Monday, 26 September 2011

Arriving in Hanoi

Interestingly, having just passed into my ninth country, no customs people have taken any interest in my luggage - must be the dull grandpa image! There are only 2 other passengers on the 2 carriage train which is similar to the Chinese train except much shabbier with only a squat toilet. It finally leaves for Hanoi at 4am

When I wake we're trundling through jungle that whips at the windows on both sides of the train. Occasional houses are so close to the track you could lob stuff through their windows. At towns the train runs down the main street blaring its horn at the thousands of cyclists criss-crossing the track. There are no highrise apartment blocks here & only a few as we enter Hanoi.

It was a mistake to arrive with no prior planning. Vietnam was so far away when I set off from London that I thought I'd do some en-route planning - but I didnt. Perhap I thought there would be more English signage & English speakers, like Bangkok - another mistake.

So arrival was chaotic - no map, no guidebook & no bloody idea where I was or where I wanted/needed to go. I felt like a rank amature traveller; it would have been OK if I hadnt had a suitcase because that's a flashing light to any self repecting wide-boy on the make & they were around me like flies round shit.

So I refused everybody & sat having a cup of tea until they lost interest, although I did cave in & have my filthy boots polished & he did an excellent job for 200 dong. I hadnt even worked out what the exchange rate was & he ruined my good will by demanding 500, which sounded extortionate, so I settled for a street row & stomped off after giving him the agreed 200. It turns out we were arguing about a few pence - so another embarrasment.

Fifteen minutes after arriving I realising I was not going to come up with a coherant plan, I called over one of the cabbies & said I wanted to go to an internet cafe in the French quarter. He turned out not to be an actual cabbie but had a mate who knew a cabbie, so all three guys stood around the car trying to guess where I wanted to go, although I didnt know myself:
'Take me to an internet cafe in the French quarter,' I said. After heated debate they suggested - 'you want coffee?'
I made typing movements in mid air - 'ah, Post Office?'
Trying repetition with a louder voice - 'ah, City tour?'
'Write address, write address.'

Beginning to give up I started to get out of the car when inspiration struck, apart from Vietnam War history the only thing I remember coming across months previously was Finegan's Irish pub, I had even jotted its address in my note book. Trying to regain some measure of control of a rapidly deterioting situation I suddenly announced - 'take me to Finnigan's Irish pub' & I flourished the only Hanoi address I had; that'll have WiFi I hoped.
'Funniguns? Fine-a-gones? Fishigones?' Clearly this was not a regular haunt of Hanoi cabbies or their assistant's.

He couldnt find the place anyway so I just got out & decided to walk around, & desperate to dump my bag, I went into the first hotel I saw - what a plan? It was the Phung Hung hotel in Duong Thanh Str & it was surprising good for 30 US dollars a night - clean, street balcony, air con, WiFi - perfect. I love it when the absence of a plan comes together (a mis-quote, courtesy of the A Team).

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