It was impossible to read our bus tickets but we were fairly confident we were in the right spot at the International Tourist Distribution Centre in Nanning. The ticketing agent had written “Doors 4” on our tickets when we bought them 2 days earlier. A lady announced the departure in Chinese on a megaphone. Is it this the correct bus? Hopefully. We were directed to the bus on the right. We thought we had the best seats in the very front until the driver asked us to move to the second row, indicating via sign language it was safer incase the glass shatters. Luckily, the drive from Nanning to the Vietnamese border was uneventful, a four-lane highway. The trees lining the highway obscured the scenery. When we arrived at the border we received a lanyard with an identification tag and were instructed to leave the bus and walk across the border though a series of checkpoints. We were excited to cross into Vietnam and our eyes were glued to the views of landscapes and small villages as the bus rambled towards Hanoi.
The landscape transformed from rice fields to sub divisions to industrial areas and the city itself. Several stops were made along the highway as we approached Hanoi. Once in the city, the bus stopped along a busy street. This is where we were told to exit. Okay, we were not really sure where we were and had been expecting a bus station but we did not really have a choice. Luckily, Di had downloaded a Google map of the city and it gave us an indication of which direction to head. We proceeded on foot in dire need of a bathroom and local currency. A friendly coffee shop owner allowed us to use the bathroom and offered us a banana. We tried to buy a coffee but she only took cash. We found an ATM a little further down the street and withdrew 4,000,000.00 VND and felt very rich. Finally millionaires :) We hailed a taxi to our hotel located in old Hanoi. The driver misread the address but we quickly figured it out and arrived at The Splendora a few minutes later. The hotel was right up our alley, quaint and cozy with welcoming and very friendly staff.
The front desk recommended a traditional Pho dinner and afterwards we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake soaking in the warmth of the evening. Vietnam seems very family friendly. The main roads around the lake are blocked for traffic every weekend from Friday afternoon until Sunday at midnight. It made for a lively, carnival like atmosphere with children, families and tourists mingling amid street vendors and performers. We were immediately smitten with Hanoi.
The sun was a welcome sight on our first morning and perfect for a stroll along the many intertwining streets of the old district. Scooters are predominant in the street scene - thousands of them. You take your life into your own hands when crossing the street. Do not hesitate, just walk and trust it will work out. The scooters dart around you and you will make it across. After lunch we visited the National Museum of Vietnamese History, which provided insight into the war ravaged past of this nation. Once a colony of France, Vietnam has been threatened from all sides, most recently from the French, Americans and Chinese.
On day two we walked, explored and savoured a wonderful extended lunch at the Hanoi Social Club. It is a quiet, three story, café like place with good tunes and an abundance of atmosphere.
Whenever we are quoted a price we look at each other slightly bewildered with a degree of sticker shock; that sounds expensive! 50.000 for a cab ride or 60.000 for a pho soup! But then you convert and relax when you realize your cab fare was $2.85 and dinner set you back $3.45. Our North Face windbreakers were 200.000 VND or $11.50 each. Everything is very reasonably priced including the latest massage we treated ourselves to. Travel life can be a tough gig.