Arrival in Hanoi

4/6/09

We are on a Thai-Airlines flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, welcomed by beautiful stewardesses.

My backpack weighs 5 kg for 3 weeks (almost comparable to Stefan’s…), Jens’ weighs 15 kg. We can thus conveniently travel from town to town.
There are several children on the plane and all of them seem very satisfied – do they possibly have a special sedative for kids on planes… In any case, the atmosphere on the plane is quite peaceful – an early taste of the Asian equanimity?
Eleven hours later stopover in Bangkok. And once more we come to the conclusion that while Jens is trying to get by on his own I prefer to ask people for information…

Arrival in Hanoi at 9:45 a.m. Even in the cab we are already amazed at the crazy traffic and the drivers’ incredible adroitness, most of them are on scooters or mopeds. Our amazement of this won’t cede for the next couple of days.

I will take you on a short walk through the streets and you will see an old man on his moped transporting at least 30 cartons of eggs each on his left and his right side and making his way through traffic with astonishing routine and speed. There are several scooters with whole families on them, that is mostly four persons, the toddlers standing in between the driver’s legs and they’re hardly even holding on to anything but nobody seems to be worried about them. You will see a man, or rather the huge sack he is hoisting onto his back before mounting his bike, and in between again and again lots of women carrying baskets full of fruits, eggs, rolls and vegetables on their shoulders, everything neatly stacked.

The many beautiful women on their pink or silver scooters in their flashy high heels will fascinate you just as much as us and you will soon come to notice that most women seem very self confident – including the small lady whose smile Jens couldn’t resist. He let her prepare some dried fish for him right on the sidewalk in between all the pedestrians, that is, on about 50 cm.

Above all this you hear the constant honking and smell the air full of exhausts. This is why everybody is wearing face masks. And, again, the sheer number of different models, which are often designed with a lot of imagination, captures our attention.
The riksha drivers won’t stop to ring or call on you and at some point you just give in, get on, and find yourself surprised at the feeling of safety on crossing the huge intersection. You confidently look at the mass of honking scooters rolling towards you as you know the driver knows his job.

After a long time of observation, mostly sitting on one of those low, uncomfortable stools on the sidewalk, holding a beer in my hands, I have come to the conclusion that this chaotic traffic system is only working because nobody looks directly at the other drivers; they seem to just sense everything going on around them and react quickly, dodge vehicles, making their way through traffic. And all of this almost completely without traffic lights – I find this impressive.

street scene in Ha Noi

I could go on talking for hours, telling you about the many narrow alleys with their different trades – there is pounding, hammering, welding, sewing, cooking… We kept on walking and walking and stopped at a restaurant in which the same dish has been served for 100 years: monkfish with vegetables and fish sauce, grilled right on the table in a small clay oven.
Oh, all of you dear people at home, I am already coming to realize how difficult it is to stay brief. My thoughts are like a river full of memories that I have to try to slow down…

Sa Pa, a mountain city. On Easter Sunday I am sitting on our tiny balcony enjoying the bright sunlight and the wonderful view which never ceases to inspire me. There is the laughter of children, the squeaking of a swing, and even today still the pounding and hammering. Contented and freshly showered after a four hours’ hike through villages, creeks, bamboo forests and many, many paddy fields we are ready to plunge back into the busy turmoil out there. Maybe tomorrow we will rent a scooter…

Greetings from Vietnam,
Hanne and Jens

PS: On the night train to Sa Pa we went on the soft sleeper, not the hard sleeper; it was quite an experience…

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