The land where road rules are merely suggestions

After several months of cold, bleary weather I was more than happy to jump on a plane to jet off to sunny, warm Vietnam for a Christmas holiday with the family. Two six hour flights later I arrived in Bangkok where I met Mum, Dad and my sister K to begin our little getaway. I had to admit, it was fantastic seeing them again – though it was like I had never left. I guess talking over Skype and Whatsapp daily really cuts out the long distance thing. Nevertheless it was great to see them in person. We found our little taxi man to take us to our first hotel for the trip. Because we were flying out to Vietnam at midday the following day we stayed at a place close to the airport. The Paragon Inn was pretty much the typical Thai style hotel. Lots of intricate wood carvings and leafy green trees everywhere. Our rooms were basic but nice and the infinity edge pool right next to the restaurant added to the tropical feel. We had a light dinner before passing out on the rock hard beds.

I unfortunately woke at 4:30am local time, my body clock was completely confused. I had only an hour or two sleep on both flights but for some reason I just couldn’t switch off. Luckily K awoke around 5:30am so we chatted and read until it was a more appropriate time to face the world. We met up with Mum and Dad next door and had a quick brekkie before heading off the airport for our next leg of the trip. The flight to Hanoi was uneventful and short. A mere hour and a half and were we touching down in the surprising chilly Hanoi.

After some confusion we found our taxi driver and was taken into the city to the Old Quarter where we were staying. Having been to most of South-East Asia I had a fair idea of what to expect coming into Hanoi – its a nice mix of the crazy colours of Thailand and the undeveloped streets of Cambodia. Driving into the city we were amazed at the buildings, the architecture is similar to that of Europe where the buildings are narrow but high – i guess thats the French influence – though unlike Europe where the buildings are all squished in side by side on the street, these buildings are just plonked randomly, sometimes it was a lone four storey building in a paddock. It was becoming apparent that theres absolutely no sense of order in Vietnam.

We arrived at our hotel after surviving a particularly hairy drive. The Golden Land Hotel was a very narrow little building – you could of walked right past and not seen it – but it was seven floors high and we were lucky to have the two rooms on the 6th and 7th floors, giving us a pretty good view of the streets below. We settled in quickly and went out to venture the crowded, bustling streets. We learnt quickly that as a pedestrian you aren’t high up on the pecking order and if you step a foot out of line you could quite possibly be taken out by motorbike or taxi. Much like the buildings, there is absolutely no order to the traffic, people come and go whichever way they please and there was a serious lack of road rules but it somehow all worked somewhat perfectly. We were rather impressed with the way the locals whizzed in and around each other without running into each other. Though we were told later that approximately 11,000 people died in 2010 from being run other – now not so impressed (and a whoooole lot more careful when crossing the road!). The cramped streets were chock a block full of shops selling everything from knock off outdoor clothing to cameras, flowers or hardware. I loved the absolute chaos of the place, everywhere you looked something was happening. I was having a hard time focusing on where I was walking because I was constantly reverting my eyes to the hustle and bustle happening around me. We managed to negotiate our way out to a more open area where the Hoan Kiem Lake was situated. Compared to the craziness just across the street, the lake was surprisingly serene to walk around. Little old Vietnamese people were scattered about, doing various sorts of activities such as Tai Chai, meditating or giving each other group massages. It was interesting to watch as they went about not giving a damn about what others thought of them. A welcome change from the stuffy Western world where your every move is judged. We found a place for a quick beer (or tropical fruit shake in my case) and some spring rolls before moving on into the market streets where the mayhem was situated. One significant difference I noticed was how un-annoying the market sellers were. Unlike Thailand and Bali, they barely hassled you – there was no hand grabbing or “cheap, cheap price” which amongst the craziness was a pleasant change. We wandered through the streets, checking out the goods for sale before settling on a cute little cafe for some dinner. After dinner we got royally lost and after doing numerous circles and map consultations we finally made it back to the hotel where we crashed on the slightly more comfortable beds for some seriously needed shut eye.

