Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 18

Ho Chi Minh City – Melbourne

Alarm wakes me up.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

One, it means that I was actually asleep, and two, I still had the ability to actually wake up.

So, how do I feel?

I feel woeful.

Absolutely woeful.

I’d given up on hopefully feeling better, but I hadn’t expected to feel this much worse.

Although, having to spend half an hour on the toilet at 3.30am, I probably shouldn’t be too surprised.

A quick shower, and I force myself to go downstairs for breakfast.

There’s plenty to choose from, and it looks magnificent!

Pho, rice paper seafood rolls, other assorted delicacies, fruit.

There’s just heaps of it, and, appearance wise, it’s probably the best we’ve seen.

But I just can’t stomach it.

The thought of eating any of it just makes me feel sick.

I hate that.

I hate that I feel this way.

The guy who helped us with our bags yesterday, is here in the dining room helping the other guests with their breakfast.

He greets us as we walk in.

“Good morning”, he says, in the most cheerful of ways.

And with the most cheerful of expressions.

And with not an ounce of insincerity.

Gee, I envy ‘morning’ people…..

“Please, would you like to try our pho?”

“Good morning……..ummm, no,……….sorry……..no,…….I can’t……. thank you”, I somehow stammer out.

“Okay, what about our rice paper rolls with prawns?”, as I pick up a slice of bread.

“I’m really sorry, I’d love to, but I just can’t…….. I don’t feel…….”, I try to reply.

He doesn’t really want to hear, ‘no’.

I don’t want to actually say, ‘no’, but I don’t have a choice.

I hate that.

I place my bread in the toaster.

I’m having toast for my last breakfast in Vietnam.

Toast!

I just can’t believe it.

I’m so frustrated. And I’m so disappointed.

It was never meant to finish like this.

I feel like crying…..

I force myself to eat my toast with strawberry jam. It’s hard work.

The breakfast guy comes back.

“Would you like Vietnamese coffee?”, he asks, with his same cheerful manner.

“Uhhhh,……I…….ummm, I can’t. I’m really sorry……., I just….. can’t. I don’t feel well…..”.

I can’t believe it. I can’t even stomach a drink; not even a caphe sua da; a drink that, apart from beer, I have enjoyed more than any other drink while we’ve been here.

I just can’t believe it.

He gives up on me.

I suspect he thinks I’m one of those people that are too scared to try something different. Only interested in eating the same things they eat at home, and not prepared to experience something new.

That hurts me. But I don’t blame him if he does.

He just seems so passionate about his job. He was the same yesterday.

He looks so happy; always has a smile on his face. Nothing ever seems to be too much trouble.

But I think I’ve broken him.

And I really, really hate that.

The agony finally comes to an end, and we head back to the room to complete one of the jobs I least like doing; packing for the final time.

Once done, we head back downstairs and leave our bags at reception.

We still have two hours before we need to make our way to the airport, and as much as I really don’t feel like going outside, I really feel like I need to salvage something from our remaining time.

We head out and make our way up to Tao Dan Park.

The park was also on my list of things to do and see. Mainly for the bird café, but as it’s now 10.00am, I suspect we’ve missed that.

It’s already incredibly hot, which also isn’t helping. Walking the wrong way at one point, just adds to it.

Damn maps…..

Finally, we get to the park.

It’s nice. It’s a little cooler, and it’s kind of calming.

I’m not sure why I think that; maybe it’s just because we’re in HCMC and it’s nice to get away from the traffic and the noise.

Not sure I’ve ever felt that way in a park before.

There’s not too many people around, in fact there are quite possibly more park workers than visitors.

They really do spend a lot of time and effort on keeping their parks looking good. And there really is something about a freshly swept lawn. 😉

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A little weird, but very effective!

We eventually get to the bird café, and yep, as expected, there’s no one really there. Damn it, missed seeing it.

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The Bird Cafe – I’m sure it looks vastly different when the birds are actually there…!

