29 October – Hanoi
A sleep in of sorts, by getting up a little after 8.00am.
Three full days left in Hanoi, which means I only have three mornings in which I can fulfil my desire to have breakfast down on the street.
Today was certainly an option, in fact it was probably more the plan, but I’m just not hungry. And this is my problem with mornings; I have to force myself to eat most days.
Anyway, as it turns out, the pho place over the road is busy. I’d have to wait for a seat to become available, so maybe it’s a good thing I’m not hungry.
We head next door for breakfast, and for the first time ever, we can’t get a seat on the balcony.
We take a seat inside and I force myself to eat some fruit.
I’m annoyed. And rather pissed off.
But I’m not really sure why. The hotel is really busy, and so too is the breakfast area, which is contributing to my annoyance.
Interestingly, Lisa isn’t annoying me.
At the moment…..
I also have a reasonably minor medical issue, which in the interests of keeping things nice, I won’t go into. But it is adding to my frustrations.
Anyway, I sat there forcing fruit down my throat while being bored by what I couldn’t see.
To relieve some of the boredom, I was able to make mental notes of the things that other guests were doing that made me annoyed.
Yep, getting grumpy in my old age….
Because there’s not much to look at, we do what we have to do and head back to the room to get ready for our day.
The plan is what could be a rather long walk, up to, and then along, Long Bien Bridge.
Lisa and her knees may not be too happy by the end of this….
Back outside, and while it’s fairly warm, it’s more than bearable. Over to the eastern side of Hoan Kiem Lake, and then we head North towards the bridge. Gee, you can make good time when there’s no traffic.
I still love manic Hanoi during the week, but the quiet weekend streets are a nice change.
Onto that really wide and busy road, before veering off left up a curved road that I think will take us to the start of the bridge.
Fortunately, it does, and at the top is the train line that, to the left, heads back to Hanoi’s main station. To the right, the line heads across the bridge over the Red River.
Also up here is Long Bien train station, which I’d heard about. I hadn’t really stopped to think where it actually was, but seeing as it’s called Long Bien, it kind of makes sense that it would up here almost sitting on the bridge itself.
One of life’s mysteries, that probably shouldn’t have been a mystery, solved, we begin our walk along the bridge.
Okay, a bit about Long Bien Bridge….
It’s old. First built around 1900. And it looks old.
But, it has heaps of character, and it looks good from the main road we’ve just walked along.
It has the train line running down the centre, and then on either side is a fairly narrow roadway, about the width of a car. But cars aren’t allowed on the bridge, so it’s only motorbikes and bicycles.
Next to both roads, on the outside edge of the bridge, is a very narrow path for pedestrians.
Another interesting little fact, is that the traffic drives on the left, which is opposite to the way that vehicles normally drive in Vietnam.
Now, back to what the bridge looks like.
I said it looks good from down below, but the same can’t really be said about it when you’re actually walking on it.
That pedestrian path is made up of countless concrete blocks, or pavers, that probably aren’t too dissimilar to drain lids.
And there are gaps between each one, which, when you first start walking, is a little disconcerting.
But some of those gaps are a little wider than others, and coupled with the fact that some of the ‘pavers’ are a little worse for wear, well, disconcerting was occasionally replaced with scared.
I’m not sure I fully appreciated the view for the first ten minutes, seeing as I spent most of my time looking at my feet.
So yes, a great character filled looking bridge from a distance, while up close, it’s still character filled, but looks like it could do with a little love and attention.
Eventually managing to prise my eyes away from my feet, and starting to ‘trust’ the bridge, I begin to really enjoy the sights.
The bride and groom having wedding photos taken between the train track and the road.
Geez, and here I was thinking I’d potentially fall through a crack half the size of my fist, and they’re sitting on a pylon with their legs dangling into the abyss.
Perhaps he’s already thinking of a potential way out….
The traffic is constant, with people and things, being transported by bikes. Several trains also went past while we walked, and we even had one conductor, or you know, that guy at the back of the train, pretty excited to see us.
About half way along there were several fruit sellers up there trying to make a sale. Not the ones that try and scam you with the photo opportunity around the Old Quarter, but real life genuine ones that are just trying to sell their fruit for an honest price.
At one point, a woman on our side of the bridge pulled over in the traffic to do a deal with a banana seller on the other side.
A rusty old train track and a potential fall to the river below, wasn’t a big enough obstacle to that particular transaction.
There’s just so much going on, both up here, as well as down below.
A constant stream of barges going up and down the river, as well as workers on a barge with a crane, using it to help build another crane on a barge next to it.
It was just fascinating.
But it was also around this time that I realised that Long Bien Bridge is very well named. Although, it could perhaps be improved with the word, ‘bloody’, or some other expletive type word that I probably shouldn’t use, in front of it.
It is one loooong bridge.
Eventually, we get to the other side. It has a very local feel, but the thing that stands out the most are the two fairly modern high rise towers just a short distance from the bridge.
Just that ‘contrasts’ of Vietnam thing, again.
