Day one Hanoi:
I'd decided to fly into Hanoi, and had arranged with my guesthouse to be picked up at the airport. This did not happen, and I should have taken a clue. Instead I took a taxi ($15 US - not cheap!) into town. I checked into my guest house where they charged me $20 instead of the $12 that was listed on the website. I got settled then went out for something to eat. My first impression of Hanoi was one of sheer chaos and noise. I've been in Asia long enough not to be phased by sidewalk vendors or crazy traffic, but the street activity of Hanoi was well beyond anything else I'd encountered. The cars and motorbikes never stop and they never stop honking. Crossing the street is an act of ultimate faith... you just step out in the street and pray to whatever god you believe in that the traffic will swerve around you as you *very* slowly and steadily walk across.
I had some Pho... but I just don't like it. I've had noodle soup in Thailand but it tastes different. Whatever the secret ingredient is (anise?), to me it smells/tastes like body odor or dog or something unpalatable that I can't quite put my finger on.
Later I met up with Jonathan who is unquestionably the nicest man I've met in SE Asia. He walked me through the Old Quarter, where we had a beer. We then walked down to the beautiful lake Hoan Kiem. He guided me skillfully across many scary streets, for which I probably owe him my life.
Hanoi Day 2
On Day two I went to the Temple of Literature, and took many wonderful pictures of stone tablets and Vietnamese architecture. I attempted to do the Lonely Planet walking tour of Hanoi but simply could not get over the constant honking of the 47 million cars & motorbikes in the city. They're all just honking to say "I'm here. I'm here. I'm here. I'm here. I'm here. I'm here." but with the most ear-splitting and annoying horns and it DOESN'T EVER STOP! So I took refuge in the KFC and actually met up with a nice Belgian man and chatted with him for a while.
That night Jonathan took me to a Vietnamese restaurant where we had some kind of pancakey type thing... there were pickled root veggies and a basket of greens and all kinds of goodies to stuff inside a rice-paper wrapper. Very yummy.
Hanoi Day 3
I'd neglected to book my Ha Long Bay cruise the day before so that is what I did this day... I spent a great deal of time hanging out near the ticket counter for the Water Puppet Show but never did get tickets.
But that night, we had an absolutely amazing Indian food dinner. It involved a huge dosa (pancake type thing) that was rolled up like a dunce cap in a manner that made it both dinner & centerpiece.
A friend of Jonathans got us tickets to a concert at the opera house. We weren't quite sure what it would be, but I was pretty sure that if it was happening in the opera house I'd enjoy it. It turned out to be a joint Vietnamese and Brazillian concert of woodwinds and piano. As we stood on the steps watching visiting dignitaries from several countries drive up in their flag-adorned limos, we realized we might be a *tad* underdressed, Jonathan in his jeans and me in my capri pants. Oh well. The concert was LOVELY.
So while I wasn't exactly fond of Hanoi... the first three days were actually pretty good. It was fun to meet in real life, someone I'd been blog-stalking for ages. But the noise, the pollution and the crazy traffic were really wearing me down... I was eager to head out for Ha Long Bay for some peace and quiet in one of the most beautiful places on earth.