City-sized, outdoor war museum
in Hanoi, Vietnam on 21st March, 2012


Arriving in Hanoi I could see the weather wouldn't be anything like the rest of Vietnam. It began to rain as my driver drove me into town. I had a map of Hanoi downloaded onto my iPhone and GPS pointed out our position at any given moment. It was close to midnight when we got to the old quarter. The driver kept on insisting random hotels were mine. I pushed him on till we got to my real hotel.

I checked in and carried my bag up four flights of stairs. The blinds were falling off the top of the window and the room smelt of damp. I laid in the bed; it was cold and damp. It was late and I made the best of a bad room.

The next morning, after I booked an overnight cruise in Halong Bay, I headed out into town for the day. There is an area in central Hanoi the size of London's Soho which is a military zone. It's hard to avoid when walking around town. It's full of men sporting Kalashnikovs around their shoulders. I'm not sure if they're police officers or simply guards but they look like soldiers on patrol.

There was a fine mist and occasional outbursts of rain as I walked about the city. The damp and stickiness of the atmosphere made me wonder how anyone would live here given the other climates in the country. My flip flops, feet and ankles would be covered in dirt and mud every time I'd return to my hotel.

Here more than anywhere else in Vietnam you can see large amounts of communist propaganda thrown up. In some places there would be three or four billboards right next to one another. The streets had more cars than anywhere else in Vietnam I've visited and I even spotted two Bentleys driving around.

Traffic was really aggressive. There was a lot of people driving the wrong way down the road and people would sooner run you over rather than slow down. At one point I was trying to cross a one way street. As I was looking and waiting a motorbike driving against traffic came and stopped on left foot. I screamed in shock as did he. The driver with his girlfriend on the back of the bike made off before I came out of a state of shock and had a chance to react.

Later on I saw a bike hit another from the side and a passenger fly off onto the street. He almost managed to land on his feet. In total I saw two accidents a day in Hanoi and countless near-misses.

I felt like there was no where safe to walk. On one occasion I found a western-style sidewalk with no one driving on it. I soon learnt why. I soldier sporting an AK-47 appeared and demanded I cross four lanes of traffic and walk on the other side of the street.

For a capital city I was surprised at how few sit-down restaurants there were. Most places where you could eat looked like the most uninviting street food joints I've come across throughout my trip. There would be small and dirty table and chair sets setup on the sides of the roads. The smell in some of these places was intoxicating. I've eaten street food all over South East Asia and it's usually a tasty and reliable way to eat. Here I didn't want any of it.

One afternoon the city started to break me. The most enjoyable thing I do in life is explore new places but here the best experience I had was just going back to my hotel room, putting on the kettle and watching some Family Guy. I did get to watch the first Formula 1 race of the season live on Australian television but I could have done that from anywhere in Vietnam.

The places I've visited in Vietnam were really hit-and-miss. My favourite places do deserve a mention because they were really special and justified me coming here. They are: Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Saigon.


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