Hanoi is chaotic, fun

My first stop on this early 2010 trip is Hanoi, Vietnam, and after spending 4 full days there I still am not sure what to make of the place. The wildcard is the upcoming Tet holiday – the lunar new year – which I’ve been told is like our New Year, Thanksgiving, and 4th of July all rolled into one. Evidently it’s a huge family holiday, but with plenty of superstitions and rituals mixed in, so in the days and weeks before the big day (which falls on February 14 this year) everyone is scrambling around at a fever pitch.

I hear they have to buy certain things, like new shoes for good luck in the new year, as well as various decorations and food items to prepare for the big holiday. And raising prices to try to accumulate more money for Tet is accepted and normal.

So I got to Hanoi about 10 days before Tet, and the city feels like a complete mad house to me, with people racing around in every direction at all hours of the day. The problem for me is that I don’t know if that’s close to normal or quite unusual. As I write this I’m in the mountain resort town of Sapa and it’s quite mellow here. When I get back to Hanoi on Friday morning it’ll be 2 days before Tet begins, and I’m told that by Saturday most everything closes down and the city becomes a ghost town for at least 3 or 4 days. I purposely timed it to leave this week and then see the place again during this “ghost town” phase, but once again I’ll have no idea what normal days are like.

After all the craziness I’ve seen, I feel like I owe it to myself to see the nearly empty version of it, even though I’ve been told it might be a minor struggle to find places to buy food and drinks, at least at normal prices.

Portland to Hanoi in 3 easy steps

I don’t actually plan on writing a full journal for this trip, at least in the same way I did for my 2005 round the world trip that is still in tact on this site. My plan this time is to move slowly rather than keep up a blistering pace of seeing all the main tourist sites in each city. So instead of listing all the things I’ve done and giving my impressions of them, I’m thinking I’ll just write about the highlights and the things that strike me as interesting.

Still, just to get things started, I want to file this report from Hanoi – my first stop – so those interested can get a sense for where I am beginning this trek.

Arriving in a time warp

I had a 5:15am wake-up call at the airport Ramada hotel in Portland on the Tuesday morning I left. By 6am I was at the airport, and I discovered that AT&T had already disconnected my mobile phone service, per my request. My flight to San Francisco was an uneventful 2 hours, followed by a 3-hour layover as I waited for my Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo.

We left San Francisco around noon on Wednesday, flying into the sun, and landed in Tokyo on time at sunset on Thursday. The flight was 11 hours, and thanks to a surprisingly comfortable seat (and an empty seat next to me) plus a good selection of on-demand movies that I’d never seen, I arrived feeling pretty good.

I’m heading to Vietnam in early 2010

Quite a few people followed my progress on my 2005 round-the-world trip on this site, and many of you know I’m about to head out on the road again. I’ve archived my “classic” site here at RTW 2005 in case you want to revisit what I did last time.

This time instead of having a definitely plan of literally circling the globe once, my goals are much more modest. This time I’m heading to Southeast Asia, starting in Hanoi, Vietnam, and then I’ll be bouncing around the area while trying to keep my expenses low. I intend to see most of the main Vietnam highlights, including Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and the Mekong Delta, but that might take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months.

After that I intend on heading into Cambodia to visit Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples, plus another stop or two, and then on into Laos and then to Thailand. Once in Thailand I might settle down for a while, but it’s all up in the air at this point.

I hope you’ll follow along, and this time you’ll be able to leave angry comments and whatnot below each post, like the “home game” of a 70s game show.