I have joined a mad Irishman on a cycling trip around the world.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Christmas in 'Nam

Entering Vietnam was a shock. China is loud. Vietnam is LOUD. Seriously loud. Unimaginably loud. Just crossing the boarder the levels seemed to jump to number 11. The trucks blast their horns at everything that moves. Some horns even have an echo. HARNKA HANKA harnka harnka.....hnk. The scooters are no longer silent death electric ones, they're stuttering roaring ones with horns you must have to press to make them stop horning. Even the indicators beep. After a long first day on a very rough main road we checked into what looked like a nice quiet hotel. It turned out to also be the karaoke club. It was the loudest karaoke I have ever heard. I think it might actually have been happening in our room.

The main road
Still, people are much more open to interaction than in China. Here they won't hesitate grabbing you and pushing you into their shop or onto their motorbike. Once a little old lady plonked her bamboo baskets filled with bananas on my shoulder, her hat on my head and laughed for a long time. They also won't hesitate in pouring you a shot of rice wine as soon as you walk into a restaurant. The evening after the karaoke hotel we were invited to eat our dinner with three men. They poured us a shot of wine each and we all cheersed and drank. Then they filled our glasses again, and again. About every three minutes. Our food arrived but they wouldn't let us eat the rice until we'd finished drinking. But there was no end to the drinking! We got through six bottles. I was VERY drunk. The guys paid for everything and made sure we found our hotel. I don't think there was karaoke that night but I could have slept through anything.

It was hard going with the horns and the hangovers the next day but we were (I was) determined to make it to Hanoi for Christmas. My brother Ben had given me a Christmas present of some Vietnamese Dong for us to spend on a nice hotel over Christmas and some nice food. So we pressed on and found ourselves a nice place to stay for a few days.

Hanoi streets
In Vietnam it is possible to get fake anything, not just watches and ipods. Jules had picked up a Lonely Planet in China and was reading "If it's cheap, it's a copy. Look at the print in this copy, if it is faded and washed out..." It was! Later we saw a book shop full of fake Lonely Planets and other books. Reading on we discovered that our hotel was fake too. Once a hotel makes it into the Lonely Planet other copycat hotels open with the same name pretending to be the original and we were staying in a fake one. Still, it was nice and it was cheap so I wasn't complaining.

Christmas morning, the cat and the horn clock!
We stayed in Hanoi for over a week. We both had colds one after the other but still managed a nice Christmas, much better than last year in the cell in a dodgy town in Honduras. I gave Jules a new silk sleeping bag liner and he gave me a horn clock! It is amazing. Hanoi also has the cheapest beer in the world. Sitting on the street corners on miniature stools with the scooters whizzing past yours knees, Beer Hanoi is about 18p a glass and is very good.

We've been eating very well in Vietnam. They use a lot more fresh greenery than in China, lots of coriander and spicy leaves. Our favorite foods so far are Bun Cha, meatballs and veg in a soup with cold noodles and lots of green stuff with spring rolls, and Cha Ca, mud fish cooked on coals then fried with lots more green stuff and eaten with noodles and peanuts. Very very delicious. Even plain old noodles have become really tasty. Our time in Hanoi was mostly spent planning what to eat next. Least favorite was the live ants I accidentally ate and fed to Julian. I didn't notice until they were biting my mouth. I looked down at the biscuits and found they were alive with ants. We'd eaten a lot of them. We also haven't tried dog yet.

Bun cha with spring rolls
Cha Ca
Dog's dinner!
We did manage to visit a few temples and museums. We even visited Ho Chi Minh who lies in a glass sarcophagus inside his mausoleum for most of the year, surrounded by guards in snowy white uniforms armed with guns and bayonets, except when he's in Russia for maintenance to keep him looking fresh.

Uncle Ho's mausoleum
Taking down the flag ceremony
We have spent a few nights camping with some gibbons in a National Park near the boarder with Laos. The gibbons make an incredible noise every morning. It sounds like the alarm for a nuclear fall out. It was very strange to wake up to. I like it and all but I cannot wait for the soothing quiet of Laos. My nerves are shot!

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