Monday 18th December
The second thing I noticed, which was admittedly less unexpected, was the chaotic traffic. Rules in the road, if there are any, seem to be drive on the right. Mainly. But even this rule was regularly ignored by the many, many motorcycles. I'd text my friend Billy to tell him where I was, and his reply was, "Land of the Vespa!" Crossroads were just insane - they have to be seen to be believed.
I remember thinking that Esta would hate her first impressions of this place, because when navigating the streets there is no room to walk on the pavements, as it's either full of shop stock or parked scooters! There’s no choice but to walk in the road. You have to boss it - own your space. Or you’ll either just be crowded out, or you simply won't get anywhere at all. I quickly worked out that you just don’t stop walking. At least not when you’re on the road. If you need to stop, you find somewhere to "pull over" - otherwise you just keep on walking, however slowly. Crossing the road, no matter how busy it is, and this rule applies even more than ever. Stopping just confuses everyone around you. It’s probably people stopping that causes any accidents. Luckily I didn’t see any of those.
I tried out a motorbike to get back to the hotel. You just have to trust the driver. It’s fun, and it costs pennies! They all carry spare crash helmets for the passengers they pick up.
Discovering the Grab transport was excellent. It meant that after going back to the hotel to lather myself with mosquito lotion, I could just completely and utterly wander at random. “Lost” was a concept that applied itself 100meters from the hotel anyway, so after that it was irrelevant. I took random lefts and rights, going down whatever street looked busy and interesting. It was very dark by 18:00, so the lights of the shops and restaurants just lead me on. Had it not been for some loud Americans, I would have completely missed Leo’s tavern. But as I had to stop and try and find a way around them, the rep outside tempted me down a tiny alleyway and upstairs to a hidden gem with a balcony overlooking the street. Little escapes from the chaos like these were a wonderful way to step away from the mayhem and view it from a safe distance.
Sitting in Leo's, I reflected that Hanoi reminded me a lot of Kathmandu - which doesn’t help if you’ve not been there either, but both a chaotic, yet somehow also feel safe. Everyone’s on a hustle, just trying to make a buck (or in this case, a few hundred thousand Vietnamese Dong).
The BBQ didn’t fill me up much, so after another hour or two of wandering I found myself in a really busy area, full of tourists and bars playing loud music. Somehow, out of all the Vietnamese places, I ended up sitting outside a Mexican bar, chowing down on smoked buffalo! At least the beer was Vietnamese. By the time I'd chewed on the meat (I needed the beer to help wash it down), I'd had enough for day one.