I had an early flight out of Bangkok, I was up at 4am to get to the airport on time. But it was so worth it because I was going to be reunited with my wonderful friends in Hanoi, Vietnam. Double whammy!
Thailand had made travel so easy. It was a good place to start in. Hanoi on the other hand is a different story. There was nobody at the airport rushing up to me with a colour-coded sticker, ushering me to a bus, predicting my desired move. Hanoi hit me with some realities of travel.
This person looked at me with hungry eyes, ‘jump in my taxi’ they said. That person, much more official looking, looked at me with weary eyes, ‘my taxi is more expensive, but I’m much more reliable’ they said. ‘Where is the bus?’ I asked. They warned, ‘don’t take that bus, it’s very slow.’ Then they were all around me at once. I was the deer in the headlights. The clueless tourist. That was my own fault. I hadn’t checked my options, I hadn’t planned my moves, I hadn’t written down the address of the hostel where I wanted to go. The taxi driver assured me that he knew where ‘Hanoi Hostel’ was. I believed him. I jumped in. The other eyes followed me. I was on my way into Hanoi.
It was an interesting drive. Vietnam seemed a world apart from Thailand in terms of development. It also didn’t help that the sky was hanging low and grey, cold. Bicycles, scooters, cars, buses and pedestrians swarmed the highway in certain areas. I blinked my eyes shut as we squeezed past them. Houses stood like tightly packed matchboxes, their contents overflowing, bursting out of the front windows.
As we sped into downtown Hanoi my mouth couldn’t help turning into a smile. It is just like in the pictures, just the way people describe it. Narrow, chaotic, full, colourful and dirty. I loved it. And then the taxi driver started his funny business. He all of a sudden didn’t know where the hostel was. He could only deposit me at the doorstep of a different place, where he would obviously then get a cut. All of a sudden the 4am start, the chaos, the hustle and the confusion of Hanoi didn’t seem so good. I am terrible at finding my way. I was not looking forward to shouldering my backpack and wondering the curving streets of Hanoi trying to find a matchbox shaped building in among all of the other identical matchboxes.
But I did it! And I was reunited with two very special friends, who are, thankfully, way better at following maps and getting their bearings than I am. They are generally also way more prepared and have a plan for our 3 weeks in Vietnam. Luckily they had also figured out how to cross the streets of Hanoi, which is no easy feat for a first timer- it pretty much involves a slow and steady pace, and no fear. Just go. Join in the hustle.