Around 11-30 pm on the 30th of May, we reached Hanoi, Vietnam. Neither the Visa officers (we had a mandatory pre-arranged invitation letter)nor the immigration officials said much. An airport shuttle picked us up and dropped us at the hotel we named, a hostel whose name we googled on our phone during transit in Chicago. It was dark, hot, humid and had that “developing country” look, albeit with very nice roads.
The next day was our first real day in Vietnam. The windowless (but well air-conditioned) room of the hostel gave no clue to what the time was, but by the point we woke up, the city had already passed its morning phase and was fast preparing for lunch. We climbed to the roof of the building and took in the view around us. Old world chaos. A random assortment of houses, all shapes and sizes, jutting out from the roads that ran at all angles against each other. Crowded alleys full of vendors. Various contraptions on the rooftops. A scene like Kathmandu. Many peculiarities in sight.
First thing of business, we headed towards the Thai Embassy. I needed to get a visa for Thailand (thanks to my Nepalese passport) where we were planning to go later on our trip, and due to some time issues, hadn’t gotten around to getting it while back in North America. But when we got there, we received some bad news: As a Nepalese passport holder, I could only apply for visa either in Nepal, or in my place of residence (North America). No way around it, they said. Oops. This day that had started so fine, gave us our first challenge of the journey.
The rest of the day was spent between visiting sights aka touristy stuff, and trying to solve my travel issue. We had already gotten visas for Myanmar, and no desire to cancel that part of the plan. We tried seeking support from the Canadian embassy, but since I’m not a Canadian citizen, they couldn’t do anything really. Still, they were nice and allowed us to use the internet in their air-conditioned building, for which we were thankful.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and was the capital of North Vietnam before that, and for other states before that as well. It is a sprawling, congested, confusing city, but charming beyond compare. Motorbikes run in all directions and the traffic lights are mere suggestions. The tourists congregate in Old Quarter where Colonial and pre-colonial buildings are plenty, but even beyond, the semi organised rapid development merges with traditional lifestyle quite seamlessly. There are streets that specialize in specific trades and huge markets where your senses get attacked with smell of fish and spices from a hundred stalls. There is chaos in all directions, and we absolutely loved it!