We head back out on to the streets and make our way down to the Bui Vien area for one last look. We also need to find another place that sells those neck pillows.

I can’t go back to the same place from yesterday.

Swallowing food at the moment is an issue; swallowing pride would be worse…..

On the way down, the usual sights come into view, as well as the familiar smells that waft around you, from time to time.

While in the past I’ve found them a little unpleasant, I notice that they’re actually making me feel worse, now.

We get to Bui Vien and drop into a Circle K to get a couple of Cokes. Yep, so many other options, and we end up with Coke…..

We find a souvenir shop a little bit further on, and sure enough, they have neck pillows.

A total of 200 000 dong for two of them, is agreed upon.

So yeah, a good deal, in the end.

Was going to have to pay 180 000 dong yesterday……

We continue down Bui Vien and then start making our way back towards the hotel. But this time, seeing as we still have a bit of time, we head back the long way.

And yep, once again, the map lets me down. Different city; same result…..

Kind of ironic, in a way. Finishing our 40 something day in Vietnam, just like we did on our very first day in Vietnam 18 months ago, by getting lost.

Yep, even though we’ve come a long way, some things never change……

Map, and or, map reading skills, finally come good and we find our way back.

The air conditioning in the hotel foyer hits you in the same way that the heats does when you go outside. Only difference is that one helps the recuperation process, and the other doesn’t.

We spend the next 20 minutes just relaxing and getting our breath back, while watching the comings and goings of hotel visitors.

Including the local guy wearing a lovely pair of pink shorts, with matching pink shirt. Along with a pair of very unattractive sunglasses.

He looks a million dollars. Well, he thinks he does…..

Finally, the time arrives, and we ask our bubbly doorman / breakfast guy to arrange a taxi for us.

He obliges with a smile, as I’m sure he always does.

I always dread this part. The leaving bit. I hate it.

But this is a bit different. I just want to get it done.

While I’m absolutely dreading the next 15 or so hours; and I mean seriously dreading; to the point of being scared; I actually want to leave.

And I really, really hate that I feel that way.

It worries me, too.

I actually wonder if this will be the last time I visit Vietnam. Will I return as I always thought I would.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

And I hate that, too.

We bid farewell to quite possibly the friendliest hotel staff we’ve encountered, with the final bit of advice that the taxi fare should be no more than 150 000 dong, and we’re on our way.

The traffic is both madness and quintessential HCMC.

It’s fun, but also a little frustrating.

I spend the whole time soaking in the sights, but also wondering if this is the last time I’ll experience it.

Geez, I’m pissed off……

I start to see familiar sights, and quickly (which is a little unusual for; particularly today…..) realise we’re coming up towards the bridge, that goes over the canal, that we were stayed opposite just two weeks earlier.

I think about texting Pierre and telling him to wave to us as we go across.

We should be easy to spot; we’re in a Vinusun taxi!

If you know the bridge, and the traffic, then you’ll realise that I am well and truly taking the urine.

There seem to be three types of vehicles that use that bridge; motorbikes, Mai Linh taxis, and Vinusun taxis.

I end up not bothering. I can’t type that quickly, and I’m not sure I can look down for that long…..

We finally get to the airport, neither scammed nor overcharged, and make our way inside.

The check in for our flight has not yet opened. So we sit and wait. And wait….

Lisa’s happy; she has a book.

I don’t. Not that I’d read it anyway.

Instead, rather than sitting there doing nothing, I decide to go and sit and do ‘nothing’ in the toilets.

I am seriously worried about the next 15 hours, so much so, that I’d even go so far as to say that I was sh*tting myself.

But that would be a particularly bad pun…..

Finally, there’s movement at our check in counter. Mainly on our side of the desk, though, as the queue continues to grow.

Lisa then remembers how much quicker it was, when we left Melbourne, after checking in on line, and then proceeds to do the same on her tablet.

Check in complete, queue avoided, bags dropped.

