The mission here in Vietnam - keep smiling at the locals on the streets in Hanoi until someone smiles back. Anyone trying to sell anything doesn't count (they have to, whether they want to or not).
After three months of wandering, my travel mojo waned a little after six days straight in big, smoggy, noisy cities in three different countries. The lack of smiling Vietnamese was not helping. I went in search of other things to make me smile in Hanoi's Old Quarter and found them amongst the narrow, busy streets full of motorbikes, street food, motorbike parking stations, market stalls and more motorbikes.
It soon became clear that strong, black Vietnamese coffee (my new addiction) goes well with a fresh baguette. They are sold everywhere on the side of the road, but I prefer mine not to to be covered in petrol fumes. I prefer to have it in a cafe where it is most likely bought from the same petrol fumed baguette seller, but I can remain blissfully ignorant as to its source.
There is money to burn here and on lots of street corners are locals burning fake US dollars and lottery tickets. Supposedly it gives good health, luck and prosperity but I'm not testing that theory with mine.
But today it was time to get my nature fix and substitute motorbike noise for greenery with a visit to Cuc Phuong National Park - two and a half hours drive south of Hanoi. It's a mixture of limestone crags, jungle vegetation and massive, old trees. A nine kilometre hike uphill through the beautiful scenery and I was rewarded with seeing one particular tree that is famous for being 1,000 years old. If you've ever wondered what a 1,000 year old tree looks like, see below.
My very gay tour guide did, however, smile all day - except for when he squealed like a girl, covered his head and ran up the path when he thought he heard an animal. Being an expert on the fauna in this national park, I reassured him that he was safe....... He quickly went back to telling me how his mother is waiting for him to get married. Just quietly, I think she might have a bit of a wait.
I might not achieve success on my Hanoi smile mission, but it is certainly not going to be impossible to enjoy the sights and sounds outside of the city in this incredibly diverse country.