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Thursday 25 Jul 2013
Hanoi, Vietnam

Sensory overload

After a very long train journey, we arrived in Hanoi at 5.30am and got bombarded with taxi drivers outside the station.  One guy wanted 150,000 dong but refused to put the meter on, so we kept walking a block away from the station.  The next taxi we found agreed to use the meter and it cost us only 60,000 to reach the hostel.  Useful trick.

The hostel check-in wasn’t until 1pm, but we were able to store our bags and use the showers and lounge area until then.  We found a place for breakfast nearby but even after that it was still only 9am.  Simon left on a motorbike taxi to find the Chinese Embassy and get his visa organised, while the rest of us decided to do the hostel’s walking tour around the old quarter.  This should have been a good way to occupy ourselves, but after such an early start and broken sleep on the train we were exhausted. 

I’ve heard other people talk about how hectic Hanoi is, how noisy it is, how crazy the streets are to cross (with 6-10 lanes of motorbikes coming at you, you just put your head down and keep walking steadily.  They will move around you.  Stopping is actually more dangerous as they don’t expect it).  I had expected all of Vietnam to be like that, but I’d actually quite enjoyed the vibrancy of Ho Chi Minh City after Laos and Cambodia.  So, despite what others had said, I didn’t expect Hanoi to be so different.  But sleep-deprivation will change your perspective dramatically.  I found trying to keep up with the group quite overwhelming.  It was a case of sensory overload and I really struggled.  I wanted to be interested, but the group was too big and the guide spoke too quietly to be heard unless you were right next to her.  I couldn’t cope with the market, but waiting outside meant standing next to a street vendor who kept up a non-stop auctioneer-style running commentary through a microphone, which seemed to drill right through my skull.  I’d have been tempted to abandon the tour but had no idea where we were by then. 

Eventually we made it back to the hostel and were able to check in a little early. I’d intended to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and the Hanoi Hilton, a former POW prison nicknamed by the Americans held there, but the mausoleum was closed on Mondays and Fridays. I felt so rough that I abandoned all hope of seeing more of Hanoi and went to bed instead.  I felt far more human after a couple of hours of sleep.

Simon had gone off exploring again so Josh, Carl, Jon and I decided to walk up the road to the night markets.  We didn’t make it more than a few blocks before the heavens opened into one of Vietnam’s famous deluges.  We managed to squeeze under the tarpaulin shelters of a little street restaurant, crouched down on tiny plastic stools at low tables.  We didn’t know what to order, so just pointed at what other people were eating (which turned out to be a great move) and had a couple of beers while the streets slowly turned into rivers and we tried to avoid the leaks in the tarpaulin.  As the rain meant we weren’t going anywhere very quickly, we sat there and talked about life, the universe and everything – future plans, best travels so far, and what we’d do differently next time around.  It was funny hearing them talk about leaving student life behind and going into their first jobs.  I remember how that felt a decade ago, and I'm sure I'll have similar feelings when I have to go back to work after this great adventure.  I’m really going to miss these guys.

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