I’ve been in Vietnam almost a week now. It feels both similar to China and a whole world away. It’s still cheap, the food is still tasty (and I continue to get to show off my chopstick skillz) the flags are still red and the museums still
seem to exist primarily for dubious patriotic education purposes. But it’s also different, the motorbikes and scooters are now petrol driven rather than the deadly silent electric versions of China, infrastructure is far less developed and I don’t think I’ve seen a single designer store selling the sort of luxury western goods that feel so prevalent in Chinese cities. (Quite a few markets selling counterfeits though!)
But the most tangible change, (and for me the most welcome one) has been that here I am well and truly back on an international backpacker trail. China was great and you will meet plenty of people in the hostels and hotels there, but I actually met remarkably few people who were just travelling through the country. For the most part, the people I met at hostels were either on short breaks from teaching jobs in China, looking for work, (everything from jobs in IT to teaching and even basketball coaching) or were domestic Chinese backpackers or businessmen. The language barrier often preventing much of a dialogue between myself and the later two – on one occasion I couldn’t even seem to get across the idea of “My name is Dan – what is your name?” All of which was frustrating after a while and has meant I have thoroughly enjoyed my first few days here, taking any opportunity I can to introduce myself to people, get tips on Vietnam, and just generally talk as much as possible. It’s been great to go round museums with people for a change, and be spoilt for choice with options for dining and drinking partners after two months of frequently doing everything solo. Or having to hang out with Roger Ward, who doesn’t read travel blogs. Boy he was annoying…(Edited to add – Oops – busted – it would appear he now occasionally reads travel blogs. He’s still annoying though…)
Of course the down side is that already having made friends with lots of cool new backpacker folk is that, I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of them as well. But S.E Asia is much more of a linear trail than somewhere like China, so in all likelihood I will see several of them again before my time in S.E. Asia is over.
As for Hanoi itself, I love the food and the architecture, and whilst it doesn’t have any railway museums full of rusting trains, it does have lots of other museums, many of which contain rusting planes, tanks and missiles from the Vietnam War. They also seem very keen on showing off large collections of wreckage from US aeroplanes. The Vietnamese Air Force Museum had a particular large collection of rusting hardware. It left one with the impression that with the war long done and dusted they had probably just parked their whole air force here and just left it. Lots of fun to photograph. I would also recommend a trip to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, which was very good and possibly the most professional of the museums I saw.
In terms of getting to Hanoi, the train from Nanning was straight forward – tickets brought on the day with no problems from Window 1 of the train station – which had a handy “English Speaking” sign in the window. It left Nanning at 18:45 and finally dropped us off in Hanoi around 0530 Vietnamese time, which is an hour behind China. The border crossings were straight forward but did take some time so it wasn’t the most amount of sleep I’ve ever had in one day, but straight forward enough.
Arriving in Hanoi, you are dropped of at a station just outside the centre as Vietnam has a metre gauge railway and Chine has only laid a third “standard guage” rail as far as the outskirts of Hanoi. Getting to the centre is still easy though. I used Google Maps to tell me which local bus I needed to get to the Old Town and my hostel. A great way to save money compared to Taxi fares if you are feeling particularly budget conscious.