It looks to be mainly apartments, but it also has a shopping centre on the lower floors. Seeing as it’s quite warm and we’ve now walked a fair way, as well as thinking a toilet stop might be handy, we decide to head in for a look.
Yep, it’s a shopping centre. And one just like most that we’d find at home.
Five or so floors of supermarkets, department stores, clothing shops, a food court, cinemas, and even a floor of kid’s amusement games.
While I baulk at the chance to visit such places back in Melbourne, it was mildly interesting to see a Vietnamese version of a rather sterile shopping centre.
Suitably cooled off, as well as more comfortable in the bladder department, it was nice to head back outside to the real world.
While we were on the bridge earlier, I’d noticed a small park down on the left, so we walked off in that direction.
Under Long Bien bridge, and then, sure enough, a treed oasis with a couple of coffee shops.
Something that I hadn’t really thought about too much, but something that was sort of hidden away in the back of my mind, was how cool, inviting, and comfortable, parks in Vietnam’s cities are.
Walking the streets in Hanoi and HCMC can be very warm and sticky, but when you’re sitting in the shade of trees with more grass around you than concrete, it is significantly cooler.
And not to mention, just an enjoyable way to spend an hour, or so.
Probably should do more of it in Melbourne….
As we got to the park, we noticed a group of local guys sitting at one of the cafes. Nothing unusual there, but they did have bird cages, along with their birds, with them.
Ha!, How fortuitous is that! Just like Tao Dan Park in HCMC, which Lisa is still yet to see, but just on a slightly smaller scale.
Well, significantly smaller scale, actually….
We head over to the café in the middle of the park, and as we get closer, the guy there is a little surprised, but judging by his smile, very happy to see us.
But perhaps also a little nervous about serving us, as after showing us to a table, he promptly calls his wife over to take our order.
Two caphe sua da’s quickly ordered, and she too seems very happy to have us there.
It was nice, and it made me realise that I miss this. I really love Hanoi, but the constant in the Old Quarter is the number of tourists along with the vendors trying to make a dollar off them.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just reminded me of how nice it is when you come across the far more genuine ones away from the tourist hotspots.
It made me think of our stay in HCMC, our days in the Mekong, as well as my beer place in Hoi An.
Yep, I miss this type of interaction.
We sit and just enjoy our surroundings, along with of course, our first caphe sua da of the day.
I contemplate our walk back, and then think of how Lisa’s knees are holding up. I then go with the, ‘if I don’t know there’s a problem, then there is no problem’, type of thinking.
It’s worked quite well for me, so far…..
Coffees done, bill of 36 000 Dong with rounding up of course, fixed up, a ‘cam on’ very much, and we bid farewell to our coffee hosts.
Up around the circular road to the bridge, to once again take in the sights of Long Bien. And just like before, there’s plenty to see.
Including an example or two of Vietnam’s big problem of rubbish. Getting towards the end of the bridge, just behind Long Bien market, piles and piles of garbage scattered over a fairly large area. At least this one looked like it might have been on private property, but still, it’s just not a good sight.
Down off the bridge, across the busy three lane road; still not a fan of crossing this one, but now find it slightly easier and less intimidating than 2014; and we’re soon back in the Old Quarter. We then hit Dong Xuan market, and the thought occurs to me that we probably should have walked up this way earlier in the morning.
Yes, we’ve spent more time in Hanoi than anywhere else in Vietnam, but I still manage to take the ‘wrong’ streets
But then again, is there such a thing as going the wrong way in Hanoi???
We eventually get back to the hotel for a little recuperating, which I suspect Lisa’s knees are probably thankful for. I can only assume that, seeing as we’ve walked around eight kilometres, but I continue with the head encased in sand, thing.
Out again about 1.30pm in search of lunch. And hopefully this time, especially after the small win last night, one of us will forgo the desire for banh mi.
Up near beer corner and through the lunch laneway that we found the other day. Unfortunately most of them seem to be finishing up, so we continue on.
Around a couple more corners and we stumble upon a pho ga place. There’s not many there, and it seems the proprietors are about to sit down for their own lunch.
We cross the road and take a chance, knowing that we may be pushing our luck now that it’s close to 2.00pm.
The young guy there is really keen when he sees us, but his sister doesn’t seem quite as happy.
She ends up relenting, but at the same time shows her displeasure at having her lunch interrupted for all of two minutes.
This annoys me, but mainly because her attitude and behaviour has made her brother look awkward. I actually feel for him.
We soon have our pho, and while we’re eating, a couple of tourists, after seeing us, make their way over looking for lunch.
They’re quickly left in no doubt that that will not be an option, and I now feel bad for them. And also that little bit more for the brother.
Geez, I understand that it probably needs to be called at some point, but really, there’s a way to go about it.
While the pho isn’t quite as good as last night, it’s alright. And who knows, it may have been even better with a little more ‘love’ in the room.
I even had a fairly strong desire for a Coke, but due to her attitude I decided to purchase any drinks elsewhere.
