I arrived safe and sound in my new home Hanoi last night with no issues. I was a tad worried my 85kg of luggage might have some hiccups but despite being 25kg over my 60kg allowance..I paid a small fee and was on my way albeit 40 mins delayed. I was greeted at Hanoi airport by a driver in a brand new 7 series BMW limousine and whisked to the ultra swank Movenpick Hotel where I will be for a few days before they sort a temp apartment for a couple of weeks prior to me taking up residence at the Embassy. The drive in was easy and very smooth as a modern 5 lane expressway delivers you in to the centre of town in about 20 mins. After a quick beer and a powerful hot shower I fell in to bed and slept soundly.
With breakfast squared away I decided to go for a walk and walk I did. I made my way to Hoan Kiem lake and ambled through side streets and across wide avenues. After a few hours I arrived back to the hotel a sweaty mess but here are my very first observations of my new base…
- The Streets – the area I am in is the centre of Hanoi and as such is one of the oldest areas. There are lovely wide avenues with huge mature trees and then smaller streets that also tree lined. Walking around is super easy and there are pedestrian crossings and traffic lights that people mostly obey. It feels really green here as you walk around. There is also noticeably far less litter on the streets compared to Phnom Penh.
2. The Architecture – The old French Colonial architecture in Hanoi will blow your mind. Street after street of beautiful perfectly restored and decrepit examples sit side by side. I even saw some gorgeous art deco buildings such as the Cuban Embassy. I could have spent all day taking photos of the houses. I guess some people do.
3. The coffee – my god. Hanoi must be the coffee centre of the universe. There are a few chains evident but for the most part there are just hundreds of funky little coffee shops full or urbane Vietnamese sitting and enjoying some of the best java I have ever tasted. I had 4 in different places. Seriously….if u r a caffeine junkie…Hanoi must be Mecca. I’m working my way up to the famous civet (aka cat shit) coffee !
4. The people – I had heard that Northern Hanoians can be indifferent or cold towards foreigners but this morning I had a couple of nice interactions. After spying an older style cafe in an old colonial building with an upstairs balcony overlooking the lake I went up to have a coffee and got chatting to the owners. They taught me my first Viet word – thank-you ( Cam on ) and asked where I was from and what I was in Hanoi for. Then sometime later I got accosted on the street by some young female students who were about 18 or so and they told me they were from the provinces and were in Hanoi to practice their English and could they talk to me ?. What ensued was a hilarious 30 min 5 way conversation as they shot broken English questions at me and we laughed and joked as we figured it all out. They then taught me my second ( please ; Larm On ) and third ( hi ! ; xia Chao ) Viet words and we took some photos together before a smiling goodbye. The other thing I noticed was the bookshops were all jammed with locals of all ages browsing for and buying books. Novels I mean. You never see that in Cambodia.
5. The Shopping – Bloody hell….there is some nice stuff here. I found a very VERY nice tailor doing bespoke suits at $270 and shirts at $40. Women’s boutiques making modern dresses, Indochine art works, Rolls Royces, Rolexes, vintage furniture…..you name it…it is here. I also found an authentic G Shock outlet. Look out …
5. Internet : the internet is the fastest I’ve ever experienced…anywhere. It’s what the internet should.be for everyone and totally changes your online experience. And cheap…….my friend tells me he pays $100 a year for his blistering fast Ethernet……
So…. I will reserve my judgement for a little while but let’s just say that right now….I am getting a VERY good feeling about this move. I really liked what I saw this morning and I cannot wait till the family join. I think the kids will love it here.