With the stars illuminating the sky and the solitude of the mountains silhouettes sat in the dim glow of the Moon, we were heading on a 27 hours bus journey from Laos to Hanoi- Vietnam. Rising into the mountains looking down onto the clouds below us- the tribal bamboo huts perched on the cliff edges. And as a master artist does, the dawn of the Sun gives the mountains the many colours they reflect: It welcomed us into Vietnam.
Yet overshadowing this beauty of the jungle Rambo endured the Vietnamese people at the border gave a different impression. Brash- rude- ignorant; these people where completely different to the gentle people of Laos and the cocky Thai’s. We had arrived in Vietnam, we were now face to face with Communism.
Arriving in Hanoi (Vietnams capital) and amazed by the amount of traffic we gazed in awe at the number of scooters and motorbikes. A pace different to that anywhere I have ever seen in the world- hundreds upon hundreds of scooters narrowly avoiding collisions at every inch. These where the most dangerous roads I had ever seen. As we got into the Old- Quarter of the city dating back 1000 years the scooters become more deadly as they bottle- neck through the narrow city streets. But here Vietnam comes alive. History- tradition- culture and modernisation all clash to make an interesting cocktail of a buzz found in no other city in the World. Who would have thought this was a Communist nation- the air reeked of a progression of commercialism from the small to the big; the market seller to the man in the Bentley pulling up outside his offices. But amidst its progression the Communist propaganda still echoed over the city on loud speakers making for a bizarre world.
Hanoi is littered with small restaurants- many fake goods shops and many market stalls. Just watch out- they serve dog meat, snake meat and any other meat you can think of! Stick with chicken I say. The streets are also littered with scooters and the many small plastic chairs the Vietnamese sit on and lounge with nuts and a cheap beer.
At the heart of the Old Quarter is the locals running track- Hoan Kiem Lake (as they seem to lap the lake with dizzying loops) with a small bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple. With the embalmed remains of a giant turtle in a glass box showing the size of the lakes local residents the Chinese inspired architecture gives you a glimpse of how most of the countries architecture is inspired by their northern neighbours: China.
Wondering east of the Hoan Kiem Lake you may stumble across St Josephs Cathedral. Bizarre enough a cathedral being at the heart of a Communist Capital it was built in 1886 and is as though you have been transported back to medieval Europe.
One major tourist attraction of Hanoi is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. It’s a holy place for the Vietnamese as the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is stored here yet some skeptics believe it to be another wax- work.
All in all- Hanoi is a city that is a mish mash of old and new and a place that you could never get bored of. Just keep your wits about you and it will make for a great experience.