Vietnam : A Night In Hanoi
January 1, 1970
by Charlie Noon
You May Of Heard About A Little Country Called Vietnam…
Its most famous for the part it played in the Vietnam war, a tragic war that saw hundreds of thousand of Vietnamese exposed to the deadliest chemical formula ever construed… Agent Orange. Its also famous for its beautiful landscape, Brilliant food, Quirky villages, Fascinating cultures and Relaxing coastal settlements, not to forget its incredible and welcoming people. However in this short blog ill be concentrating on Hanoi, the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s busiest city, and one of my personal favourite places i got to see and experience in my trip to Vietnam. If you haven’t heard or seen much of Hanoi I will try to bring it to life in this short article….
We arrived at Hanoi local airport, it was 7pm and just starting to get dark. We collected our bags swiftly (for a change) and headed towards the exit of the airport where we would start our voyage into the great unknown that is Vietnam. As we exited the airport we were on the search immediately for a taxi, having been to Thailand a number of times we were already in the bartering frame of mind when a taxi driver approached us and asked where we were going. We gave them an address and it took them about 10 minutes to find where it was and offer us a price. The driver was smoking a brown cigarette that looked like something you’d see in an old western, he drew in his final puff and exhaled whilst quoting our price, 40thousand Vietnamese dong. I wasn’t fully sure whether that was or wasn’t a good price until i did the calculations and saw how far away the city centre was where we would be staying, it worked out to be just under 2 dollars for around 60kms. I laughed handed the driver the money upfront and began to question myself on how cheap this place actually is. Little did we know then that this will be the cheapest place we’ve ever visited!
We arrived at our destination about an hour after leaving the airport, the journey however was an experience in itself, we left the airport in fairly normal fashion, turned down a side road, onto the slip lane and onto the motorway, normal. However when we got onto the motorway the driver decided that he was in fact a formula 1 driver that had just done a bank job and was trying to lose the police. It was unreal. Speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights and almost knocking people off scooters, it was like playing GTA in real life. I couldn’t quite believe what i was seeing, it was crazy! We pulled up at the lights and i laughed and asked the driver is it always this hectic in Vietnam, and he looked at me with a smirk on his face and said “first time in Vietnam ey” and gave me a wink. As we were stationary waiting for the lights to change i saw across the way, at a 90degree angle to us there were about 200 scooters all lined up waiting for the light as well. Didn’t think anything of it, until suddenly both ours and the scooter’s lights turned green at the same time. We accelerated as fast as we could, as did the scooters heading directly for each other, i was certain we were going to collide when all the scooters parted ways weaving between the oncoming cars and somehow it just, worked. I was astounded.
The Mad City Centre
We made it to the hotel, dropped our bags off after talking to a very friendly host, extremely friendly in fact, and headed into town after meeting a friend. We walked down the road towards the restaurant we were going to stop at for a bite, but were struggling to make our way down the road as there is no path to walk on, and the streets are literally at bursting point with the amount of scooting whizzing by. We stood and watched as the locals just walked nonchalantly into the road not even glancing back at the oncoming scooter than was about to run them down, but once again the scooter passed by almost brushing the dust off the pedestrians clothing. So that’s how it worked in ‘nam, you just walk out into oncoming traffic, hope not to get hit and make your way to your next destination, i kid you not its the only way ha-ha. After a dicey 10 minute walk through what seemed a racing track we made it to the restaurant which was street side near some poorly run bars and shelters but the place itself was quite well built and very rustic. It was called ‘The lantern’.
