Steve had pitched up at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel in the old quarter and close to the famous Hoan Kiem lake.
Legend has it that a golden turtle disappeared into its depths together with the sword which Emperor Le Thai To had used to rid Viet Nam of the Chinese.
Steve kept his bike locked in an outside area close to the bar.
Some happy ‘backpacker’ decided to steal his front light.
We met at ‘Le Pub’, another popular bar for tourists and had a fun evening cycling around Hanoi including crossing the Cau Long Bien railway bridge.
The expansive Tay Ho (West Lake) provides some relief from the noise of the city. I had hoped to circle it on my bike but only had time to visit the Tay Ho pagoda which stands on a small island close to the eastern shore.
Before heading out of Hanoi we took the walking tour of the old quarter detailed in the Lonely Planet guide book. It took us past temples and streets of artisans. The highlight, in my opinion, was the Dong Xuan fresh food market. The seafood, fruits and vegetables look amazing.
Two days is far too short to explore Hanoi. The food alone would take weeks if not months to fully appreciate in its diversity. But what is easily observed is the frenetic pace at which the city moves.
I took a direct flight from London, Gatwick to Hanoi, Noi Bai with Vietnam Airlines. Although slightly delayed the plane arrived on time. For economy class they allow 30kgs checked luggage and up to 7kg hand luggage. However ‘sports equipment’ such as a bicycle is carried at an excess charge. With a little effort I was able to bring the weight of the bike down to just below the 15kg charge band and paid $175 at the airport. On the up side I did not have to worry about excess baggage charges for the rest of my gear and which, on this occasion, included pedals, saddle and seat post plus bottle cages. Once again I used a (new this time) CTC plastic bag for the bike.
I waited patiently at immigration to present my letter of notification and obtained a multi entry visa for $95. Once out of the airport, and with my bike still bagged, I wandered along the taxi ranks until I found a minibus and driver looking for passengers.
For a change, and rather guiltily, I would not be cycling direct from the airport. The major roads into Hanoi from the airport did not appear terribly cycle friendly and allowed myself the luxury of a ride. However it is possible to cycle if you don’t mind the heavy traffic on a six lane highway.
I was dropped off on the Southern fringe of West Lake. Despite good directions I had problems finding the homestay. Everyone I asked sent me in different directions. After a telephone call the owner found me and I followed his scooter on foot. The Chezlinhlinh house ‘homestay’, situated close to the Ha Noi brewer, provides excellent facilities for travellers. I had two huge rooms, en suite shower room and a good sized balcony that had its own sink and clothes washing facilities. I felt spoilt.
I used my bike to cycle around Hanoi and meet up with Steve; an Australian friend that was joining me on this cycling tour of Viet Nam.
My first real outing into the city took me past local shops, street traders and the wreckage of a downed B52 bomber. I found Hanoi’s botanical gardens seriously lacking in interest and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum simply provides a constant flow of respectful visitors in a grand setting much the same as, for example, Lenin’s tomb. I did not look in on Ho Chi Minh who had been denied the cremation that he had requested. But I did buy a soviet style enamel badge at the gate.
Hanoi and it’s old quarter in particular is hectic. The main cause of this is the high number of mopeds and which are the most popular way of getting about. Everyone and their uncle is driving one. In a densely populated city the total effect is suffocating. The air is a killer. The botanical gardens hardly provide a green lung in the city. They do, however, provide banqueting facilities at which guests can arrive on their scooters. Several cages of pathetic looking monkeys look across at their tables from their small cages.
Once in the traffic it is relatively easy to cycle and, like most congested cities with few observed rules, it is safe and easy to negotiate your way. However it is not for the timid or hesitant cyclist that may be easily overwhelmed by the volume and apparent ‘anarchy’ of movement. It is, I feel, much easier and safer to be in Hanoi’s traffic than to be a pedestrian.