Hanoi airport proved to be a pretty efficient place with an impressive luggage carousel which stopped and started depending on whether there was another bag blocking the ramp.
A foretaste perhaps of the efficient planned socialist economy beyond the doors of the arrival lounge?
A young man called Tuan was waiting at the exit with a sign for us. Nice touch – shame they think I’m called James Smith…(thinks: perhaps scratch that bit about efficient…).
We stepped into a Hyundi four wheel drive and relaxed as the air conditioning kicked in.
Our noses were glued to the windows as we sucked in our first sights and sounds of Vietnam.
Unlike Cuba where the journey from the airport to the city is a procession of revolutionary billboards, here they were of a more mundane character – extolling the virtues of beer and cigarettes.
Hanoi seems to slowly creep up on you. One minute you are driving through scrub land punctuated by paddy fields the next you enter a strange grey area – part of Hanoi yet still countryside. It reminded me of some old medieval maps of London where fields lay within the city walls. Farmers wearing conical hats lounged in the shade, while sharper dressed youth careered past us on their ubiquitous mopeds. The height of the buildings started to rise. Another throw back to the middle ages hit me as I looked at the buildings, as the land they sit on appear to conform to the old medieval strip development (very thin frontages but stretch back for miles). They seem to only be six or seven metres wide, yet stretched back for forty or fifty metres in some cases (apparently called tube houses)
.These thin buildings also rose steeply, some as high as five or six floors.
My workplace just zipped by…Nhan Dan (pronounced Nen Zun) is the People’s Daily.
The workplace looked pretty impressive, all white four storey buildings done out in a fair imitation of a French colonial mansion house.
Home for now
We pulled up almost immediately outside our hotel – I didn’t realise until later that we were only five minutes walk away from my work – The four wheel drive jeep we had come in proved totally unsuitable for the tiny alley way that the hotel was in. A woman we later came to know as Dung (Definitely pronounced Zoung!!) insisted on carrying our year’s supply of luggage almost single handedly. We collapsed.
Bong Hong – phoeee
Hotel Bong Hong – or Rose Hotel, what can I say – it seems to have been last decorated in the early 1980s and I have to admit the idea of spending more than a few nights here, and living in one room was a bit of a depressing future. The room does have air conditioning, a balcony and there’s a TV. However the place does have a unique charm of it’s own. A bit like the slightly odd bed and breakfast places you come across in south Wales or Yorkshire.
The reception has a fair amount of chintz about the place, but sitting in pride of place is a fish tank with possibly the most ugly fish you can imagine. Picture a fish about a foot long with spindly bits hanging down from it. Now picture the fish lacking any form of colouring whatsoever, an albino fish. Any movement near the fish tank triggers its vicious instincts as it vainly lunges at the glass, it’s mouth gaping. Obviously every time I go past the tank I have to say hello to keep the killing machine in top fighting form.
Home from home?
After relaxing for a while hunger pangs set in and we decided to brave the streets for the first time. Being sad Brits abroad we immediately sought out the nearest expat type place for food – we had been warned to slowly break into the local cuisine to avoid any ‘stomach issues’.
We managed to stumble onto a small café up a tiny alleyway and a set of stairs.
Puku is its name and even though it really is a traveller/ex-pat hangout it doesn’t reek of backpacker-dom. The staff are genuinely friendly and contrary to reports they even had cheese and other dairy products available. My first meal on the sacred earth of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was cheese and ham on toast (with chutney which did a remarkably good impression of Worcester Sauce).
Then to bed (under a mosquito net – not that it stopped the little buggers oh no).