Hmmm, knew there was a reason I brought her along….

We make our way to smiling, happy people, that are immigration, and make our way to the departure gate.

I’ve never left Tan Son Nhat airport from the international terminal before, but it seems really busy. A little chaotic, even.

A big storm has just hit, and I suspect that that may have something to do with it.

Lisa sits; and reads; as Lisa does, but I can’t.

I walk.

Aimlessly, around the airport.

But aimless walking around an airport, has nothing on aimless walking around Hanoi.

And once again, I wonder if I’ll ever do that again…..

I can’t believe I’m thinking that, and I can’t believe it may well be a possibility.

I’m so pissed off.

Eventually I tire of the sterile nature of the airport, along with the overpriced souvenirs marked in US dollars, and head back to annoy Lisa.

The plane due at our boarding gate, before our flight, has only just arrived. Which is just wonderful…..

Sure enough, a call comes over moving us to another gate.

Just getting better…..

Finally, eventually……., finally, we’re on the plane and up in the air.

Only about 45 minutes late, but feels so much longer.

But then the time watching begins. We only have a couple of hours stopover in Singapore before our flight to Melbourne.

Was all going well, until we ended up in a holding pattern over Singapore….

Eventually they found room for us make our way down to the ground, and once again we were back in quaint little Changi Airport.

Because we’re a little pushed for time, we head straight to the gate that we need.

Much to Lisa’s annoyance…..

She wants something to eat, and when Lisa wants something to eat, well……

I’m happy to get something, even though I really don’t need anything, or want anything, for that matter, but I need to find our gate.

It was a good idea. Well, I thought it was a good idea.

It turns out that it was at the other end of the airport. I’m not sure there were too many gates further on, after ours.

In fact, I think we were now closer to HCMC airport than the gate we landed at…..

Gate found, we head back to feed the disgruntled one. I also partake in some overpriced, and overrated, airport food.

We stop in at one of those airport shops that sell everything, and buy some ridiculously expensive almonds to eat on the plane as a snack.

Still cheaper than what they’d be charging on our low cost carrier service, however.

Almost didn’t happen though; the shop’s eftpos machine wasn’t overly enamoured with Lisa’s eftpos card.

That’s okay, though, I wasn’t overly enamoured with Lisa at that point, either.

The feeling may have been mutual…..

But seriously, it just seemed that everything we did today, seemed to take extraordinarily longer than it should have.

Probably starting at 3.30am this morning……

Finally, back at the gate, and just for good measure, a little more waiting, awaited.

And then!, the boarding call comes.

We let the impatient go, and then make our way up.

I go to place my wallet in a tray to be scanned, and the security guy tells me I can leave it in my pocket.

“Oh, okay”, I think, and walk through, slightly perplexed.

The metal detector alarm goes off.

The security guy comes up to me.

“What do you have in your pocket?”, he says, in a fairly serious tone.

Now just a little bit more perplexed, and wondering if I’m being set up here, I answer, “Ummm, my wallet……???”.

He asks me to take it out, and I then get free ‘pat down’.

I want to tell him we could have saved a bit of time here, but I don’t.

Maybe he just liked me….

It just seems to continue how everything else has gone today, and, to be honest, I’ve given up caring.

Anyway, I actually found it quite funny.

Finally on the plane, finally pushed back, and finally in the air.

Apart from this last leg, the holiday is done.

The two and a half weeks; six months in the planning and thinking; is done.

I can’t believe it.

And at the moment, I’m struggling to remember much of what we’ve done.

I’m annoyed, actually no, I’m angry that something else came along and impacted my enjoyment of something that I’d been looking forward to so much, and for so long.

Yep, I’m really pissed off.

Fortunately, the flight goes better than I thought it would. I actually get a bit of sleep (with the help of my 100 000 dong neck pillow) and also manage to keep away from the smallest room on the plane.

