Living like a king
We’re here a day early, so we didn’t have anything to do today except relax and get acclimated.
Half a sleeping pill last night bought us both a good night’s sleep and re-set our clocks, we’re on Hanoi time and ready to go.
Gail spent a good while looking out the window this morning, marvelling at the inane traffic. Motor bikes and scooters outnumber cars here 10 or 20 to one; they are cheap to buy, cheap to operate, easy to park and they never get stuck in traffic. Watching the thousands of them flowing down the streets, without benefit of stop signs, traffic laws and, frequently, devoid of common sense, could just keep you entranced for hours.
Finally, we went down to breakfast. The Sofitel is a French hotel chain, so the breakfast buffet had the classic western items, plenty of Asian items, and the classic French charcuterie et fromage. I had to try some of the Asian items first:
I didn’t understand the sign on the juice, but it tasted good and I think it made me a little taller.
Then we went for a walk to Sword Lake, a couple of blocks away. We walked until we were tired, then came home in pedicabs. They might take two Vietnamese, but only 1 Gringo at a time, so we took two of them.
The pedicab drivers don’t want to talk money until after the trip–then they try to hold you up for as much as they can. My driver didn’t speak English, but he showed me a 500,000 dong (Vietnamese unit of currency) note, worth about $25 to indicate how much he wanted. I wasn’t biting. I gave them each $5 (for what was about a 20 minute trip), let them whine some then gave them another $2 each and walked away. They were still complaining until they were sure I was gone, then probably went around the corner and broke up laughing at how much they stuck the silly Yankee for. It’s all a game, and the customer never wins.
In front of the hotel they have two beautiful old Citroen limos on display, and a sign offering them for hire.
Since we didn’t want to walk anymore, we hired one for 2 hours.
We’ll have a bus tour tomorrow of the classic tourist places; we told the driver to take us where the rich folk live and just drive around. So we took a very slow, gentle drive around town. Riding in a 68 year old limo is quite an experience–the people we passed were as interested in us as we were in them. It’s the perfect ice-breaker–everybody I was pointing my camera at was smiling back at us.
There are so many different things to see and note. We went through a shopping area, and I noticed that all the mannequins in the windows were of white people–not an Asian feature in sight. Why?
There are many tiny cafes/tea shops/bars along the road. Sometimes not in a building, just a rug spread on the sidewalk, a boiler for tea and a couple of little tiny plastic chairs. Zillions of little plastic chairs, everywhere you look. The people are shorter than we are, and they seem to like to sit low to the ground.
Many of the cafes which actually have a building advertise free wi-fi.
In the old quarter, each street has a specialty–there is toy street, shoe street, iron street, bamboo street, paint street, etc. All the shops of one type cluster together.
You cross the street at your own (considerable) peril, but the secret is to start out and just keep walking, albeit slowly. Don’t stop, it shows fear. Keep walking slowly and the traffic will flow around you like a stream around a big rock.
After all this fun, it was back to the hotel for a bridge game, a nap and then out to dinner. We found a friend in the lobby:
Dinner was at the Green Tangerine, recommended by the hotel as the best French-fusion around. (After they tried to convince me that the hotel restaurant was the best in the city. I didn’t fall for that one.)
A $2 taxi ride brought us to:
Our waiter spoke Vietnamese, French, Spanish and a tiny bit of English. When my broken French is the best common language, we’re in trouble, but it worked out. Gail had the lamb chops, which came with a totally unidentifiable side, which tasted vaguely of curry.
The rest of us had the prix fixe dinner, which had a dual entree of beef and fish.
I’m making fun of it, but dinner was quite enjoyable, the service was good if poorly communicated, the prices were reasonable. This may not be exactly the very best restaurant in Hanoi, but it was surely good enough for us tonight.
The taxi ride home was longer, because of one way streets, tons of traffic and, maybe, a driver who gave us the “scenic route”–but it still only came to $4 so it’s hard to argue.
I made a friend at a traffic stop, too.
And one last little note. Don and Linda spent 3 days in Guanzhou, China getting here–the joys of flying on frequent flyer miles, that the only way they could get here. Staying in the Sheraton, Big Don slipped getting out of the shower (he swears there was no beer involved), hit his head on the marble edge and gashed it open.
Yes, there are emergency rooms in China, even in the Third Affiliated Hospital of the Dr. Sun Yat Sen University. They stitched him up and charged him four yuan, or 80¢. There was no waiting, either.
So that’s the story of Hanoi, Day 1. Off to bed, so I can do this again tomorrow.