Mar 11 11


by Emily Benjamin

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Filed Under → Travel
Mar 6 11

Unlucky Turtle

by Emily Benjamin

I should have written about Hanoi last night, when I loved it. Because today… well, unless I find myself a good bottle of red wine tonight… I hate it.

I’m going to work backwards, because the culmination of this headache is most fresh in my mind. My iPhone was stolen from my pocket, while I was taking photos of a turtle. Not just any turtle, a lucky turtle – the superstitious Vietnamese believe that this turtle may be over six centuries old, and that it once saved Vietnam from Chinese attack. Also, it is only one of four giant freshwater turtles left in the world. All of this leads the people of Hanoi to believe the Hoam Kiem turtle is lucky.

But, it’s not. Well, at least it wasn’t for me today. After lunch, along with half the population of Hanoi, we crowded around the lake to catch a glimpse of the turtle coming up to breathe. And we saw it! A number of times, and we were told that this should bring us luck. Well, it brought someone luck, because they’ve got a new unlocked iPhone now with gorgeous photos of a border collie on there. I’ve changed any passwords that might lead the thief into my accounts, and other than the prized photos, the phone is of little use. My music, contacts and information is all backed up, but of no use to anyone except me (I hope). It’s really not a big deal, and it could have been much worse… but enough to make me upset.

Before all this, we’d had an average lunch at an average, overpriced restaurant after an average day. Rising a little later than expected – following a late night, and a gloomy morning offering no sunshine into our room – we sped across town to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. It was closed – at 11.25am. Seriously, it’s open for only 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. Bad museum! So we jumped onto a bike-tuk-tuk and were wheeled off to the Temple of Literature. Beautiful grounds; a little busy, but full of stories about the history of Hanoi.

I might mention here that our driver – let’s call him Rip Off (hint hint) – said that the price was 70,000 VND, but that we needn’t pay until we were finished, in case we wanted to go to another spot. And he stayed there, waiting for us patiently at each spot we visited.

After the Temple of Literature, we went to Hanoi Prison. According to their records, the prison was ‘sarcastically referred to as the Hanoi Hilton by American soldiers’ that were detained there during the Vietnam War. We overheard a tour guide telling her group that the American POW’s were very well treated here, and that any stories to suggest otherwise were incorrect. I think she was talking to you, John McCain. The prison wasn’t nice by any means, but it was better than the prisons I’ve seen in Germany and Hungary, left over from World War 2. Most of the prison grounds have been knocked down and replaced by Hanoi Towers, a high rise shopping complex, but we again overheard that the grounds used to be big enough to hold about 2000 prisoners (even though it was built for only 450).

One last stop on our bike-tuk-tuk to a small lake with a crashed B-52 in it. Yep, just lying there – old, grey, dirty from muddy water. I couldn’t even tell it was a plane, to be honest. Just some left over steel and a stray tyre or two. But this ‘monument’ instills a sense of achievement for the people of Hanoi, when the American B-52 was shot down from the skies in 1972, at the turning point for the Vietnam war.

It was then 2pm and I had a bit of a headache, a sore neck, and was hungry. End the tour, please Rip Off! So he rode us to a street that was ‘very close’ to our hotel and asked for $50. Yep, 50 US Dollars for a trip that was originally quoted at approximately $3. And even if we multiplied that initial quote a few times to include the two extra stops, we were still expecting to pay only about $10, maybe $15, or 300,000 VND. But he was asking for over 1,000,000 VND! WHAT THE! He’s sore, and rode a long way, and apparently he thinks ‘fifty dollars is cheap, for you!’ We negotiated and got him down to 600,000 – which is about $30 for the trip. Now, we’re not tight with our money, but that’s a rip off. Sure, $30 MIGHT get me home from a night out with the girls back in Brisbane. But we’re in one of Hanoi’s top 10 hotels for these three nights, and we’re only paying $35 a night to stay here. So – it’s a RIP OFF. And HERE I might mention that he pointed us in the wrong direction to find the lake, and we spent another 30minutes walking to get back to our hotel.

GRR! Why, Hanoi – why must you be so exciting and interesting by night, but so frustrating by day!

Now that I’ve vented my frustrations, I can describe Hanoi a little more concisely. Hanoi is a city that despises hesitation. You should always know what you want, how much you wish to pay, and how to get there, or else you will be late, ripped off or run over. So, in order to survive, be direct, have a map and name your price. Oh, and don’t bother going out during the day – wait until night when it’s pretty!

To ensure my frustrations with Hanoi and the phone loss don’t last, we’ve made some fun plans for the next few days. Tomorrow, for my birthday, we’re booked in for a 4 hour spa and massage treatment in the morning, and a lovely dinner at night. The next two nights will be spent on Halong Bay, posing as honeymooners for extra discounts and/or special treatment. Ahh… I feel better already!

