MP3 track of the day: Wake me up – Evanescence
Weather: Almost perfect, apart from the sheet of white cloud within the sky.
At 5:45am the driver decided to turn on all the lights within the coach. I was thrilled considering we weren't supposed to arrive within Hanoi until nine. I reckoned I had slept quite well last night; the last thing I remembered was reading the time on my watch (9:30pm). Due to our drivers fascination with the coaches horn there was no chance of me getting back to sleep. I therefore drew the curtains to look outside.
North Vietnam looks very similar to the south. Rice paddies dominated the view and I wondered just how much rice a nation needed. Personally I feel that, always choosing to grow rice, shows that the Vietnamese have a lack imagination; still it made quite a nice sight. At 6:30am the American next to me departed the coach; I was therefore able to lift my back, from the isle, and place it on his bed. Time rolled on and soon rice fields gave way to buildings. As we were driving through the center of Hanoi I looked out of my window. The city didn't strike me as anything special; it seemed like any other South East Asian city.
Our coach stopped in, what looked like, a well built up part of the capital. I met three teenage Brits on the coach and we decided to get our bearings before sharing a taxi. Map in one hand, compass in the other, getting my bearings took a lot longer than I first estimated, mainly due to the lack of signs. Finally I pin-pointed our position and we were only a mile from the hostel. We tried to flag a taxi down however, when one pulled up, we asked to be taken to the hostel and he just shook his head and drove off. After that we decided to walk.
Fortunately my map reading skills didn't let us down and we were soon at the hostel. The time was 10am; I couldn't check-in until after noon and so I headed to the 'chill out' floor. Once up there I found a huge plasma screen TV, a pool table, computers and places to sit. I sat down and got my computer out. Whilst up there I met some people I knew from Hoi An and one I met in Thailand. We had a chat and they put on 'Forest Gump', which I watched until noon. At 12pm I went back downstairs and checked in.
My dorm was very nice; once all my stuff was put away I headed out into the city. The objective of the walk was to have a quick look around, find somewhere yummy for lunch and investigate two potential cakes shops, that I had marked on my map, for my birthday. Following my own 'cake' route was pretty handy as it allowed me to do a big loop around the city. First impressions of the city weren't good ones. It's a lot more chaotic that Ho Chi Minh and a lot poorer. It's like the Vietnamese government decided to pump all of it's money into all Vietnamese towns apart from the capital. The buildings and general chaotic driving reminded me of Phnom Penh; the temperature, however, couldn't have been more different. As I walked around the city I was wearing my coat and not getting hot.
I walked an anti-clockwise route taking in the old quarter, Hoan Kiem lake, the French quarter and walking past Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. I found out a few things on my walk;
· Firstly I was a lot more tired than I thought. I must not have slept as well on the coach as I reckoned. I found it hard to keep my concentration, especially when trying to cross roads.
· Secondly Vietnamese guards don't smile. I must have walked passed hundreds and not one smiled back at me.
· Thirdly one cake shop wasn't in operation and the other was stupidly expensive.
· Fourthly I couldn't find anywhere that took my fancy for lunch.
Overall I wasn't really liking Hanoi; it's like the overnight coach had gone the wrong direction and we had ended up in Cambodia or Laos. Hanoi is not like south of Vietnam at all; it's dirty, extremely busy and packed. I walked around for a little longer, going back to 'Hoan Kiem Lake' where, finally, I found a cake shop. The cakes were cheap (half the price of Hoi An) however the 'cafe' didn't sell any drinks apart from water, 7up and coffee. I decided to purchase a cake, as I was starving, to try. You see, as it's my birthday soon, I want a good birthday cake on the day and so I need to test a few. The final verdict was 'okay' … I think it was cheap for a reason. Luckily, on the way back to my hostel, I found a coffee shop selling both cake, and hot chocolate ... I'll try that tomorrow. I got back to my hostel around 3:30pm and ordered a side for lunch, as soon I'll be having tea.
I went up into my dorm to find a woman asleep. I was so tired that I thought about joining her (In my own bed) however I knew that, if I did, I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight. Instead I got my computer, headed back into the common room, and surfed away. Being so tired I didn't head out again; I watched a couple of films, played a bit of pool and planned for tomorrow. Firstly 'Booking F1' have told me that my Chinese F1 ticket is due to arrive tomorrow, therefore I have to stay in until it does. Depending on when it arrives will depend on what I do with my day; there seems to be two quarters of tourist attractions. The French quarter holds four museums and a cathedral. Then, around the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, there are a couple of things to see there. I reckon one day for the French Quarter, one day for 'Uncle Ho' and another to look around the city. I also want to do a day trip to Ha Long Bay and I need to work out how I'm going to get into China. Sa Pa – in the North-western Vietnamese mountains – is on my way to Kumming (A Chinese city in the south-west of the country). However I need to work out if there's a coach from Sa Pa to Kumming. So much to see and do!