Monday, December 7, 2009

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, was a rude awakening to this Southeast Asian country. The scene in the city was nothing similar to the surrounding rice fields that dot the surroundings.

After my plane landed, it took me over 30 mins, perhaps much more, to clear immigration. I can’t remember the last time it took me this long to get through. After I cleared customs, I knew I would be harassed by taxi drivers, a scene all too familiar in third world countries. Ignoring them, I went to take the airport shuttle to the city center. This shuttle had no official price, as the numbers had been scratched off the sign. How unscrupulous!

The scene in the city was chaotic and overwhelming. Everywhere, there were motorcycles and people. In fact, there were so many motorcycles parked on sidewalks and so many people sitting on stools on the sidewalks that one simply had to walk on the streets. There was constant noise pollution in the form of honking and smog filled the air. Crossing the street was an adventure each time as one had to continually dodge motorbikes.

Everyone was trying to make money off tourists. This is very easy due to the fact that prices are never posted for anything, making bargaining a must. Men would constantly gesture tourists over for a motorcycle taxi ride. Sellers would hawk their goods. Travel agencies would copy reputable agencies’ names, confusing the tourists. Travel agents would try to sell overpriced tours, saying whatever the tourist wanted to here but not necessarily delivering on his/her words. There is very little customer service in poor countries like Vietnam.

Thus, Hanoi was a shock to me. I did not enjoy the city as much as I thought I would. However, I did have a few highlights, including the water puppet show and the food. The water puppet show is one where puppets performed on a pool of water, with an accompanying band playing Vietnamese music. It was quite a cultural experience! As for the food, it was very similar to Chinese food, with the main staple being rice, accompanied with tofu, vegetable and meat dishes. I also tasted the famous pho (beef soup noodles) and nem (spring rolls).

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