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Vietnam airlines had a special for 1400RMB return including tax to Hanoi.
As I’ve never been to Vietnam, I thought I’d take it.

Photo’s to follow once I’m back in Shanghai, as no card reader!

First impressions I receive of Hanoi – rats and Mopeds.
Not sure which there are more of, both are visible in the corner of your eye at all times. The mopeds are more vociferous though, and a walk through the streets is a cacophony of hooting, and avoidance.
At least, much as in China, sensible manners get you across the roads. Just walk, and they’ll drive around. Hesitate, and you are doomed. Vespa (Piaggio) owns the market, with Honda coming in a close 1st. Sure, there are more Honda’s than Vespa’s numberwise, but *everyone* drives a vespa. Its a city of cool from that respect.

Hanoi is a shithole. Nothing to really recommend it. Its the same generic Southeast Asia template, albeit on a marginally more industrialized level. Its a dirty city, and the remaining architecture is neither interesting, nor beautiful. The delapidated is being torn down, and replaced by the generic concrete in much the same shape and form. House fronts still narrow as driven by taxes on shopfront sizes from regimes long gone.

Car hooters are a pseudo interesting thing. Echo… co… co… co… co… style fade outs that make the noise less of an annoyance. Admittedly it is a rather cool effect. Hooters here are used as indicators and lights might be in the West. Hooting is a way of saying here i am, rather than get out of the way. Echo-location bat style in metal form.

Guidebooks are not necessarily a great help. I picked up a Lonely Planet; deriguer tourist accessory that it is, and had a quick scan through the Hanoi section. “Every stranger on the street wants to help you”. What a crock of horseshit. They neglected the the last part of that sentence – “…away from your money”.

Trust no-one.

Everyone is after something. From moped drivers lazing on their bikes every two metres, to hotel staff trying to sell tickets to Halong Bay, to street peddlars hastling and hustling, the annoyances are endless.

For every act of kindness, the balance is broken fourfold by someone doing something equally retarded and obvious scamwise. Seek and ye shall find. Maybe I just don’t want to be found.

Sit at a bar called half man, half noodle. Sign says drink here, or we shoot the puppy. Why is it my thoughts tend to shoot the damn puppy.

Vietnam is supposed to be cheap. For european tourists, maybe. Coming from China, seems expensive. Not overly so, but seen through my experienced “I know what things cost” eyes, they aren’t as cheap as they should be.

Walk around the semi endless streets around the lake, many shops doing color copies of older Propaganda posters. Not originals, but badly offset color printing on semi decent rice paper.
Ask pricing at one – small $5, large $15.
That’s about 100RMB for a large one, which is about right if you counter in staff, rentals etc, so a fair price.
Roll it up, seal, suddenly price is $50.
So, small copies $5, now $15 -> $50? Walk out, as price starts coming down again. Not interested anymore. Shitty ass city, can’t wait to be back in Shanghai.

Its the little things here that pile up. Maybe its just I’m being a miserable git, which undoubtedly I am, but still, the vibe here is wrong.

Book a trip out of the city for a change of air. Reasonable for a day trip – $22, although on the way I spot another agency for $12. Thats my fault for not checking a couple of places first, and doing something spur of the moment in the hotel. Not really concerned about that, its still a fair price, and although I feel vaguely ripped off, i’m not worried about it.
An hour into our journey we stop off “for a rest”. That pissed me off. The oh so blatant detour 30 minutes drive in the opposite direction away from our destination to a handicraft / coffee shop where they get paid by head. At least in China they knowingly sell you those trips, and prices are discounted accordingly.
Outside poorer people touting fruit and whatnot, like flies around shit. We tourists, are the shit.
Quite apt considering how tourism generally denigrates and fucks up a place.

Not as bad as Tang Hui near Huang Shan (which I still think should be nuked from orbit), but on its slow inexorable decline into dependance on the teat of handouts and third world poverty that can only be made possible by our own consumer driven culture.
Ponder the thought of cult in culture.
Flash back to Iain Banks – “The Culture“.
We export our beliefs, borg like, to be absorbed.

Always Coca-Cola.

Is that the anthem for the 21st Century?

Anthem or anathema, who knows. Maybe we do deserve to be quarantined from the rest of the galaxy, lest we infect it.

What is tourism anyway?
Voyeurism made global.
“Look how much better we have it.”, back on the bus, as we can always leave.

Wake up late the next day to banging on my door. Cleaning staff obnoxiously do not take no for an answer, and come back three separate times until I launch into a tirade that gets rid of them. That I’m rather hung over, and stink of stale alcohol isn’t helping my demeanor either.
Once again, HBO is showing something watchable and I pass in and out of consciousness till about 3pm.
Shower, and am feeling much better with the world, and myself.

Funky Buddha is pretty much the only decent late nightlife in Hanoi. Few obnoxiously loud drunk Ozzies, and more of a local scene. Still shuts early though. 2am more or less the cut off point for the town.

I’ll be glad to leave this place.

Good to get out of China, and see a different place, but Vietnam isn’t for me. Death of a thousand cuts would be apt. Lot of little niggling issues, rather than large ones, but the blatant amount of petty bullshit ripoff’s makes Vietnam somewhere to be missed.

I’ve done lots of Asia, and Vietnam is a third world version pastiche of other places that just do it better.
My summation in two words – don’t come.

Things to buy:
Nu Rou Gan. Some great dried beef available in some of the streets around the market area north of the Hoan Kiem lake.

Available pretty much everywhere, pricing is reasonable – $5-10 for reasonable sized copies of Tintin covers.

Books (on scooters). Beware, pricing is silly at first. While I don’t mind gouging per se, I often refuse to do business with someone because they start with an initially silly price. There is ballpark, and there is out of the ballpark figure, most here start with the ball so far out of the ballpark, that you cannot even see the stadium. Example pricing – random copied Lonely planet guides – they’ll start at around 500,000, you can get for 50,000. 1000% markup anyone?

Hip and Trendy:
Not that much here, only 2 semi cool shops next to each other on Ta Hien.
Bo Sua on 24d Ta Hien is worth a browse if you’re in the vicinity, but don’t make a trip otherwise.
Design idea’s are good, but need nurturing.

Funky Buddha 2 Ta Hien

Not much else decent, unless you like shitty Babyface clones in smaller sizes, or backpacker packed foreigner bars.

Street food probably the best bet. Vietnamese food probably better experienced outside of Vietnam.
Avoid the foreign looking restaurants, pricing is sky high, and quality rock bottom.

Do try coffee though, the coffee bars have good coffee (strong, and sweet), and most of the cooler local looking places are plastered with paintings, and make for a good 10-15 minute stop over to rest weary feet.

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How to Drive to Moganshan

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I wrote this for a post on an Expat site, its good info for those of you with Chinese licence’s going abroad.

China driver licence holders info:

China is not a signatory to the IDP (International Drivers Permit) international law.
So, China has NO IDP to issue,and no IDP issuer.

For China drivers licence holders, you just need an official translation of the licence into English (or the official language of the country you will be driving in) from a notary.

Suggest get that done here in China, where the notaries read Chinese.
Put a copy in your licence wallet, and you are good to drive in other countries.

Some other rules apply in certain countries – eg in Europe you can drive for a maximum of 6 months during visits, then they require you to apply for a local licence.

The basic facts aren’t clear (and they should be).

Basically each country thats a signatory has an official IDP issuer, and the IDP *must* be procured from them, or its invalid.

If the country is not a signatory, then a translation in the language of the destination country is sufficient.