We were greeted by again an extremely friendly and helpful Vietnamese waitress who told us we could go upstairs onto the balcony and have a beer as we watched the hectic streets of Hanoi rattle on by, it really was quite spectacular. We ordered a large beer each costing around 25000 Vietnamese dong, equivalent to just over 1 dollar and we headed out towards the balcony. The interior of the restaurant was quite stunning, it was littered with hanging lanterns, hundreds of them all different colours and styles draped over the dining area creating a very romantic, authentic feel to the place. We went through and sat on the balcony which was all bamboo and watched over the side as thousands of people battled past the scooters and chaos. Without warning a couple of musicians set up on the road in front of the bar and starting playing some classic Vietnamese style music, accompanied by female vocals. The music was a nice surprise but did leave a little to be desired in the final product, how ever it did give us a taste into what traditional Vietnamese music sounded like. We listened to a couple of records then headed back in as we were getting peckish and the smell of the food wafting through the dining area out to the balcony was too irresistible to go any longer without sampling it.
Vietnam is known locally and worldwide for its stunning cuisine, in my personal opinion it is head and shoulders above the other Asian countries I’ve visited for the not only the quality of the food, but the price as well. To put it into perspective, we were getting 3 course meals for the price of a chocolate bar back in New Zealand. It was quite magical, the presentation was always very rustic and authentic yet still keeping it contemporary. Its safe to say that the food in Vietnam helped boost it to near the top of my favourite places to visit. Anyways back to The Lantern, we walked through the busy seating area which was filled with the aromas of south east Asian cuisine, it was like walking through a wall of smell, it ignited the senses and i knew immediately i was going to enjoy whatever i ordered. We decided to take the floor seated room in another section of the restaurant, It was dimly lit with lanterns hanging from the sealing of all colours, Bamboo interior from ceiling to floor but done stylishly, it was almost intoxicating. The waitress handed us the menu and we began to feast our eyes on the delights that they had to offer. The choice was really quite difficult, even though the menu itself was quite small in terms of quantity, everything looked that enticing i simply could not make my mind up. After much decision making and a few cocktails I decided on the sea food stir fried rice, it was a real treat, and extremely affordable once again. Even though i was sat in a, for Vietnamese standards, quite a high brow kinda restaurant, the food was still extremely affordable. The whole thing probably came to no more than 10 dollars, and for that we got 3 hours of relaxation, food and cocktails. It was a stunning evening. Throughout our trip we realised that the food all over Vietnam was extremely cheap, as a lover of food and fine dining, the country instantly won me over.
Time For A Drink
It was around 10pm now, getting late, I’d fueled up sufficiently with food and cocktails and was ready to hit the centre of the action and see what the madness was truly like. We headed directly for the centre of town where the bars were located, what I saw was quite staggering. Thousands of people from all over the world, sat on what can only be described as “kiddies chairs”. To put that into perspective, the chairs were around half a foot off the ground and stool’ish in design, it was comical and brilliant at the same time, everyone however was having a riot of a time. It was mental. The scene was as follows, 5 roads which all lead to this one roundabout style junction, at the ends of each of the roads there was a bar and in front of each bar was a few hundred people all sat a foot off the ground. It was busy basically. Furthermore, hundreds of scooters, cars and buses were still using this route to make their way around town, this place never sleeps. Anyway, we ventured into the nearest bar and got a couple of bottles each, under a dollar, and sat down to watch the chaos unfold in front of us.
It was quite a culture shock for me, even being relatively well traveled in that part of the world, there was something different about this place. Maybe it was the clash between the “rich” traveler, and the extremely poor Vietnamese who were just trying to get back to their home, shelter or gutter in some cases. Obviously this sort of divide is obvious all over Asia but it was just more, raw here. After a few hectic beers and some contemplation i really started to enjoy the atmosphere and get into it, it was crazy and you had to act a little crazy to fit into the way things work over there.
We finished up our beers and headed around town to see what else the place had to offer, it was the classic Asian township, locally run stalls, liquor stores and salesmen trying to sell you the greatest suit on earth. We took around an hour to walk round the streets giving ourselves time to digest what we had just experienced and we were all slowly starting to love the place we had come to. We looked back on the sort of night we’d had and after laughing about it realized we’d only spent around 20dollars NZ, quite incredible really. This set the tone for the entire trip, you really can live like a king on next to nothing over there. We retired for the night as we had a lot planned for the coming weeks but were all in awe of the madness that was HANOI.