My first day in Vietnam (Part 1)

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Date Written: 09.11.2013 Place: Bangkok, Thailand Time: 15:29

Finally it was the day I was waiting for since being in China – the day I was leaving it!

I obtained my Vietnam visa from the consulate in Kunming, located on the 5th floor in a building next to the city’s World Trade Centre, when I went to collect it, the only seat free in the waiting area had been taken by a Chinese mother hovering her young Chinese boy over it, so he could urinate. But with that sight well and truly behind me, which is actually a common one in China most days, the day was finally here I was leaving China and all its craziness behind by taking the 18:20 night train, from Nanning to arrive in Vietnam’s capital; Hanoi.

My first sight of a visibly and unashamedly Vietnamese setting was the train station we had to wait within for visa checks, the first station when rolling into the country, an hour or so away from my destination. The floor had a murky orange tiling, whilst the walls were painted a few shades from a mustard yellow. The tall ceiling echoed all the hushed conversations and commotions beneath it, whilst one wall was taken up by a full-length French window, with a semi-circle top and accompanying wooden panes.  The custom officials wore a heavy dark green military uniform.  This sight was a relief, as it was right then I truly felt I was without a doubt no longer in China.

I actually arrived in Hanoi around 4 or 5AM in the morning and shared a taxi with a girl I met on the train. Ruth, also English and a redhead, studied at Oxford and had been teaching English in China before coming to Vietnam. We found out her hostel was just around the corner of my own so we were dropped off there by taxi.

As I walked to my hostel in the dark with the sun still not risen, it was then I began to ask myself if I was particularly safe walking in the Vietnamese capital, at this time, on my own, to then eventually find my hostel with its security shutters down over the door and windows. Shit.

A bit stumped with that to do, I went back to the previous hostel where Ruth was still sitting waiting to check in. We chatted for another hour or so before I began to wander back to my own hostel again, this time dawn was breaking and being a bit lighter with a few more people moving about the streets, the shutters were half way up so I could crawl through to find a man sleeping on the floor, alongside the reception desk inside.

I didn’t want to wake him, the last time I had awoken a sleeping reception man no good had came from it (a story I haven’t posted yet..stay tuned), but I had caught a flash of a blonde girl in the corner of my eye, moving around in the room past reception.

I walked in that direction, past the sleeping man, past the reception desk, the lift and the stairs until I reached the bar of the hostel.

Five young people, my age, were sat around the table. “Heey!” I cheerfully addressed them, a friendly approach usually works well for me when meeting new people. Soon, sitting down amongst them I discovered their names; Simon, Jill (the blonde), Aidan, Charlie and Fabia.

Simon, Jill, Charlie and Fabia had all just arrived in Hanoi themselves, all equally exhausted from trekking in Northern Vietnam’s mountainous Sapa, the previous days before.  Aidan, at first the most talkative out of the group, lived here at the hostel and taught English throughout Vietnam, he wasn’t up in his room and instead down here in the bar because he had stayed round a friend’s last night and only just got back in with the rest of them.  Aidan was the one to inform me check-in, actual physical get-into-our-rooms-and-chuck-ourselves-down-onto-our-beds-check-in, wouldn’t happen until 10am, a somewhat long 4 hours away.

So, in that case, we decided to play cards.  Simon, Jill and Charlie, all currently traveling solo, had met whilst trekking in Sapa.  Fabia tagged along somewhere on the way home and Simon seemed to know Aidan from staying at this hostel before he headed to Sapa.  I’m not going to lie; the bar was quite dingy, with walls stained with graffiti of hundreds of travellers from many stays before my own.  Simon pointed out his contribution – a Swedish flag with his name and a date underneath it.  There was a small, a very small, pond in the corner of the bar, which weakly emitted a leaking sound the entire time.

We played Vietnamese poker, without money, I can’t recall the rules and I can’t remember what distinguished this game different from your usual Poker game to make it Vietnamese, although I can remember the next game we played was a combined card and drinking game, which we played without alcohol.  This one was called “Fuck You” – beat the card that lays with a higher figure from your hand, then declare “Fuck you” with the name of the person in the group you want to down their drink or shot.  For example; “Fuck you Simon!”  Whoever gets the last “fuck you!” in to their targeted person would mean that targeted person would have to drink.  Of course we didn’t have drinks or shots to lace someone up with, so saying “fuck you” to a complete stranger, oddly but enjoyably, broke the ice quite successively.

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After an hour or so, behind the scenes of our obscenities, the hostel, and no doubt the sleeping reception man, was coming to life!  Another 2 hours to go yet, but the female receptionist now starting work told us there is room and us girls will be together in the same dorm, the boys will be together in another room.  The sun was up and shining brightly now so our newly made group decided to go for a morning coffee whilst we waited for our rooms to be ready. Sitting in Cafe Marilyn we sat on the balcony in the fresh air and all ordered a creamy coffee listed as a “Vietnamese Coffee” on the menu and looked over St Joseph Cathedral and the square below.

Jill, from Belgium, told me she had lost her shoes whilst dreamily looking over the square beneath us. I couldn’t resist and joked asking if she had lost them down there, which we both giggled and she answered she hasn’t had much sleep, with comically putting her hand up to her forehead.  The boys began to wander off, I think I heard Simon saying he needed to book his bus ticket to leave and head south tomorrow.  Us three girls remained and all decided and agreed today, after check-in, we’d all get our nails done and find Jill some new shoes.

To be continued…  (read part 2 here)

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