Our final night in China was spent in Nanning. We didn’t see much of the city really but did have a great meal. Our last Chinese meal was peppery Chinese cabbage, spicy tofu, some steamed rice and a couple of beers. We got a bus at 7.30 the next morning for a 10 hour journey to Hanoi.
Hanoi immediately made a positive impression on me and having spent a few days here I can safely say (big claim) it’s my favourite capital city since Sophia. The people are really friendly; quick to smile and quick to laugh. Another thing I like is the greenness of the city. There are big old trees in the old part of town and many of them even seem to be growing out of the buildings. Maybe it’s that the city can’t quite hold back the rain forest.
Also everywhere you look there are interesting things happening. The place is so vibrant with people buzzing around on motorbikes, setting up little noodle stalls at the side of the road – all of which was carried on a motorbike – stools, ingredients, pots and pans, cutlery and anything else they might need. Women come in to the city from the surrounding villages selling fruit, vegetables and sweet pastries. Despite all the hustle and bustle though I felt like there was a laid back vibe in Hanoi.
Of course the food has been fab here too, and the coffee and the bread (I seem to talk about food quite a lot). I have been really excited to eat pho – Vietnamese beef or chicken noodles with chilli and lime and other magic ingredients which make it taste so fantastic. We’ve been eating quite regularly at a restaurant which is called Pho and only serves pho. Another meal I enjoyed was cha ca la vong in a restaurant called Cha Ca La Vong, which only serves cha ca la vong. This is fish fried over a charcoal fire with noodles, peanuts, spring onions and herbs. They bring the pan and the charcoal burner to your table and you cook it yourself. Absolutely finger-licking delicious.
We have also got up off our backsides, put down our chopsticks and done some things in Hanoi. We learned a little bit about all the minority groups in Vietnam at the museum of ethnology. Having been to a few of these sorts of museums I’ve added embroidery to a long list of things I’d like to learn. The clothes that these people wear are absolutely beautiful.
We also went to a lovely water puppet show. This is an art form which apparently started in the rice fields a 1000 years ago or so. Farmers would make wooden puppets and put on shows for the community. The puppeteer is hidden in the water (behind a stage) and from there makes the puppets dance on the surface. We went to a theatre, where they had a live band and beautiful water puppets getting up to all sorts of things.
Hanoi feels different from the big cities we visited in China. There are some fairly obvious differences – like the lack of Chinese characters, and the people for that matter – but then there are the more subtle differences. The buildings are more varied – both in colour and style. There are a lot of trees – it’s great to be in such a green city. The most pleasant difference for me is that the city seems a lot more laid back than anywhere we visited in China. Hanoi is jam packed with people, bicycles and motorbikes but somehow it still seems pretty relaxed.
The other day we found a really nice second hand bookshop. The books weren’t in any order – well not alphabetical order at least – but Susan managed to spot a copy of Moby Dick for me. I’ve been keeping half an eye out for it because I read that it was John Steinbeck’s favourite book. I’m not particularly excited about reading a book about whaling to be honest but I figure there must be something in it if it’s Mr Steinbeck’s favourite. Also, I’ve been flying through books lately and this is likely to slow me down a bit.
The overhead wires here really are something else. What a jumbled up mess. I saw a group of electricians working the other day and I couldn’t begin to imagine how they even start a job. I wonder if maybe they just keep adding new cable whenever there’s a problem.
I’m going bald. There’s no point in denying it. I went and got my hair cut last night – short because of the intense heat (or rather the humidity). I haven’t had my hair this short for a very long time. I’m very obviously getting a little “thin on top”. Ah well…
It’s hard not to feel guilty when we catch a ride in a cyclo (a three wheeled bicycle with a seat in front). I know that the people who ride these bikes depend on it for a living and I know that they’re probably especially happy to transport tourists like me (for the higher price of course). But when they’re struggling to peddle me up a hill I kind of want to jump out and give them a push – of course if I did jump out it would probably be straight into a passing motorcycle. When I look behind me at the rider though, he’s just smiling and pushing along – he must be super fit. I’ve settled for not haggling too ferociously when we’re agreeing on a price.
The coffee here is absolutely fantastic! Pretty much every cup I’ve had has been different in style but it’s always been very good. The bread’s good too. Oh, and the fruit juice. And the food in general.