The morning K and I woke early (again!) so we decided to put on the running shoes and go and check out early morning Hanoi life.. It was about 7am we went got out and already people were everywhere busying themselves with their daily duties. Fortunately the traffic was slightly more quiet, making crossing the road a little more safer. We did two laps around the large lake, enjoying watching the locals and their morning routines. We witnessed a laughing club, Zumba classes and ballroom dancing, further around we watched a Rocky-style training by the young men and the oldies doing an unusual style of exercise of just waving your arms or a sort of shimmy. Not sure of the effectiveness of these workouts but it was refreshing to see so many people being active. We headed back to the hotel to meet Mum and Dad for breakfast which we had at the City View Restaraunt. It was aptly named as the view from the restaurant was pretty spectacular, giving a panoramic view from the lake to the rickety old skyscrapers that made up the city. Breakfast was delicious and we wanted to fit in some shopping before heading to the airport so we paid our bill and wandered through the busy streets. It seems the streets are named after whatever they are selling. We passed a shoe street, one for jewellery, food, clothes, coffee – it was a quite a sensible way to shop actually. We all purchased some North Face jackets (still maintaining they’re the real deal but we’ll never know) as it was quite chillier than we had expected and raced back to the hotel to get organised for our flight to Da Nang.

Another short flight later and we were in Da Nang, only to drive straight to Hoi An. We finally had some great accommodation, the Trails Resort and were more than happy to spend the next four days here. We dumped our bags and headed straight into the Old Town to check the place out. Hoi An is a lovely town, filled to the brim with tailors and leather makers – apart from that it had vividly coloured buildings and wonderful markets. Situated right next to a river, with one side filled with restaurants and bars and the other with markets and art galleries it was easy to see how you could easily overspend your stay here. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as we’d imagined, the sun showed it face for several hours the first day and hid behind a chilly cloud for the rest of our stay. Nonetheless we managed to enjoy our time there… Well K and I did…

Christmas Day saw us wander through tailors and buy some things, eat delicious food at the local market, have massages and manicures and eat some more delicious food. We went to bed content with life and happy to be all together. Unfortunately Boxing Day morning Mum and Dad had been struck down with a pretty vicious stomach bug which had them bedridden for the day. Not a worry to K and I, we shopped, wandered, ate, drank coffee, shopped some more until the sun started to set. The following day the parents were still out with bad tummies so K and I busied ourselves with a cooking school and more shopping! I managed to wrangle myself the loveliest pair of leather boots – made just for me! As well as a glorious green coat, perfect for the frigid Holland weather. As fair as I was concerned Hoi An was shopping heaven!

Our final night we had dinner at a French restaurant which had a very charismatic French owner and 74 different types of ice-cream! The next morning I woke with a slightly queasy tummy but was determined not to get sick. Alas the more I ignored it, the worse it got. By the time we got our car for the drive to Hue, i was feverish and my stomach totally hated me to say the least. This was not how I wanted my holiday to go! We reached our beautiful accommodation in Hue – the Pilgrimage Village and I went straight to sleep for the next 16 hours or so. We only had one night there and I was devastated not to be able to enjoy it. I hadn’t gotten much better by morning so we called the doctor and loaded me up with drugs and the promise that I’ll be back to normal within two days. By this time our holiday wasn’t planning out exactly as we hoped – with the woeful weather and three out of four of us getting sick we decided a change was needed. Instead of heading up to Halong Bay, we were ditching Vietnam for Thailand where the sun and beaches were beckoning us. I was pretty sad to miss out on Halong Bay but had to admit some sun would be wonderful – and I was too sick to complain. So after Mum the travel agent re-organised everything we were in the considerably warmer Bangkok that night, ready for the next leg of the holiday..

From the girl can’t look at Vietnamese food in the same way

J. x

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