Some snippets from my travel journal for the first day: "First day of Vietnam. Our taxi from the airport took us speedily to the Central district, we're tailgating the vehicle in front of us (ditto for the truck behind us) and lane markings don't mean anything here. My mum looks at me with concern and we begin to voice our concerns amongst ourselves in Mandarin before telling the driver to slow down. He doesn't care and proceeds to talk loudly on his phone in Vietnamese. Welcome to Vietnam." "Survived a three hour flight, but almost got knocked over whilst mastering the Art of crossing Hanoi traffic. It is indeed an Art mastered only by the locals, for the traffic here is horrendous. Getting close to being knocked over 20 times a day spells a good day for any tourist. Traffic lights are non-existant, but while some are erected along the junction, no one bats an eyelid!" We settled in a quaint cafe for lunch by the busy road.
Shopping is more of a cultural activity than actual retail therapy here. Being on a backpack limit for our necessities, the goods sold were interesting to see, but not exactly my cuppa tea. For the fashion label buyers, there are many branded outlet stores in the Central district to cater to your palette as many have factories based here. That being said, I still bought a lifetime supply of black hair ties and a fleece coat for winter.
Rushing down to the Hanoi train station was a blur. Securing the train tickets was a challenge, as we didn't know which train company offered the best deal but we got ours from a budget travel counter who helpfully broke down the pros and cons. To make matters worse, the heavy Vietnam rain and the crowd of the locals were making rushing more unbearable. While free ponchos were being given out, it was not so much of a saving grace as the rain was heavy.
So there we were, hobbling through the rain with our backpacks and dim lights across train tracks (bright streets would be appreciated!) to find our train and our carriages. The trains here all have fancy names, not numbers so it was pretty hard to find. We found Pumpkin on the Livitrans express and quickly boarded. Wet and tired, we were comforted to see our sleeper train beds equipped with seemingly warm blankets. A train crew comes by and gets us hot green tea - such a treat after all that fuss in the rain. The lights in the cabins are quite dim, and the cabin space itself is very narrow. We change out of our wet attire, and I regret wearing my canvas shoes which are soaked down to its core. There are no shower cubicles, so we dry ourselves using towels and wash up with the icy water running on the tap. My sister and I take the upper bunks, and we pretend it's a mini adventure climbing up and down