What a difference from Vientiane to Hanoi! It feels like we've been kicked into overdrive in a city buzzing with people, bikes, motos and plenty of sound to go with it.
We're lucky to be staying with one of Mark's friends from high school who is teaching at an international school here in Hanoi. She kindly offered us her spare bedroom in a really authentic area near a small lake called "Truc Bach". She warned us to not try to pronounce the name, but to just show the driver the written version. Vietnamese is a hard language and if you don't get the tones right, they don't always understand you. Luckily, the writing is quite phonetic for those game enough to try.
It's been a welcome change to get a view of a city from someone who lives there rather than just as a tourist. Our first evening, we went around the lake to meet some of Cathy's friends for dinner and beers. The place was a little local Bia Hoi, which is like the Vietnamese version of a Beer Garden. We were the only westerners there. To get there, I hopped on the back of Cathy's motorbike and Mark cycled behind us- with a headlamp attached to his head. Due to the traffic, he was able to keep up pretty much the whole way and I was impressed with his ability to negotiate the crazy Hanoi traffic with such confidence. I would have completely freaked out and was much more comfortable on Cathy's moto. At one point, we found ourselves off-roading through a park to get to our destination. This was normal and we passed many other motorbikes doing the exact same thing.
The lakes here are well used by couples that like to watch sunsets whilst snogging, socializing older people that sit on stools to drink coffee as well as those trying to get some exercise. I'm sure that's not all they are used for judging by the strange green colour of the water. Although they are far from clean, I think people even eat fish out of them. This seemed to be a specialty of the Bia Hoi we chose, but we avoided it in favour of fried morning glory, fried corn kernels and a bunch of other tasty snack foods. The beer costs 18 cents and it's fresh and very light. I think you'd need to drink about 4 glasses to get the equivalent alcohol to one Heineken.
Another highlight of Vietnam is watching the early morning workouts in all the surrounding parks and around the lakes. Mark woke up early this morning and took his TRX to a chin-up pole that he saw near the lake. While there, he met lots of locals that were using the area for their regular morning workout. If you want to get an idea, go to You Tube and check out "Hanoi Morning Exercise" You see people doing the most random exercises including hip thrusts, fanning themselves vigorously and just moving their arms up and down. It's quite popular and very funny to watch. This morning, Mark had many curious spectators as he started his workout and he ended up teaching them some TRX exercises and leading a little impromptu training session. It sounded hilarious! I'm sure they thought Mark was quite curious himself. Cathy saw him half-way through his workout and got some on video. I'm sure he'll post some for you to see. These men were having a great time and so was Mark. They are his new local mates.
We're off to Halong Bay tomorrow. Really looking forward to getting out of the city and seeing some beautiful nature. This is an exciting, interesting city, but the heat, humidity and air quality mixed in with the smells and honking makes the prospect of a night on a boat and some kayaking very appealing.