I arrived in Hanoi the local way - taking a bus with its doors always open (even when travelling at speeds of about 100km/hr) in order to pick up/drop off various waifs and strays along the way. My bag was shoved in what I suppose served as the boot, alongside a mucky-looking spare tyre. Two hours of torrential rain later it was handed back to me, soaking wet and coated in mud. Which is even more fun when you have to mount it on your back to walk to your hotel...
The rain had cleared at least though - small mercies. Once I had deep-cleaned myself (the bag was beyond hope), I headed out to explore the city.
I got lost almost immediately. The Old Town is a maze of tiny streets, each selling a particular thing, from mirrors to dried fruit to gravestones - and, at this time of year, there's even a Santa Street. Crossing the road is difficult enough here, let alone when trying to avoid motorbikes carrying oversized Christmas trees as well as the standard three passengers they cram on the back.
My detour was nevertheless highly interesting - a street devoted to coffee sellers turned into a street selling gorgeous silk items, which then turned into a street selling oversized cuddly toys (I had to resist the temptation, although the next street - selling luggage - would have easily solved any transportation problems).
I ended up at the opera house and somehow managed to find my way into the stunning Sofitel Metropole hotel next door. After a good three seconds of trying to resist, I gave in and took their chocolate afternoon tea buffet. Incroyable. Endless truffles, cakes, crepes, cookies, ice cream...plus a few savoury things thrown in for good measure. While I was there, I overheard a small boy telling his mother that "5-star hotels just aren't the same as 6-star ones". It may have lacked caviar and a few other trimmings, but I thought it was superb.
I walked off a small portion of the indulgence with a stroll around the West Lake, before diving into yet more specialist streets. I watched the sun go down as an outdoor performing arts competition took place, involving - you've guessed it - yet more karaoke performances, with endearing attempts to mimic the lyrics of Western pop songs through a series of meaningful mumblings. Although the prospect of listening to an evening of Vietnamese Vengaboys imitations was a tempting one, the Australian friends I'd made in Ninh Binh invited me to meet them at a rooftop bar with the most incredible views of the city. As motorbikes revved, horns beeped, people shouted and singers warbled below, we raised a toast to this frantic but fantastic city.