2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant

Author: Gary Hirson


I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Sa Pa (Suppa) and will be here until 9pm waiting for the overnight train back to Hanoi. The overnight train has the following options. Soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seats and hard seats. As I booked my ticket late I managed to only get the soft seats for the 10 hour overnight journey up to Sa Pa. I’d hate to know what the hard seats are like as only now, two days after the train trip, am I realising that I do actually have an arse. But I do have another sleeping position, which is on my back with my feet up the wall and resting on the ceiling. I’m thinking of starting a new yoga genre after all the positions I’ve found while trying to sleep on a busses and trains.

So I arrived in Hanoi which is hot , humid, crazy and I’ve come to realise that I’m by far the best looking guy that’s ever been there. Every time I walk out my guest house these beautiful, young, innocent, kind, ladies come up to me and say things like, “Hello hansum, you want  massage, boom boom (which I think is double strength marijuana), anything you want?”

“Anything?” I ask with tears in my eyes, “Why aren’t the woman back home so kind?”

And I can’t be wrong because there are so many here that find me attractive.

For all of you sales people out there who are reading self help books to improve your selling skills, throw them away, book a ticket, and come to Vietnam because here be true salespeople. In Vietnam “No’ is the new “Yes”

If you so much as stop and look at something at a stall you will have a little salesman following you until you relent and buy something you will have absolutely no use for later.

And their sale pitches are fantastic. I bought a cap for 30 000 dong (R25) and every day since then I’m stopped by a travelling salesmen (They carry their wares in a basket and move from foreigner to foreigner) who wants to sell me the identical cap.

This is how their pitch goes.

“Hey hansum (you see I’m not imagining things), how much you pay for the cap”

“30 000 dong” (R25, 00)

“This one only 25000” (for an identical cap)

“But I have one”

“This one cheepah”

“But I’ve only got one head”

“But this one cheepah”


“Ok, only 20 000 dong……”

My rug sack now consists of a toiletry bag and 438 identical caps, and when I get back each and every one of you WILL buy a cap from me as “NO” is my new “YES”

And then there are the scooters………………..I’m not sure of the population of Hanoi but I know that every person must have at least two because that is how many scooters there are on the road. We have absolutely no right to complain about the mini bus taxis because compared to these guys they’re pussy’s. They give a new meaning to the term organised chaos. After a few glasses of rice wine I decided to walk into the middle of an intersection to get some action shots. (The only action shots I’ve been getting lately)

I stood there for 10 minutes taking pictures, and of the 150 000 scooters that passed me, I was not hit once.

I went to Ho Chi Mihn’s mausoleum on the back of a scooter and it was truly a testicle shrinking experience.

On that note (not my testicles) Ho Chi Mihn, or “Uncle Ho” as he is called by the Vietnamese, wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread in the north, middle and south of Vietnam. So just to follow his wishes they built him a mausoleum and his body is on display in a glass caste to tourists and the adoring Vietnamese.

Visiting there is quite an experience as for the first time you get to experience that there is a communist regime in control. From entering the grounds everything is conducted with military precision and the soldiers definitely let you know that they’re in charge.

“Hey these guys have defeated the French, Americans, Cambodians and the Chinese. Who am I, (a nice Yiddisha South African), to argue?

Everybody walks in a silent queue into the mausoleum, and there on his back is the lifeless Ho. Just like all the other Ho’s I’ve known. At least he’s free.

The war museum was also good, but it would be a bit better (just a bit) if the signs were in engrish, not that I’m brave enough to tell them. There is also the water puppet theatre where they have puppet shows that take place in.., water. Worth seeing, but the puppets can only speak Vietnamese. “Hmmm maybe they need a TEFL engrish teacher?”

But the best part of Hanoi are the streets because that is where it all happens and as crazy as it is, it’s really fantastic.

So tomorrow I’m back there and then head straight down south towards Saigon. I have to be out of the country by the 17th (and I will be). Probably off to Cambodia.

A few more testicle shrinking experiences:

  1. Finding out at a crucial moment that the Vietnamese woman you’re with is actually a lady boy.
  2. Misplacing your wallet that has your passport, all foreign currency and credit cards in it, in what you thought was a women’s apartment.
  3. Realising that Dog is on the menu while eating a meat that you’ve never tasted before.
  4. Being called off a bus by military personnel for questioning at a VERY remote border crossing in a communist country, when nobody back home knows where you are.

(Of course none of the above has actually happened to me……)