Day 1 – Monday 31/03/2014
Arrival at Hanoi
From the boat trip in Ha Long Bay we came back to the land around 15:00 and the minibus took us to Hanoi.
The first impression after the entrance to the city? It was a shock: plenty of vehicles, especially scooters and motorbikes. There were thousands of them. They surround you everywhere from every side. For us their driving seemed very chaotic: very close to each other, they never stop (only on red lights) and they use horns all the time: unbelievable that there weren’t any accidents on the road.
The city is very interesting for me: a lot of green areas alternating with shops and sidewalks full of people. Negative: You could smell the smog. We stayed at The Rising Dragon Hotel (www.risingdragonhotel.com).
The hotel was really nice and clean and located right in the center so it was close to everywhere. After arriving (around 18:00) we immediately unpacked and left the hotel to see the city.
Streets were full of scooters, local people and tourists. Sidewalks were full of traders selling everything you can imagine, literally. On the street right next to our hotel traders were selling meat, it was interesting experience to see chickens sold with heads and feet, you could also find sea food and who knows what else. Constant motion on the street have forced me to be led by hand by Thomas every time we had to cross the road because I couldn’t do it on my own. After few days I got used to it though.
Some tourists were behaving very rudely, one of them was taking photos of an old lady sitting on the ground and selling chickens and other stuff. Poor women was trying to express to him that she doesn’t want to be photographed by shouting, gesticulation and covering her face, but he was still taking the photos and smiling. Anyway I was so excited by everything that was surrounding me (smells, people, variety of products) that I didn’t make any photos on the first day.
We were wandering around in the streets of Hanoi and observing local people’s lives all day. We ate 3 different meals, first one somewhere by a wall on a street local people were boiling a soup in a big pot and sat around on a little chairs. We asked them if we can eat with them and offered to pay of course. We’ve been given the chairs and a big bowl of soup each, Thomas ate all, I couldn’t, it was a bit too spicy for me, but very tasty. For the next meal we walked in to some kind of bar, several streets later. There were walls of aquariums full of various seafood (fish, lobsters, crabs, snails, prawns, you name it). We’ve picked what we want and they weighed and cooked what we chose. I wouldn’t say it was very cheap (around $ 8 per dish per person), but iw was very nice and definitely fresh. For the last meal for the day we had deep fried frog legs as a snack for the beer. After that we headed to the famous great market, but it wasn’t anything special, similar to the ones in Europe. In one of guides we’ve found information about bar serving 50 different types of local drinks, and that’s were went next, but once we got there it appeared that there are only few types of drinks and nothing special. After 10pm we started turning towards hotel and we got lost :-), thanks to that however we’ve explored few more streets of Hanoi and seen how it looks like when traders close for the day – people packing, nobody was rushing and everybody was getting rid of their rubbish by … burning them on the street in front of shop.
Once we’ve found our way back to the hotel, we had last local beer for the day, watching crazy scooter riders on a crossroad and came back to our hotel around midnight.
Day 2 – Tuesday 01/04/2014
Morning in Hanoi
We had all day trip planned for this day to go to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc caves. The day before we’ve been informed that minibus will come to pick us up around 7:30 and 8:30. After a good night sleep we came down for breakfast around 7:10, assuming that the bus will arrive for 8, but he has arrived 7:30 so we had to eat our soup and eggs in a hurry.
Leaving the hotel I’ve asked receptionist to reserve tickets for us for a puppet show in a Theathre of puppets on water – this is one of the biggest attractions in the city and I didn’t want to miss it and it was one of the reasons why I chose to stop in Hanoi for few days. Someone on the airport told me that usually there are no problems to get there on weekdays and on weekends it’s better to book the tickets online. The receptionist has confirmed he will do this and will let us know.
Trip to Trang An (Hoa Lu and Tam Coc caves)
I decided to decribe this trip as separate story available here: Trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc caves
Evening in Hanoi – Visit to the Water Puppet Theater
We can back to the hotel around 17:30 and we went to the reception straight away to pick-up the tickets for the Puppet Show for 8pm. At the reception we’ve found out that the receptionist has just started her shift and she knows nothing about our tickets, she rang the receptionist from previous shift to find out what happened, after intensive conversation between the two, we’ve been informed that unfortunately there were no spaces available and that she is very sorry about it. We’ve been advised to go to the theatre and try to buy tickets second hand. I was really disappointed but we got changed and headed to the theatre hoping for some luck. At the theatre we’ve revealed that we’ve been lied to, not only we bought tickets normally at the checkout, without any queues, but we also sat in second row and there we still quite a few spaces available. Ticket for the front places cost 100 000 VND per person, if you want to take photos you need to pay additional 20 000 VND. Loos like the receptionist has simply forgot to ring and book the tickets, but it wasn’t really a reason to lie.
To prevent similar situation I would advise just do it yourself online at www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org, in most of the hotels you can access the internet free of charge. After we’ve purchased the tickets we had another hour to the show so we went for a short walk, in one of crowdy alleys I bought tablecloth and a set of embroidery, we’ve negotiated for quite a long time, but as a result we’ve reduced the price by half.
