January 24, 2007

My personal take on Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of east and west, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French influence from its colonial past. What struck me most when we first got into Hanoi city from the airport is the width of the houses and shops. Buildings in Hanoi have a narrow frontage with multiple stories, which reminds me of Amsterdam. I found it particularly peculiar as Hanoi was colonized by the French, not the Dutch.

With a population of 3 million, and each family owning two or three motorcycles, it's not an exaggeration that Hanoi may be the motorcycle capital of the world. The motorcyclists, comprising male and female of all ages, will weave in and out of traffic without a care in the world, and without any safety helmet to boot! The incessant blaring of horns regardless of the time of day needs some getting use to. The first day we arrived, I felt so stressed out as drivers and motorcyclists press their horns continuously throughout their journey. And even when we were getting off the taxi, the cars behind kept pressing their horn, as if we deliberately help up the traffic.

Language is another major problem. Aside from a handful of shop attendants who speak a smattering of English, majority of the man in the street can't. As a result, asking for directions is near impossible. People are generally rather rude and unfriendly and will simply push their way through in a crowd.

Many people have complained about being cheated as a tourist in China but my experience in Hanoi is worse. Taxi drivers have no qualms in fleecing you off. There were several instances where the taxi driver tried to give us less change than what's due. For example, if the fare was VND15,000 and we handed him a VND50,000 note, he'd just return VND25,000 to us in the hope that we wouldn't notice or make a fuss. Some taxis had their meter tampered – on two separate occasions, we were charged VND11,000 and VND50,000 for the same trip. When we argued with the second driver, he just played dumb and ignored our protests! Street vendors were not any better. Mum saw a lady selling something akin to our local "char kuay" and she wanted to try. As the lady obviously did not speak English, we just asked for two pieces and handed her VND10,000 (~RM2.50), which we thought should be more than enough. To our surprise, we asked for another VND10,000! We said no but she just grabbed the money from my sister's hand and stuffed another two pieces into the plastic bag and walked away! We felt so indignant and violated. Although the amount involved is not a lot, we just felt the spirit is so wrong. We comforted ourselves by thinking that these people are poor and our money may be the only income they get for the entire day.

My worst experience in Hanoi was getting diarrhea. This was truly a tourist nightmare came true. All along I have a rather weak stomach and when the taxi stopped at the street where we were to have our steamboat dinner, I was hesitant. Nevertheless as we were already there, we just went ahead. I took great care to rinse my plate and utensils with the boiling soup and didn't order any drinks but my stomach starting churning in the midnight. Good thing I went prepared with some "Po Chai" pills and oral rehydration salts. My diarrhea lasted three days and I count my lucky stars that I had access to reasonable good washrooms throughout.

All in, Hanoi is a quite a pleasant city but for someone who doesn't speak Vietnamese, it can be fraught with dishonesty. Would I want to go to Hanoi again? Probably not on a personal trip. Would I recommend it as a travel destination? Perhaps, but it's probably better to follow a tour package rather than travel on one's own as with the former, everything will taken care of and one will even have a local guide who can assist during unexpected situations.


jazzmint said...

wahh looks cool..but like you say, if not familiar better engage tour

Anonymous said...

Hubby's been there, but he won't recommend us to go with kids. Well, maybe when they're older, it's a nice place to visit.

A Mom's Diary said...

Jazz, the flip side about tours is the fixed itinerary, and they take you to places you don't want to go. I guess that's life, there's a pro and con to everything.

shoppingmum, your hubby is right. It's a child friendly city, but we managed.

A Mom's Diary said...

Oppsss, I meant it's not a child friendly city...hehehe...