The other passengers have no idea how lucky they were……

We get home without incident; although Lisa was concerned that she should mention to the customs guy (who was surprisingly happy and pleasant), that the shoes that she wore in Pu Luong, ‘may’ have a little dirt on them, even though they didn’t.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed.

Which, like finding a happy and pleasant customs guy, was kind of surprising….

We get home by 8.00am, and within a few hours, I’m driving the boy down to play football.

What holiday……

Cheers,
Scott

 

Footnote –

So, how did the sickness pan out?

I hoped it would clear up after we returned home.

It didn’t.

I put up with it for another week, before I relented and went to the Doctor’s.

He asked me what I had eaten over there, and where we had eaten.

The street food shocked him, and the snails appalled him.

I was happy with that.

He gave me two choices on how to treat it.

One – I could supply a sample and have it analysed.

I instantly dismissed that, as trying to ‘catch’ it would not only be problematic, it would be downright messy.

Or two – he could prescribe an antibiotic that would kill whatever it was that I had. He suspected that it was just a bug; traveller’s belly, or something; from something that I had eaten. Not actually food poisoning, but some bug or parasite that I’d picked up.

As I wasn’t overly concerned about knowing exactly what it was; as well as not being remotely interested in getting up close and personal with what was coming out of me; I went down the antibiotic path.

A week later, and a fairly long week at that, I was pretty much back to normal.

Well, as normal as I can be…..

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Lisa – smiling or gritting her teeth?
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Happy looking dragon!
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Very manual work, and they do a great job.

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 17a

Waiting for take-off

This is an attachment to the original, Trip Report 17.

It’s the bit that I wrote while sitting on the plane waiting for boarding to be completed.

Feeling far less than average, my tolerance levels weren’t terribly high.

A touch of self pity; in that not believing that this trip was finishing with me feeling as bad as I did; may have had a little bit to do with the way it’s written.

But, it was the way I felt at the time.

 

Thursday May 26, Noi Bai domestic terminal, Hanoi.

Vietnam Airlines flight travelling Hanoi to HCMC. Departure time – 7.00am

6.45am –

We’ve found our way to our seats; 28B and 28C. The emergency exit door, row.

I’ll preface this by saying that I always find it fascinating sitting on a plane, watching all the other passengers getting themselves organised, prior to take off.

And when I say fascinating, you could easily replace that word with amazement, surprise, frustration, annoyance, disbelief, and probably several other words that I can’t think of at the moment.

Yep, I’m continually amazed at how long it takes people to find their seat, put their carry on luggage in the lockers overhead, and then finally sit down.

It really shouldn’t take that long, and judging by the looks on the flight attendant’s faces, they are of the same opinion.

I have much sympathy for them.

So, these were my feelings and observations at the time.

There may have been one or two small edits to what I wrote, but that was just to protect the truly dumb, selfish and / or ignorant.

We’ve already done the ‘queuing’ at security this morning, and as I’ve said before, the Vietnamese don’t do queuing terribly well.

And that’s in general; not just at airports.

But that’s okay, that’s part of them; their culture, if you like. I’m a guest in their country, and that’s something that I’m more than willing to accept, and deal with.

So, sitting here now, watching the usual ‘luggage stuffing’.

Same old, same old…..

But now, it’s the couple with the two kids that have just walked all the way down to the back of the plane; row 36, or something; only to turn around and push their way back to their correct seat, in row 18.

Yep, row 18.

How does that happen….????

Or the bloke that is now shoving his bag, with considerable force I might add, into the locker with no regard to the soft bag, belonging to someone else, that is already there.

But wait, he has another bag to put in there.

Seriously, if he pushes it any harder, he’ll push the bloody thing through the wall of the plane.

This will be the same bloke that would push a kid out of his way, to get off the plane first, if the plane gets into trouble.

I’m sure, in his eyes, he is the only person on this plane at the moment.

I’m struggling to work it out.

