Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Hanoi Express

Posted by Monica Johansen on March 22, 2009

This morning I had to jump on a plane again, this time to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. The trip was a bit of a rushed arrangement (I seem to do that a lot these days) on Friday evening after an urgent request from a customer who had a tight time schedule to complete a deployment, and since my calendar is more or less full until May the customer was happy when I decided to squeeze in a couple of days before I start working on a larger project the coming Thursday.

Shopping street in Hanoi

Shopping street in Hanoi

Unfortunately, Singapore Airlines has only one flight from Singapore to Hanoi and one return flight every day, so there are not many options for departure. The Singapore-Hanoi flight departs around 10 AM, so I didn’t get much chance to sleep in this morning. Not that I usually do, since I am a morning person, but I was working until midnight with some documentation for a customer, and then I had to pack my bags before I went to bed, so I ended up with only 5 hours sleep (which also seem to be quite common these days).

I am flying back to Singapore already on Wednesday, so I don’t have much time to look around in Hanoi. However, I have been here for work once before, and then I had the chance to stay over the weekend and take a daytrip to beautiful Halong Bay, which is located about 3.5 hours drive from Hanoi and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The local guys I was working with here booked the trip for me, and I ended up paying about 50% of what the travel agency wanted to charge me. Knowing the locals has its obvious advantages, and I had a great day in one of the more scenic areas of Vietnam, cruising on the ocean between impressive limestone monolithic islands and walking in huge caves lit up by lights in different colors. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who are visiting Hanoi.

Actually, I find Hanoi to be quite a strange city. The buildings have a strong European influence after years of French colonization that ended as late as 1954. However, after the French decided to leave (or were kicked out) most of the buildings have not been maintained properly, and today the city looks a bit shabby. The typical terrace houses are discolored and the paint is falling off the walls, but if you look closely you can see a glimpse of the golden days when ornaments and luxury were a common sight in these streets. If these houses had been restored and located in for instance Sydney they would have been worth an absolute fortune.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

The traffic in Hanoi is an interesting experience. There are traffic lights in the more central areas of the city, but most places you just have to cross the streets while hoping you will avoid being hit by the cars and the many motor bikes. There don’t seem to be any detailed traffic rules, and as long as you drive on the right side of the road the Vietnamese don’t seem to care much about lanes and using indicators etc. They simply drive where there is room, which naturally makes it difficult when you as a pedestrian are trying to cross the street.

Last time I was here I stayed at one of the hotels in the outskirts of Hanoi, and just across the road from my hotel there was a food store where I wanted to buy some drinks. I was standing at the sidewalk trying to wait for an opening to cross the road, but the cars and bikes just kept coming and nobody stopped to give me way. All of a sudden an angry looking man in uniform came up to me and yelled something at me in Vietnamese before he grabbed my arm and dragged me out in the street right in front of a huge bus. For a split second I thought I was going to end my days as a traffic victim in a dodgy Vietnamese neighborhood, but strangely enough the bus slowed down and the bikes just drove around us as we crossed. When we reached the other side the man let go of my arm and yelled something again before he walked away. He was probably fed up with tourists who are unable to understand the chaotic traffic. Thankfully, after watching other people crossing the roads I have started to learn the tricks, and now I am OK when I am walking around on my own.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake

Today I have been taking a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake just to get out of the hotel room and look at the city life. It normally takes around 30 minutes to walk around the lake if you don’t stop for an ice cream or for taking photos, but it is quite nice to find a bench and just sit and watch people walking past end enjoy the scenery. There are also a few nice objects to photograph by the lake. On a tiny island within the lake there is a charming little shrine called Thap Rua, or Turtle Pagoda, and in the northern end of the lake you can find the characteristic red Huc Bridge leading to the Ngoc Son Temple and which is immortalized in many Hanoi tourist photographs.

The most challenging part of working in Vietnam is the language barriers. I was actually quite surprised when I discovered that most people can’t speak English, and I have had a few frustrating moments here when trying to communicate with the locals, both in work situations and as a tourist. But luckily the Vietnamese people are friendly, and they will try their best to help despite the language issues. Nevertheless, I know that the next few days are going to be challenging.


One Response to “Hanoi Express”

  1. Nina said

    Lykke til med kommunikasjonen med de lokale šŸ™‚

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