Pho finished, 80 000 Dong bill paid – which wasn’t bad, we headed off giving the brother a knowing and sympathetic smile.
We head back down towards the lake and there are people everywhere, out enjoying the sunshine in the blocked off streets. There really is a happy feel about the place, but at the same time there are some things that are a little hard to see.
Some of the disabilities that a few people have to live with, would make things very difficult, indeed. Especially here.
Confirmation again, that we are very lucky in Australia.
We get to the southern end of the lake, and like yesterday, the kids are out in their little hire cars.
Requiring another caphe sua da hit, and rather than paying the extortionist prices that the Lake café charges, we head over the road to another café.
Even though our ‘barista’ is a little stressed; think it’s been a very busy day; we soon have our take-away coffees.
Perhaps he can give our pho girl up the road, some tips on how to treat customers…..
And at 30 000 Dong each, they were considerably cheaper than the 50 000 Dong we paid 18 months ago at the Lake café.
With coffees in hand, we head back across the road to find a bench seat by the water, to begin the watching the world go by, thing.
And that is pretty much what we did for the next hour or so, along with an English lesson with some university students.
It was just such a relaxing afternoon, and really, the weather couldn’t have been better.
With coffee cups now drained, and the call of beer corner growing louder in my ears, we headed back to the hotel to get rid…., sorry…., drop Lisa off.
She does actually encourage my beer corner visits, but I’m not sure if it’s because she knows how much I enjoy it, or whether she just likes a break from me.
Regardless, we’ll call it a win – win.
Out the end of the street, a quick hello to Hai, and then off through Underwear lane.
Soon onto Ta Hien, and then back to my usual place. Sure enough, and thankfully, Steve and Lee are inside. They’re like mates now, and it appears that the young guys who work there consider us regulars. So much so, that they actually expect us to pour our own beers.
Steve gets talking to another tourist out the front; Jane; and invites her to sit with us. She’s only just arrived and has the next two weeks in front of her, which makes me more than a little envious.
Once again it was nice to sit and chat, but eventually the need to work on marital harmony, as well as a desire to sit on our balcony, became too much.
I must have had a good time because I’d lost count of how many 5000 Dong beers I’d had. In the end I leave Steve 50 000 Dong, not because I’d had ten; it was more than my usual four; but because Steve had talked to Lee about certain things that made me think that money was somewhat of an issue. I was starting to get the feeling that Steve’s life was perhaps a little ‘complicated’.
Back to the hotel, fetch Lisa, and then we’re quickly back on the balcony. Errol, from the other night, is up there, along with friends Adam and Verity, and we spend a bit of time catching up on what they’ve been doing, over a couple of drinks.
Just a nice relaxing time, interrupted somewhat by the occasional police truck coming down the street, going through the motions of trying to get people to remove their bikes from the side of the road.
Back to the hotel for a quick shower, and then out in search of dinner. Although we pretty much know where we’re going; the BBQ place Xuan Xuan, that we’ve been to a few times over our previous trips.
Back up in the direction of beer corner, and then on to Ma May street. We know where it is, and we know what it looks like. Too easy!
But!, it then begins to go wrong.
As we approach, we can see the distinctive yellow t-shirts that the Xuan Xuan waiters wear. And as we get closer, a guy shoves his menu in front of us and directs us to a table.
All good, I think, and we quickly order.
The food soon arrives, and there’s something in the back of my mind that doesn’t feel right.
It then becomes apparent that we’re not actually at Xuan Xuan. Rather, a copycat type restaurant next door.
I’m pissed off. Really pissed off.
Not because there was anything wrong with the food; it was actually okay; but because I felt like we’d been duped.
But it was probably more that I’d allowed this to happen.
Me!? After how many weeks over three trips in Vietnam!?
Yep, really pissed off with myself.
Now annoyed, and annoyed that I feel annoyed, we head up to beer corner. Pretty much the same band again, but just not quite as good as the previous nights.
And probably not really helped by the woman, who I think may be the mother of the lead singer, who danced around in front of, and in between, the band while they played.
She added nothing to the whole thing, and in the end, probably distracted people from what the band was doing.
Yes, perhaps there was a chance that it annoyed me because I was already annoyed.
Alright, fine, I’m just a grumpy person.
Only had a couple of beers and decided to call it a night; flogging dead horses is a waste of time.
Call into Circle K on the way back to rectify a possible beer shortage in the hotel room and then head upstairs to chill on the bed with said beer.
Damn it, should have got a packet of chips!
Back downstairs to re-visit Circle K, and I end up with some Burger Ring type things, before continuing the bed chilling thing.
As a bonus, the Burger Rings are actually quite good. Which you wouldn’t think was all that surprising, but trust me, packets of chips in Vietnam can be a bit hit and miss.
They have some interesting flavours that you don’t find in Australia.
In the end, we have a relatively early night, seeing as an early start is planned for tomorrow with a walk around the lake to watch the locals do their thing.
Along with, what I suspect, will be some of the shopping that I’ve been dreading so much.
Think happy thoughts…. Think happy thoughts….