense of bad juju despite the friendly nature of the locals. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum gave me the heebie jeebies, as did our visit to the “Hanoi Hilton”. My obsessive Google search of the My Lai Massacre did nothing to help matters, and only added to my superstitious feeling that these places were haunted and out to get me. If I come back with some curse or the evil eye, I’m blaming Paddy and his “educational tour” through depressing Cold War history.