hanoi - Where's Byrne?


28.10.2011 – 01.11.2011 Cloudy/Rainy 26 °C

Fourteen-hours on a sleeper bus and 250,000d lighter for the privilege, we arrived in Hanoi. Unfortunately the bastards dropped us off three kilometers from where the action was so we decided to walk it. A further two-hours later we found the backpacker area and by now it was tipping down, bad decision. We were wet through and tired. Our misery continued when the hotel we selected told us the room wasn’t available until midday. Fantastic. After another two-hours later spent drinking coffee and eating a rough baguette from a branch of Highland Coffee we finally got our room… on the 5th floor. Whatever. We left at 5pm and arrived at 12pm the following day, that was a long one.

That evening we went a bit wild, having passed a pizza place called ‘Pepperoni’s’ that were advertising an all you can eat buffet for 120,000d. It wasn’t great but worth the £3.50. By now B had developed a full-blown cold. Getting soaked (again) and sitting eating pizza where they had the aircon on probably didn’t help. This affected the following days plans as when we woke up she looked like an extra from ‘Night of the Living Dead’, I decided to venture out on my own (and to be honest, couldn’t wait to get out of there in case I caught it).

First up were two Pagodas, closed as I walked past. Next was St Josephs Cathedral which was nice but not worth the actual visit of going round. Continuing past Hoan Kiem Lake and to the Opera House which was a nice building but five minutes taking photos sufficed.

History Museum. My first real visit was the History Museum. 20,000d entry (double for foreigners, I was given two 10,000d tickets). Disappointed with this, although it was a full-blown museum with showcases, lighting and actually had tiles and carpets, the exhibits were a bit boring, pots and alike, the TV’s and touchscreens that were obviously supposed to be showing videos were off and most disappointing of all, there were no English explanations or information – it was all in Vietnamese with a scattering of French. This was enough to make me lose my concentration and so I whizzed around in half an hour Verdict: Miss.

Museum of Vietnamese Revolution. I came out and directly across the street was the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution. I decided to give it a whirl. 10,000d is reasonable too. This wasn’t bad. There were many artifacts on display especially from the Vietnam war. Although this place had Vietnamese/English/French on all its tags displaying what the artifacts were there were no explanations of what the upcoming room and exhibits were about, meaning the first 10 -15 were lost on me. A good hour spent though. Verdict: Not Bad.

On the way back I visited Hoan Kiem Lake again to cross the bridge to see the Den Ngoc Son, a temple in the middle of the lake (10,000d entrance), nice views of the lake but the temple, again, was a bit lost on me. Verdict: Miss.

I polished the day off with an ice-cold Tiger Beer and a Lemon Torte in Thuy Ta’s, a coffee shop north-west of the lake, a great way to waste an hour, and returned to see if B had made any kind of recovery. Luckily she was feeling better and we set off for a few beers in Bia Corner, the hub of the pubs and bars in Hanoi.

Hoa Lo Prison. We spent the following day sleeping, eating Pho and visiting Hoa Lo Prison (10,000d entrance). Unfortunately the Vietnamese knocked most of the prison down to make way for the hideous building, The Hanoi Towers, directly behind it but there was a fair part of the prison left to get a real feel for life as an inmate. This, was actually good. They made fantastic scenes with eerie background music in most rooms including the cells, had videos detailing what the prison was used for during the Vietnamese war and a well maintained court-yard as well as exhibits in good condition. Everything was in English as well as Vietnamese and there were models and photographs which really gave you an impression of being in and around the prison from construction by French colonists in 1805 to when it was last used in 1994. Verdict: Well worth it. There is a small supermarket round the corner on the ground floor of The Hanoi Towers if you fancy picking up some cheap grub.

Citadel. In our last day in Hanoi we planned to visit the north-west corner of Hanoi consisting of Ho Chi Minhs house, mausoleum and museum, the botanic gardens next to them and the Military History Museum – supposedly the best museum of all in Hanoi. This all went to pot when we got there and found out everything’s closed on Mondays. Fantastic. Instead we found a Pho 24 (a chain of Pho restaurants) for more Pho and a Citadel, thinking it may be like the one we visited in Hue, we paid it a visit (10,000d entrance). Being the uncultured goof that I am, I was not impressed. It was a big garden behind ancient walls that, like the temple on the lake, had statues that people prayed to and some monuments carved in stone sitting on turtles backs. The place used to be used as a University where scholars studied under different dynasty’s but to me it was a garden with some old Chinese statues in it. Verdict: Miss.

The following day we checked out at 5am and made our way to the train station to catch our 6:15 train we booked in Nha Trang heading to HCMC. As expected we found out that a ticket to HCMC on a soft sleeper booked in Hanoi would be around the $65 mark, $14 cheaper than what we paid. For fourteen bucks each though, we had the peace of mind of being booked weeks ago and didn’t have to worry about getting two beds in the same compartment, or even in the same carriage etc. For us it was worth booking early.

Hanoi – HCMC Train Trip. As we arrived at the station (taking a small detour around The Hanoi Towers along the way) I noticed the trains seemed to be sub standard to what was shown on the net and as we approached platform three where the rude Vietnamese troll grunted to us to head for, the train on the tracks waiting to pull away matched our ticket. SE7. I looked at the ticket, I looked at the train, I looked back at the ticket and back at the train. We’d been done. This was no ‘Orient Express’ like the woman in the travel agents told us it resembled and the pictures of the cabin we saw on the internet of the SE7 train were complete fabrications. There we were in compartment six with beds twenty-one – twenty-four, with our beds being twenty-one and twenty-three. The compartments decor was tired, the curtains mothballed, the lock on the door didn’t work and there was a mouse running around which B said was ‘so cute’ but then backed away as he started walking towards her. The worst was yet to come though. My bed, number twenty-three, was covered, and I mean covered in dirty long black Vietnamese hairs. Some greasy weeble had been kipping in my bed and the fuckers hadn’t even bothered to change the sheet or covers. I picked off at least thirty before I laid in it but this was a continuing process throughout the journey. We had set off on our thirty-three hours, actually looking forward to it having been told of the fantastic views to see and service available, I should have guessed this was more bullshit. Two-hours in we realised this wasn’t going to be great but didn’t realise how bad it would be.

