No, no, it really was only one hour! My lightning tour of Hanoi (or, at least, three or four streets in Hanoi) happened during an airport transfer. 9pm, dark. Weather: light rainfall (huge raindrops!), pleasantly cool.
1) good, clean roads! It is hard to have a more noteworthy impression when the airport is an hour away from the city centre… The roads just looked less dusty and worn than they did in Beijing. The roads were still bloody busy, but people did not beep their horns quite so much.
2) Buildings are thin and tall. They can be five storeys high but only one window across. The posh hotels can be just as thin, but taller! Most people slept with their doors open and one could see right into the house, if they would care to look. There was what looked just like a regular six room house, except with the small difference that it didn’t have a front wall at all. Men could be seen sitting and chatting in rooms furnished with table and chairs.
3) Okay, literally no one wants to speak English. I say ‘want’ because I can’t tell if it’s a shyness issue or if they really can’t speak English. I walked up to a food stall with 20 or so Vietnamese people and they knew I couldn’t speak Vietnamese by my face! They hastily pushed over the youngest of the group to translate for me. She was really, really shy! However, Vietnamese seems similar to Chinese sometimes. At least,I could understand it when she said ‘Nei ge’.
4) Vietnamese writing uses Roman characters. I didn’t know that before! Sometimes it looks like it could be Pinyin. There were also lots of places with foreign names (Cafe Rouge, Posh Hotel, Sakura) and even the sign for the launderette had an English translation! Occasionally, Chinese characters would spring out of nowhere!
5) Street food! I was lucky enough to taste the place as well as see it. I found a road where every restaurant advertised ‘Bit Tet’ (beef steak, I guess?) and so I planted myself on a plastic chair to have a try. They brought a completely alien dish to me, and I had to be given instructions how to eat it step by step. There was fried egg, rich beef steak, rice and a jelly like substance that must have been sauce. I checked whether I was supposed to use bread to soak up the sauce, and the shop lady kindly nodded at me. They laughed when I tried to thank them in Vietnamese (Da Men?) but I guess they got it.
6) Random observations. Firstly, that round building I saw was definitely a tourist attraction but god knows why. Secondly, there were political messages and ‘polite notices’ everywhere. Billboards, shop fronts, police stations, you name it. Also there are loads of karaoke bars and barely any smartphones.
7) (though this doesn’t surprise me) Vietnamese people seem fantastic. They smile, chat together, and laugh loudly. Sometimes people said ‘Hello’ like they do all the time in China, but not often. They seemed really mild-mannered, gentle and calm. I wish I could have spoken to them more!
8) Money was really confusing. I legitimately took out 1,000 000.00 from the cash machine, and paid 6000.00 for a small cake. What?!
That was my lightning observations of Hanoi. I tried to get a glimpse of the culture in the short time I were there. Anyone who has been to ‘Nam before, let me know what you thought of Hanoi!