Today's the day we officially entered the land of Asia. When you haven't been to ANYWHERE in Asia before, other than the inside walls of Dubai airport for a 2 hour wait for a flight transfer, it's all a bit daunting really. Patrick has been to Thailand on numerous occasions and decided he was going to get his 'we're in Asia brain turned on'; which is all a bit worrying in itself really; as needing a new brain for a different continent is something I definitely hadn't heard before. (Clearly I missed something whilst living in Australia).
Getting Vietnamese SIM cards so we could actually use our phones and transferring money over to Vietnamese Dong at the airport was the swift, easy part, the actual getting out of the airport part was the most difficult. Hoards of men in tight shirts, off-coloured denim and bright fake Nike trainers approach you like a moth to a flame, shoving signs, cards, even money in to your face, as some sort of enticement to get you in to THEIR taxi as opposed to anybody else's. Nope, the relative that is officially collecting you for free from outside the airport just isn't good enough for them, as apparently their transportation will still be better than that - believe it or not. After foraging through crowds of people and getting just a little bit boisterous, as you do, we eventually caught an Uber and made our way in to the city centre of Hanoi.
The drive took about 40 minutes, and as we passed whole dead pigs being transported on the back of motorbikes down the dual carriageway and spotted little women in rice fields with Vietnamese hats (you know the ones), it hit me, despite the jet lag, that we were actually here now, and then the excitement kicks in. Vietnam was clearly, already a country where you didn't know what to expect and quite literally, what was lurking around the corner.
The Uber pulled up outside our hotel which was on one of the main, central streets of Hanoi. But the difference between being on a 'main street' in a Western country and a 'main street' in Asia, certainly Vietnam, is huge. The roads have no rules; you step foot out of the hotel and you are quite literally in the centre of traffic, about to be knocked down by one of several speeding mopeds. Getting out of that Uber with my suitcase which is quite literally the size and weight of a small child was one of the more difficult tasks of the day for sure. After checking in, freshening up and washing the aeroplane off us, we decided to head out and see what was around us. I decided to leave my phone and the majority of my money locked away in the hotel room, as I genuinely did not know what to expect.
We walked around the vicinity, (albeit very, very slowly), in shock & awe, just taking it all in. We bought a coffee, a Coke and some cigarettes which I believe cost us a grand total of £3 (about $6). After sitting by Hoan Kiem lake in the centre of the city, we decided to go and find somewhere to get a beer and spend the evening just taking everything in. We headed to a place called Blues bar, where we eventually ended up ordering beer after beer after beer. In Vietnam, you can still smoke indoors in the majority of places, unless it isn't a fancy restaurant. Ashtrays are at every table which almost invites you to smoke. Another very popular thing that's available is the purchase of balloons. You know the ones, they're ginormous, they make you go all high & light headed and laugh in hysterics for about ten minutes straight over absolutely nothing apart from the fact you're sat there in Vietnam (apparently that was really funny). They're available in almost every bar you visit, especially the more tourist centred bars in the centre of the cities - give them a try and you'll see what I mean.
After about five beers each (which cost about £1 each) and an hour of trying to be convinced to sing karaoke, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel. Patrick was pissed (on the beer, on the balloons, who knows), and I was absolutely shattered and bewildered, more than anything. It isn't just the jet lag, but the realisation that you're in a completely different culture to anything you're used to, where the norms and values are different and things you had forgotten about or begrudged as illegal or at least 'frowned upon' are almost enticed. Sounds like a dream, right? We'll find out. Day one in Vietnam completed, here's to day two.
*Tip of the day* - catch Ubers to & from airports or central destinations within cities as opposed to taxis which can sometimes overcharge you purely because you are a tourist, whereas you'll always know what you are paying with Uber. If Uber isn't available, try the Vietnamese alternative, 'Grab', which does exactly what it says on the tin and is available to download free from the app store.