16:00, ten-hours in I started feeling sick and had slept so much I was heady. I thought it was just travel sickness, something I used suffer from when I was a kid. Some Vietnamese girl gets on and grabs one of the beds in our compartment too. Bollocks, I thought at least we’d got away with having our own compartment.

18:00. I was feeling rough by now and had a stomach ache to go with my sickness. I’d been contemplating whether to use the trains facilities and held out as I knew they’d be disgusting but by now I had to go and be sick, use the toilet, or both. This was the first time I threw up. Although I felt sick I don’t actually think I would have been until I went into the bog, the smell was overwhelming and I was retching as soon as I walked in. Whilst being sick my gut decided he wanted to join the party and I had to sit on the wet toilet seat I had just washed down because I’d thrown up all over it. Fantastic. It was now coming out of both ends. I finished up as best I could and went to wash my hands, arms and any other protruding skin that may have been out and returned to my bed (I’m not very good with germs). Two Russian woman had now substituted the Vietnamese girl and we had a full house. I was doubled up with stomach ache and knew I couldn’t speak to them but didn’t want to tell them they were about to spend x amount of hours with a diseased British guy either so I made the usual pleasantries and rolled over to pretend to go to sleep. They must have thought I was a right unsociable bastard.

20:00, an hour later my body feels like another trip to the bog, I’m trying to convince my legs to go but my brains telling them how disgusting it was last time and they’re not interested, for some reason they go numb with bad pins and needles, I must have fallen asleep in an awkward position. After ten minutes I let out a fart that feels a little too wet for my liking. I get up, carefully, and head to the bog. The smell, again is pungent, like a sewer. This is enough to make me start heaving, again. I repeated the previous process and returned to bed. This happens a further 3 times over the next few hours.

23:00. This was my last trip although I didn’t know it at the time. It was also the most painful. I get to the toilet but the door was locked with a dirty Vietnamese Ewok inside. I’m desperate and run down the carriage to the one at the other end. I jump in, lock the door, pull my pants down and, great, there before me is a fucking ethnic bog, a hole in the bottom of the train. I have so few seconds to spare before this comes out whether I like it not I hover over the hole. It stinks. Worse than the other one. This in turn makes me feel sick again. I’m now going like a good ‘un, when completely involuntarily I projectile vomit, just managing to aim at the hole. The sight of it makes me vomit even more but my gut thinks I’m ignoring him and so gets back in on the act. I’m now alternating between chucking and crapping having to move my head forward when chucking and my arse backward when crapping, back and forth, back and forth. I must have looked like a Woodpecker having a fit. Just when I think it can’t get any worse; I’m in genuine pain from vomiting so violently, both ends decide they want to make an appearance at once. I have a split second to decide between dropping my head or thrusting my arse back. I choose my arse and throw up over the floor, my feet and legs. O joy. I clear it up using the hose thing they tend to have with those type of toilets but have no choice but to sacrifice my Next boxer shorts as I needed to dry myself off.

Back to bed and I actually fall asleep waking up with a headache and stomach ache still, but no sickness, at 3am to an announcement in Vietnamese. I look up and people are getting off and there are stalls on the other side of the track selling drinks. Gasping, I decide to jump off and grab a diet coke, remembering that I’d read somewhere that fizzy drinks are good for a dodgy gut. As usual the coke-keeper tries to rip me off asking for 40,000d after putting it in a bag despite me only pointing and asking how much it was. I offer her 10,000d, she raises her voice and says 20,000d. I hold out the 10,000d note and she takes it, raising her voice further and whipping out another 10,000d from her purse, signifying she wants 2x 10,000d. I reiterate she is only going to get 10,000d out of me and she flips, moaning and shouting in Vietnamese. I grab my 10,000d out of her hand and walk off. I was desperate for a drink but fuck her, I’d rather shrivel up and die than be ripped off by those fuckers. She calls me back and snatches the 10,000d out of my hand, thrusting the bag with the coke in towards me. I walk off with a rare smile on my face. The ace card in any negotiation is being able to walk away. What could she do? There were vultures to my left and right trying to get me to go to their stall to buy, she must have made something on it or she would have let me walk away. As I’ve said before they are poor and you expect to be quoted higher prices on things and it’s up to you if you pay it, negotiate or walk away. I get the ump when they quote treble, quadruple or worse as in the coconut I got caught for outside the War Remnants Museum – eight times the normal price. It gives anyone the ump I think. No one like to be conned. Back on the train, I go back to sleep sipping my coke so as not to overload my belly and send me rushing back to the pan. I woke up at 7:30 and the Russians got off at Nha Trang leaving us with an empty compartment – for 5 minutes until an old female Vietnamese goblin with six huge bags gets on. I say ‘hello’, she ignores me. Did I expect anything else?

The rest of the journey passes by slowly but surely and although I didn’t have to go to the bog again it was rough. The ticket inspectors continually open the door to your carriage, and I mean continually, like every half hour, the beds are dirty and the train itself was old making me ponder whether we would actually get to HCMC at all. Verdict: Miss. Fly. Absolutely. Fly. Even if it costs you double. The scenic views were non-existent through the grubby scratched window and there was nothing fun about this at all. Better to spend the time in HCMC cotching up in a hotel if you have to.

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