After spending my last night in Bangkok in a hostel dorm room with 3 other guys (I got no sleep), I hopped on a flight to Hanoi. The flight was about 2 hours. The flight attendent made her usual remarks:
"This is a non-smoking flight"
"Bringing live chickens on board is a serious offense."
Luckily, I had checked my bag full of wool suits and live chickens before getting on the plane.
I had asked my Hanoi hostel to arrange a cab. When I got off my plane at 10:30 pm, there was an Asian guy holding a sign with my name on it. I went with him out to the parking lot.
"You wait me here," he said in pefect, preposition-free Vietnamese English.
I waited. And waited. Eventually, an Asian guy pulled up in a car with no taxi sign on it. I didn't recognize him. I asked him how much the cab ride was going to cost. "Sorry, sorry," he said. He opened his trunk and put my bags in. Hmm. I got in. I asked again about the price. "Sorry, sorry."
I asked if he was going to the Hanoi hostel. "Sorry, sorry." I started to get a little nervous. I was trying to figure out what I'd do if this was a kidknapping. We kept driving. I asked if we were going to Hanoi. He said yes. I watched the street signs. They all said Hanoi. On the highway, there were moped riders darting across lanes, in and out of traffic, between trucks. Some of the mopeds had up to four people on them, men, women, children. No one was wearing a helmet. Eventually, we made it to the hostel. He took off, I didn't need to pay him. (The hostel billed me directly.)
Apparently, my paranoia was not without grounds. The next day a fellow hosteler told me the following story.
He was out looking for a specific bar late at night. He couldn't find it. A friendly moped rider offered to take him to the bar for 15,000 Vietnames dong (about $1). He hopped on the moped. They drove along. Then a prostitute jumped on the back of the moped and started feeling the guy up, reaching into his front pockets. He said he wasn't interested, get lost. She continued. He got pissed off. They pulled up in front of the bar. He reached in his back pocket for his wallet and it was half out of his pocket. He opened the wallet. The money was gone. He yelled at her to give him the money back. She did nothing. He grabbed the driver of the moped by the collar, looked at her, and told her he would beat the crap piss out of the driver if he didn't get his money. He got his money back.(The hosteler is a small Australian guy. The Vietnamese guy was even smaller. Violent crime here is pretty rare. He wouldn't have attempted anything like this outside of South East Asia.)
Facts About Hanoi/North Vietnam
- They drive on the right, like the U.S.
- More precisely, they drive on the left, right, on sidewalks.
- there are few cars but thousands of mopeds; few people wear helmets; they honk constantly using a stacatto-style series of 4 or more short honks as opposed to Americans, who honk with a couple of long, loud foghorn blasts.
- women generally cover their skin from the sun. You'll see a couple of variation of face coverings: the bandana worn Jesse James style but with a feminine flower pattern or the surgeons' mask also in feminine pattern.
- technically, bars close at around midnight. But some will close the doors, pull down their iron garage-like shutters and continue serving inside. If you knock on the shutter, some will let you in. Some hostelers said they were in a place where the police demanded the owners open it up and everyone ran out the back door.
- Prices here are even cheaper than in Thailand: a decent small hotel in town costs $20 a night (320,000 dong). Bowl of soup from a street stall a little less than $1, 15,000 dong.
- Weather has been in 80's, but dry and comfortable.