Border crossings are always an experience. I feel like you get a true sense of how much bureaucracy you will have to deal with when crossing a border and Vietnam was no different. While waiting in line there were the usual people cutting in line, which I can barely stand. Then we watched as multiple people handed over money to immigration officers. I’ve heard a bribe gets you anything you want in Vietnam, and it seems to start at crossing the border. Then to top it off there was the little girl that decided to crawl into the customs’ x-ray machine. She literally climbed right up while her mom turned her back and through the x-ray machine she went, everyone got quite the laugh watching this happen and heaven forbid the customs agents get out of their chairs to help.
After arriving in Hanoi, we were greeted at our hostel with a free happy hour, which was a good way to start off and ended up eating some delicious pho found on the street corner. The next day my sole goal was to drop off my passport at the Indian Embassy in order to get the visa. Unfortunately, having done this on a Friday, and needing 5 business days to process, I would have to hang around North Vietnam for the 10 next days. I decided to spend a few days In Hanoi before heading to Halong Bay and Sapa.
Fine dining in Vietnam
The touristy part of Hanoi seems to be based around the old quarter, packed with shops, people, and most noticeably motorbikes. The hustle and bustle of this city is nonstop until about midnight, when the police come to shut everything down. Immediately, I also noticed how many white people there were here. Coming from China, where I could probably count the westerns on a single hand on any given day, it was a bit of culture shock. I was no longer special, and people could have cared less that I was there, except for the fact that they knew tourists were essentially equivalent to their wallets. Pickpocketing runs rampant in this city and within 48 hours I had heard of five people getting pickpocketed in the hostel and another two being full on robbed (not violently). I quickly became hyper vigilant regarding everything.
As the capital of the country, Hanoi hosts many museums, including the former prison where John McCain was held during the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s called here). They made out the story of the prison to seem like a luxury hotel for the American POWs, somehow, I’m not sure that was true. I also saw the former residence of Ho Chi Minh, and wandered about the city aimlessly exploring the nooks and crannies. After a few days of exploring I was ready to get out of the city and head to the infamous Halong Bay.