June 12th, 2006

punch

Hanoi.

Imagine the hottest day you've ever experienced, then picture yourself throwing on thermal underwear, a sweat suit, a ski jacket, and a fur hat, then running five miles. This is Hanoi. Saigon's humidity is Hanoi's humidity's bitch. In fact, humid is too weak a word to describe this sweaty, soul-draining hell.

The humidity turns tourism in Hanoi into an endurance sport. You can take only one or two hours of it before fleeing to a shower in your air-conditioned hotel room, tears streaming down your face. Today we hit the Hanoi Hilton, and I was done for day. There's a sleek, new luxury tower built over half of the Hilton, and I thought it actually was a real Hilton. Sadly, the Hilton Hotels Corporation didn't share my sense of irony.

Which is a shame, because Hanoi's one of the most visually stimulating cities I've ever come across. The narrow streets are lined with almond, plumeria and banyan trees; and the even narrower old Chinese and French buildings have a lot of character on their stained, cracked and faded walls. I'm writing this entry from the top of our hotel, which is in the middle of Hanoi's Old Quarter, and with lightning illuminating the darkened horizon, it really is a unique and amazing cityscape.

The one drawback is that Hanoi's nightlife is pretty weak compared to Saigon. We hit this one place called New Century where a pudgy woman belted out cabaret songs in front of a gigantic World Cup trophy while expressionless patrons sipped their Remys. We immediately chugged our drinks and left after five minutes. A second longer and I would've jumped onstage and pushed the World Cup trophy, causing it to topple onto the singer before she could finish "Tie A Yellow Ribbon."

Tonight I'm determined to find this bar called Apocolpyse Now. None of the cab drivers have been able to locate it in either Saigon or Hanoi. This one cab driver last night claimed to know where it was and drove around for a long-ass time before I realized that the little whore was lying. Alex was so pissed I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd murdered him and stuffed the body in the trunk. In the end we made the driver take us to a cafe that looked happening from the outside, but turned out to be one of the many accursed places in 'Nam where the waiters refuse to serve vodka unless it comes in a pink drink with sugar on the rim of the glass.

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Tomorrow we head out to Halong Bay.


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