Sam has let me on the computer for a change and it's my turn to do a quick summary of the day. Hanoi (Ha Noi in Vietnamese) is one manic city. The traffic (consisting mainly of mopeds and cycle rickshaws (cyclos)) is absolutely incredible and the noise and pipping of horns is absolutely incessant! On our way from the airport yesterday it was dark and the city looked grey and dirty and thoroughly unappealing. However once we'd arrived at our hotel and started to explore the place immediately grew on me and by the end of today I was really pleased that we had decided to come to Hanoi.
Our visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was a rather interesting experience even if I did get a reprimand from a guard for walking disrepectfully (I had my hands behind my back!). There was a family in front of us with a couple of teenage kids (think Kevin and Perry) - the elder son was severely scolded for wearing his baseball cap but I think it was just because he had a serious attitude problem!
We had a fantastic lunch in a very simple local cafe. A soup, rice and 3 main dishes plus drinks cost a grand total of GBP 3.00. Later on today we braved the streets again and checked out a couple of markets which were selling mainly a load of crap so we headed on to another area for evening food. We decided to go for a proper meal instead of "street-eats" as we have now termed it.
For anyone unfamiliar with Asian "Streateries" - Street eats basically consist of any area on the pavement dedicated to the preparation and serving of food. After 3 weeks in Asia we are becoming quite adept at sniffing out places where you can eat cheaply but without contracting a horrendous bout of gastroenritis. Some "street-eats" are literally 4 plastic chairs on the pavement and a women with a wok on a bucket of coals and a wooden block with a few ingredients on it hovering around 3 inches above the gutter.
The washing-up gets done in 2 stages: stage one let any animals in the area (if they've not yet been cooked!) lick the plates clean. stage two throw the cold plates into a bucket of cold greasy water, wipe with a rag which looks like it's been used for mopping floors for the last 5 years and then rinse under a random tap sticking out from the nearest building. Whilst all the above may sound mildly off-putting it is actually a very interesting and usually tasty experience nourishing oneself at "street-level".
After bumping into 2 Chilean girls who we have met several times since trekking with them near Chiang Mai we headed off to alittle Tapas restaurant. The food and atmosphere were fantastic and we forgot for a while that we were actually in Hanoi. After the dinner we headed back to the area where we are staying which consists of a warren of narrow streets dubbed the "old quarter". We decided to sit in one of the tiny street bars at a busy 4 way intersection and watch the world go by. The bar consisted of a bunch of plastic chairs which would look at home in a kindergarten kicking around in the gutter. Inside the tiny shop sat an elderly couple and a couple of kegs and a few soft drinks. The beer was delicious and tasted like Hoegaarden with one slight difference...it only cost 2500 Dong per glass (around 8 pence :o)))). Perhaps I should mention at this point that the Vietnamese currency is called the Dong!!! :o))) (there are around 30,000 Dong to the GBP). It was great to watch the miriad of scooters darting in all directions and the occasional 4WD driven by some idiot who had got lost.
Back in our room now and looking forward to our trip to HaLong Bay tomorrow. More on that later!