Arriving in Hanoi
We, including our luggage, landed in Hanoi City, the capital of Vietnam. Upon arrival it becomes evident that this city is quite different from Seoul. The public transportation is not as developed as it is in Korea with the consequence of everybody driving scooters around like crazy people. All the drivers seem to have a honking language which is beyond our capacity of understanding. Sometimes people honk without any obvious reason. In addition, while the Japanese and the Koreans are known to be very organized, which is also reflected when looking at their streets, the Vietnamese capital seems to be drowning in chaos. There are pedestrian ways, which is a good thing. However, motorbikes are parked everywhere on the sidewalks and there is even a 'police' which makes sure they are parked appropriately. On top of that, there are several pop-up restaurants with mini plastic tables and mini chairs blocking the sidewalks completely, so the pedestrians don't have any other choice than walking on the street next to cars and motorbikes. Also, crossing the big streets can be a near death experience, at least the first times.
Making new friends- scam or real?
On our first night exploring the city, two young boys approached us and asked if they can talk with us in order to improve their English- Johannes and I were both well aware of scams going on in Hanoi so we hesitated, but turns out that they were two students taking English classes at university and their teacher gave them the homework to talk to foreigners and two record two sentences in their mother tongue. After a few skeptical seconds we engaged into a conversation and had a lot of fun talking and walking through the city. In the end, we had a joint dinner at one of the street food locations offering pho soup and we recorded two sentences in Vietnamese in return for having them saying exactly the same sentences in German:
Visiting Bat Trang - The Ceramic City
Not too far away from Hanoi is Bat Trang, a city focusing on pottery and ceramics. We took the local transportation to get there and it is obvious where it has gotten its nickname from:
Eventually, after a full day of walking around, we encountered some nice pieces and headed home to see the night market in Hanoi which takes place on the weekends. In addition to the dozens of stalls popping up all aroud city center the whole area is closed for cars and most motorbikes and becomes a main point for concerts, games and for strolling around.
How we planned on going to Halong Bay and ended up in Ninh Binh
Due to our change of plans, we had to choose between seeing the Sapa valley or Halong Bay and ended up booking a two days boat trip in the Halong Bay (rice was already harvested at that time so Sapa would not have been the best option anyways).
Unfortunately, the weather gods were not our friends and due to a monsoon hitting Vietnam, we could not get on the boat as several groups before and after us.
In the end, we found an alternative and caught another bus, once we reached Halong, towards Ninh Binh. We managed to convince two guys to come with us, a German and an American and had great conversations. Eventually, after 11 hours of bus rides up and down the Vietnam coast, we reached our Plan B destination. The hotel tried to rip us off by charging 50% extra which didn't work. Neither did their attempt to pretend they had forgotten the complimentary drink and the breakfast.
The four of us had to choose whether we wanted to explore Ninh Binh by ourselves or with the tour agency, which also included the ride back to Hanoi. Exhausted from the long day, we chose the lazy option with the tour guide. In retrospective, however, it would have been better to do it all independently as we could have done most of the activities in the morning, without other tourists around. We ended up visiting an old temple with hundreds of other people around and did a short bikeride in the area to see the scenery. Had we done it independently, we would have actually had enough time to explore even more. At the end of the trip, we took a little boat along the Halong river surrounded by limestones and here is a funny fact: the women row with their feet, 12km in total, which looks very funny, but must be the best workout available!
A final stroll through the city
On our last day, we woke up early in Hanoi and went to the international post office to ship our lovely pottery back home. Although it wasn't even 7am, we could see many older people in the park doing tai chi and other exercises. Our highlight was a group of Vietnamese people dancing to Bachata and Latin music! And it looked very decent! That's a good and fun morning workout and you even learn cool dance moves helping you to be the star on weddings and social gatherings 🙂