The puppet show took around 45 minutes and it was really worth seeing: it is a traditional show, which hasn’t changed since many generations, the actors stand in the water hidden behind a curtain and control puppets on the water, by pulling strings, all this with traditional Vietnamese music and some dialogs from time to time. The story was showing life of farmers and fishermen through to water battles with animals and dragons. There were very attractive special effects including lighting, explosions and fire. There was one story that I remembered the most, it was about two peacocks hugging and dancing together and after a short moment an egg has emerged on a surface and after that from the egg a little peacock has hatched. Beautiful.
It was very nice experience to see one of the oldest Vietnamese traditions, and I think the 45 minutes show time is just about right as we are not used to the local music, after some time it started being a bit irritating to our ears J. The theatre sells little wooden replicas of puppets used on the show, it’s a very nice souvenir, I bought a pair for myself.
Dinner – !Cobra!
After the puppet show we have quickly caught taxi in front of the theatre to take us to the restaurant where snakes are served. As we have quickly found out, all of that kind of restaurants are located at the outskirts of the city, around 20 minutes fro the town centre, in really dark and unwelcoming area. You need to be very careful when it comes to paying to the taxi drivers, when my husband Thomas opened his wallet to pay, the taxi driver has quickly spotted that he has some big notes, suddenly he started showing very big number due to pay, instead of actual fee of 130 000 VND ($10) , the driver dried to charge us 750 000 VND ($24) . He was unlucky however, because we knew exactly which number to look at, after a bit of arguing we’ve ended up paying 150 000 VND. It wasn’t that obvious that the place we were entering is a restaurant, it was a white square house, with no obvious signs. We were directed to the first floor, despite it wasn’t welcoming from the outside, the entrance hall was very nice, beautiful decorations, dark marbles and leather sofas. We’ve been asked to take a seat, after about 5 minutes someone came to us to ask if we want to eat snake – Cobra. We’ve asked for the cost, and after checking money in the wallet, we’ve agreed to do it. It was our most expensive meal in Vietnam, it was 1 400 000 VND for 7 different dishes made of the snake and a carafe of snake wine. After another 10 minutes of waiting a guy came and brought with him a mat which was stained with blood, a little table with a bowl, knife and a basket, after a moment he opened the basket and took out live Cobra. We took some photos and sat back on the sofa.
The guy killed the snake in front of us, by cutting his throat and started filling glasses with the blood leaking from the snake. Shocking! At that time we were taken to our table and after a short moment we were served with the glasses filled with the Cobra blood, the glasses were then topped up with snake wine. We were also served with another 2 glasses, with something yellow, and were asked to drink it very slowly during the meal. We struggled to find out from the waiter, what it was, but we suspect it was the snake’s bile. In the meantime they brought a little plate to our table, with the Cobra’s heart, which was still beating, put the heart in one of the glasses filled with blood and asked to drink it. I was shocked, yes I was reading earlier that this is the way they serve it, but I didn’t really believe until I’ve seen it. But hey, as we have already started, we need to continue. Thomas drank the blood with the heart, and I, after a little while, drank my bloody shot, only because a little Vietnamese boy came to our table, leaned on it and was watching and waiting what will happen. Once I emptied my glass he smiled and after a short moment walked away. The 7 dishes started coming to our table one by one: soup, fried and roasted pieces in various sauces, black pudding etc.
It wasn’t really anything special in taste, the texture was quite chewy. It was good to try, but I wouldn’t do it again. After the meal, we’ve asked for a taxi and on our way out we bought a small bottle of snake wine from display cabinet.
“Nice” ending of the evening
After arriving back at the hotel, Thomas has realised that that he lost his wallet, thankfully there were no passport or credit cards. After few phone calls from the reception to the restaurant, they’ve managed to locate the wallet in the taxi. The taxi driver brought the wallet and we’ve paid him for the journey with a very generous tip of course. As we’ve drained our budget during the expensive evening, we’ve decided to pay out some cash from cash machine, we tried all of our cards with no success so we’ve decided to call our bank. After long security checks conversation, the settings were checked and reconfirmed that we can use our cards internationally, our next attempts however was unsuccessful as well and that’s when we started to worry. Suddenly one of local people approached us and said that this chash machine is only for local banks and we need to find international one. We have finally found the right cash machine and managed to pay out some cash. We came back to the hotel and after the day full of adventures we went to sleep.
Day 3 – Wednesday 02/04/2014
And the Cobra has revenged. In the morning view times I ran to the toilet like crazy… Thomas additionally felt very badly, but hey, trip continue. Around 5:30 a car arrived and took us to the airport for the flight to Hue (which was due to depart at 8:10 and arrive at 9:20).
From there we were going to travel to Hoi An.
Continue reading about our trip to Vietnam here : Vietnam – Hoi An
Basic Travel Information and Our Travel Plan you will find here: Vietnam – Basic Travel Information and Our Travel Plan