We are in Hanoi now. We left Sapa at 5pm on Tuesday as the fog was settling into town. It was a bit scary for a while on the way down to Lao Cai; the driver could only see 5 ft. in front of him, but as we got closer and closer to the bottom the fog cleared and with increased visibility we went faster. Upon our arrival in Lao Cai we stayed at Thanh Son restaurant and ate dinner while we waited for our train – 8:05pm. We met another American couple with their daughter – they have been living in Australia and Singapore for the last 7 years. The husband was very friendly and chatty – they are thinking about moving back to the States soon and will be coming to check out Austin this winter.
We were shown to our train and cabin (which we shared with a Russian couple) and had a relatively restful sleep – although at times it felt like the train was going to fall apart. We arrived in Hanoi right at 5am and since we couldn’t check into our hotel for a couple more hours, we walked to Hoan Kiem Lake to wait. Hoan Kiem is a busy place in the early mornings. There were many older Hanoians speed walking and stretching around the lake – it was pretty entertaining. We saw the old Tai Chi ladies and a dachshund(!) – the only one we’ve seen here! He even came up to Zach, like he knew we had a one too.
Eventually it was after 7am, so we walked over to our hotel to see when we would be able to check in. They said to give them about an hour or more… so we wandered around a bit, collected our bags at the Kangaroo Cafe, and returned around an hour later to the hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, so we just sat in the lobby until it was – by that time we were pretty exhausted. When our room was finally ready we climbed up to the 3rd floor, unpacked, and slept for a good while.
When we woke up we decided to walk around the Old Quarter and get our bearings. In the Old Quarter each street has a specific trade, so that when you walk down silk street all the shops are selling silk. We walked down a several streets – toy street, bamboo mat and basket street, mirror street, counterfeit street – all with shops littered with the same items. We stopped on the street for some Banh Mi ($1.50 for 2) and coke and then continued on our way.
We unknowingly stumbled upon the Bia Hoi Junction and stopped for some bottled beers. When we realized that everyone around us was drinking Bia Hoi (homemade draught beer for about 5,000 dong which is 25 cents!) we recognized that were actually at the popular Bia Hoi Junction – an intersection with Bia Hoi joints on 3 corners. We decided to continue our trek and come back later that night for Bia Hoi. So we finished our tour of the Old Quarter at Hoan Kiem and headed back to the hotel to re-group. After freshening up we headed to the Bia Hoi Junction where we settled in for the night with Bia Hoi (for 25 cents) and some french fries from down the street ($1). Hanoi has a strict midnight curfew so we weren’t out late. After our couple of beers we headed back to our hotel.