We must have been fast asleep on the overnight train from Hue to Hanoi, as before we knew it, we were sitting in the foyer of our hotel waiting for our room. It was 6am, so it was likely there would not be a room for quite a while, so we lingered around the dining area at 3B hotel until it was time to head out on the chaotic streets to run our one and only errand of the day. That was to try and get our Chinese Visa from the embassy before we flew there in five days time.
What we thought was rush hour in the old town, turned out to be the standard flow of motorbikes, cycles, vendors, taxis and people that engulfed the city 24 hours a day. Much like the footpaths in Saigon, Hanoi’s walking areas are overrun with motorbikes, fruit, vegetables, flowers and people. But we love it.
The hunger pains were growing as we strolled down the Rue towards the Chinese Embassy. On one corner we spotted a small, but busy stall selling Pho. We ordered one to share and sat down on the little stools. The lady dropped of a large bowl full to the brim, but upon realising we were sharing, ran inside, grabbed another bowl, took half the noodles from the bowl and filled the extra with more broth and meat from the large bubbling pot on the footpath. With a few of the obligatory adjustments of chilli and fish sauce, we both took a spoonful. It was incredible. It was one of the tastiest dishes we had eaten in the whole of Vietnam, but when the lady handed us a handful of what seemed like airy donuts, we were confused. Without giving away our confusion, we slunk in our chairs and scanned the footpaths to see what our fellow locals were doing with this crazy accompaniment. They dunked it in the broth and ate it. Why couldn’t we think of that.
We said goodbye to the lovely lady and made our way to the embassy. We had read quite a few blogs about obtaining the visa for China in Hanoi so went in thinking we were prepared. Waiting out the front, however, the signs reconfirmed what documents were needed and the one thing in bold was that we required an invite to be accepted. We had not seen that. Nevertheless, we wandered on in to see what the result would be. We were never asked for the invite, instead we were greeted by a lady who had met the minimum standard of working in a visa department – bitchiness – who demanded we supply her a list of every country we had been to, including dates. This had to be filled out on a post-it note. We simply inquired if we could get a second piece. You would have thought we declared war on her country. The post it notes were snatched from her desk and placed in her drawer as her look of astonishment turned quickly into rage. We slowly retreated, making certain not to make any sudden movements and filled out our little yellow square in micro writing. We submitted our documents, were questioned why we had written so small, and were told to come back the next day. We said were going to Halong Bay, so would pick it up in a few days. She huffed, wrote a receipt and walked away. That went well.
We wandered on back to the hotel, freshened up and hit the streets to once again play chicken with the traffic. Our day was filled with wandering the streets and absorbing the organised chaos of the capital city. We wandered down the different streets and alleys, each one lending itself to what ever wares that were being sold. One road sold only socks, while the adjacent sold only jocks. Another sold thread on one side and opposite sold fabrics. We walked past a street that sold sweets for celebrations and an alley that marketed skateboards. We wondered how impossible it would be to skate in Hanoi. A question that was answered over the coming days when we noticed all the kids carrying skateboards, or saw them leant against the walls of bars or under tables at restaurant, they seem to be an accessory. The highlight however on the this cold December day, was Christmas Street. An entire street was overflowing with stores selling, tinsel, Santa’s, Reindeers, Angels and Elves.
Overwhelmed by Christmas spirit we decided to grab a drink. The city is filled with bars and restaurants but there was only one place that called our names – Beer Corner. We grabbed a mini table and chairs on the footpath of the intersection and enjoyed an ice cold beer. It was such a good spot to watch the world go by. The intersection would have been open aired, if it wasn’t for the electrical wires that were so thick, that it acted as an awning. As we grabbed a few snacks and a few more beers we relaxed as evening fell. Eventually, it was time to go. Not because we saw a little boy poo on the road, or that his sister walked out to point at it and laugh, or that his very disappointed father in a double breasted suit had to pick it up – it was because we had an early start the next morning to get to Halong Bay.