— Em 🙂


Filed Under → Words
Mar 6 11

Hanoi’s Noise

by Emily Benjamin

There is a lot of noise in Hanoi. I understand that it is probably nothing compared to the bigger cities of the world – Shanghai, New York, Tokyo, Mumbai (and in fact, by population, Hanoi is only the 72nd biggest city, next to Sydney in 73rd spot (according to this website – but picture this. Give 3+ million people scooters, then give some of them a taxi as well, and give everyone else a bicycle. Then give every single one of these vehicles in Hanoi a horn – anything from ‘beep beep’ to ‘la cu coracha!’ – with the instruction to use the horn as often as possible, at a minimum of once every ten seconds. Finally, put all these vehicles on the road at once, without any proper intersections, traffic lights, or right of way rulings. Traffic. Mayhem. This is without a doubt the noisiest city I’ve ever been in, where the normal noises of cars on the road is ignored and all you can hear are horns. Some horns are basic, others fade in and out. I even saw a bike with strobe lights and a corn configured to flash and make sound more or less frequently, depending on how fast he peddled. Horn sounds everywhere, all day, every day.

Without the basic engineering marvels of roads that run parallel to each other, and some simple signs to show who should stop and who should go, then you leave yourself open to problems, namely traffic accidents. Particularly if drivers are beeping at each other every 10 seconds. But from what I’ve seen, there are very few accidents on Hanoi’s roads, despite the lack of structure to their road system. And the horns seem to be just a way of letting everyone else (in the city, I think) know that you are driving there as well. I suppose that’s ideal, given the structure (or lack of) of the old quarter. Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about.


This photo is courtesy of Google Maps, and show’s the area in which we’re staying in Hanoi, known as the old quarter. In the bottom right, you have Hoan Kiem Lake, which turns out to be a good spot to mention to taxi drivers, and also the home of the (Un)Lucky Turtle. At the top right of this lake, you can see the word ‘Hanh’ – that’s where our hotel is! Once we established our whereabouts on the map, we felt ready to set off in search of sights/food/stuff.

Mistake #1: Don’t ever assume that there is only one ‘Hang Gai’ in Hanoi. There will be a few.

Looking for a restaurant called Little Hanoi, we each pulled up Google Maps and were shown two different maps. Did we mean Hang Gai, or Hang Giay? I know they are spelled differently, but how am I to specify this difference in a city where language is so tonal? Long story short, we walked to both. We found Little Hanoi on the Hang Gai, even though it was listed on Google as being at Hang Giay, but it still wasn’t the small, local restaurant we were searching for. It was obviously one of the other 5 restaurants/hotels in the district by the exact same name.

Mistake #2: Don’t ever assume you know which way is north.

After trekking to the very top of this picture, we never came across the Little Hanoi we were searching for, so we gave up and looked for food closer to home. Along the way, Jamie remarked that he understood this place now, and had in his mind the correct map of where we should be heading. I was not so sure. Following him, and checking the map every intersection to work out where we were, I still let him lead, because he ‘understood’ Hanoi. Well, no, not really. Bless his enthusiasm but as the road we were walking along turned a sort-of 90 degree angle, he was out by miles. He believed we were now travelling south west, but in fact were were due east. And fortunately only minutes away from a good restaurant for dinner!

Mistake #3: Don’t ever stop for traffic. See the traffic, trust the traffic, and step forth into the traffic. Don’t run!

We learned this lesson on our very first night. On our way into Hanoi from the airport, we saw people walking across freeways, stopped in the middle of the road on bicycles, and leaning against very busy roundabouts to make out. Despite the manic traffic, the slowest of all – the pedestrians – were acting like the kings and queens of the city, and budging for no one. As we dropped our bags off at our hotel and went out for dinner, we quickly understood why. If, as a pedestrian, you didn’t just set out and cross the road when YOU were ready, you’d never get a chance. There are hardly any traffic lights, intersections and pedestrians crossings, and the traffic NEVER let’s up, night and day, so when you are ready to walk across the road, just do it. Do it with confidence, with purpose, and do it carefully but quickly, while never running. Actually, that was our way of doing it, but we saw some more skilled locals doing it without any awareness at all – chatting on phones, running across in speeding traffic, and strolling slowly with friends as if Hanoi was run on their time.

And finally, the main lesson: When in doubt, order Chicken with Cashew Nuts from New Day Restaurant. Best I’ve had across Thailand, Laos and Vietnam so far!

We’ll head out of Hanoi soon and into the tranquil waters of Halong Bay. At least, we hope they’re tranquil – fingers crossed that the boats haven’t all been equipped with horns, as well!

— Em 🙂

Filed Under → Words