Sunday Morning in Hanoi..
A cold, misty dawn with a light drizzle as the bus pulls to the side of a boulevard. The usual collection of taxi drivers surround the bus as bleary eyed tourists stumble off. Unfortunately, the bus hasn't stopped in the old quarter - that's the area of Hanoi which has the biggest concentration of hotels and guesthouses and is in all the guide books as the first port of call on arrival. At the ticket office in Hue, I had arranged my Hanoi accommodation for $11 per night at the Elizabeth hotel, and a taxi was waiting. Others getting off this bus are forced to take a taxi to the old quarter, since no hotels are evident around here. Obscure transactions between taxi and bus drivers could be a reason for this!
About 10 minutes and the taxi pulls up outside the hotel. I have to wait a while for the room to become vacant, a side effect of early morning arrivals. It's called the old quarter, and old it is. A chance to look around briefly reveals a rather shabby street scene - buildings that clearly could do with a lick of paint here and there. Perhaps further exploration will reveal a place with vibrancy and character, we'll see but for now, as always after a trip on the night bus, a period of recovery for the next few hours. But not before digging into the free breakfast, with coffee. Eggs, ham, rice, noodles, bread, jam and banana. No, I didn't eat all that, just a couple of fried eggs in a baguette.
Mid afternoon and it's time to take a look at What this place has to offer. The old quarter revolves around a lake and being a Sunday looks like the place locals come to hangout. Add In several hundred tourists and the place is a hive of activity. As in the rest of Vietnam offers of a motorbike ride to somewhere is continuous , on every street corner, intersection and bus stand. No rickshaws but instead there are cyclos, a bike with some kind of Seating arrangement ahead of the rider, these are also available on a continuous basis. People milling around, sitting beside the lake eating ice cream even though it's cold and damp. With a map, the streets are easy to navigate but actually using them can be challenging since they are also serve as platforms for shop extensions, informal dining and motorbike parking. Often little choice but to walk in the street amongst the traffic! Lots of little streets, big streets but not that many alleyways in Hanoi. Numerous cafes on most streets and I pick on the kangaroo cafe. They offer real Vietnamese coffee, in a mug with real milk for only 30,000 vnd, about £1. Makes a pleasant change from the usual thimble full for £1.60! I need to eat and order a round of spring rolls. 5 pieces arrive, quite Small about a mouthful I suppose - not such good value. Looking around and comparing prices on this short initial expedition, eating here looks to be more expensive than in Saigon generally and I would imagine portions to be just as small. I'll try it out and let you know! In the meantime the search is on to find some good, not overpriced eating. Back to base, I'm knackered!
Top tip on Hanoi accommodation. Its a good idea to check and double check the price - get someone to write it down, in US dollars if possible. Over charging, scams and dishonesty is rife between Saigon and Hanoi, visitors need to be one step ahead all the time wherever possible.