A less intrusive Asian capital

At first sight, Hanoi seems like just another busy Asian capital. But the city is smaller than Bangkok for instance, and has a is less intrusive atmosphere than I imagined. I do have mixed feelings about Hanoi: they range from `I want to get out of here as quickly as possible`, `And yet I love hanging around here`, versus `I want to share this with someone`. The traffic seems incredible, with 6 million inhabitants driving 3 million mopeds.

Over-organized tours

To get accustomed, I join a sightseeing tour. My first thought at a stop underway is that the trips are over-organized here; 8 minibusses parked in front of a large souvenir shop. After a bus ride of an hour and a half, we arrive at the Perfume Pagoda.

Perfume Pagoda

Taking a rickety boat in the rain

boat trip to Ha Long On Land

To reach a sacred cave, we make a one-hour trip in rickety boats;  per boat, there are 4 people and a female rower. It is slightly raining, so most of us open an umbrella. Surely this must be a rather foolish sight while faring. The surrounding mountainous environment is overwhelming though. Because of the beautiful scenery, the common name for the area is Ha Long On Land. It takes another one-hour walk to the sacred cave in the mountains. And because of the rain, the rocky path is dangerously slippery. I decided to descend with the cable lift. Lunch is included in the trip, but apart from being Vietnamese food, eaten with chopsticks, not special at all.

inside a sacred cave

A guide who explains nothing

Once back in Hanoi, we make the last stop in Silk Village. Typical for our guide, he doesn`t supply any explanation. In general, this first encounter with some of the Hanoi highlights was satisfactory, apart from the guide who still has to learn how to accompany tourists effectively. But that does not take away my mixed feelings about Hanoi.

mixed feelings about Hanoi: visit to weaving factory without any explanation

Rip-off spoiling my temple visit

The next day, I want to exchange some money for Vietnamese Dong. My first ride with a motorcycle taxi immediately turns into a rip-off. I assume an agreed price of 5000 VND, the driver wants the tenfold for a 5-minute ride. A tedious discussion follows, with empty threats about contacting the police. My visit to the Temple of Literature immediately spoils because of this.

Temple of Literature in Hanoi

Wrapped up by a poor student

After lunch, I head to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. And older driver picks me up and takes me to the Ambassadors’ Temple. Then I walk back to Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter, where I get wrapped up by a poor student from Sapa. I buy a copied specimen of Graham Greene`s The Quiet American.

Hearty conversation but mixed feelings about Hanoi remain

As I am thirsty, I end up sitting in front of a local store close to my hotel.  I order a Coke but also get local tea. In a hearty, but somewhat broken conversation with the older owner, I learn that camoen means ‘Thank You’ in Vietnamese. Our small talk compensates for the motorcycle driver fiasco this morning. My overall impression prevails that I have to leave Hanoi to make the journey more enjoyable. For now, my mixed feelings about Hanoi and in extension Vietnam, remain.