I really love the Vietnamese. They’re kind, friendly, generous, and genuinely interested in you, if you give them the opportunity.

It’s one of the reasons I desperately wanted to visit Vietnam again; for the interactions with the locals.

But these ones?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me…..

Maybe it’s just that I’m so tired.

Maybe it’s because I just feel so crap.

Maybe it’s because the young mother sitting behind me is allowing her young child to continually kick the back of my seat.

I don’t even have the energy to turn around and make my displeasure known.

And even if I did, I don’t want to make a scene.

Aaaaargh……, it’s been a long day already, and it’s only just begun……

Scott 😦

 

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 17

Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City

The alarm goes off.

It’s loud.

But things are always loud at 4.30am.

My early morning, fuzzy brain, slowly begins to kick in.

First realisation; I feel like crap.

I feel like absolute crap!

My wish from the night before has not come true.

I now feel worse. Significantly worse, too.

Second thought enters my head;

Oh well, at least we go home today.

I’ve had enough and I can’t do this anymore. And while I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to stay any longer; not feeling like this.

Then, the second realisation kicks in.

Aaaargh……we’re not going home today! We still have one more night to go!

We’re flying down to HCMC and we’re catching up with Stefan and Mark (from Sydney), tonight.

It’s something that I’d been so looking forward to, and now, I’m not sure I want to do it.

I’m not sure I actually can, do it.

I’ve been trying so hard to not let this beat me. But I think it has.

And the thought of having to now fight it for another 24 hours, just……, well, it just fills me with dread.

I can’t believe I feel this way, and you really have no idea how much this pisses me off.

I struggle out of bed, and we get ourselves organised.

All packed up, we head down the lift for the final time.

Once again, we wake Sophia and the doorman who are sleeping on the couch.

And once again, I feel guilty about that.

We bid our farewells, thanking them, and apologising, and head outside to our car; which is already there.

Hang Hanh street is dark, and it’s empty. And very, very quiet.

It’s comforting, but slightly sad looking. Maybe even a little eerie….

4.50am, and we’re on our way.

Eighteen months ago, I hated the drive to the airport.

Eighteen months later, it’s worse.

Driving past the lake, and Hanoi is already starting to wake up.

People riding bikes, people walking and jogging, female street sellers wheeling their, fully laden, bikes.

It’s different; strange even. Maybe even surreal.

And it makes me feel sad.

Not sure why.

Partly because of the way I feel? Partly because we’re leaving? Partly because I feel sorry for all these people who are having to start their working day at this hour? (yep, learnt something from the Women’s Museum)

Probably all of those things.

The CD that our driver is playing isn’t helping either.

It’s some sad love song, that while it’s making it worse, seems kind of apt for the situation.

We’re finally out of the Old Quarter; which doesn’t make it better; and I realise something about the car we’re in. While this is a day of ‘final’ things, this car is actually a first.

It’s an automatic!

After a total of six weeks in Vietnam, I don’t think we’ve ever been in an automatic.

No rapid fire changing through the gears from first to fourth, before you’ve hit 35 kilometres per hour.

Yep, on of all days, a first.

Weird…..

We continue on, the Old Quarter now behind us.

Past a flower market that is a hive of activity; the two guys jogging over the very large bridge (no, not dangerous at all…..); as well as the couple doing stretching exercises on the side of the freeway. (no, not dangerous either….)

Before too long, we pull up at the airport, and our driver jumps out and grabs our bag from the boot.

He doesn’t speak English, but he seems like a really nice guy. I do something I don’t normally do. And I’m still not sure why I did it.

I give him a tip. Not much; 20 or 30 000 dong; but yes, I tip him.

Yep, I’m still not sure why.

Maybe because I feel so crap? Maybe because we’ve dragged him out of bed so early, away from his wife and family, to get us to the airport?

He’s surprised by it. But very appreciative.

I give him a smile, and shake his hand. He reciprocates.

Yes, I paid for that little ‘moment’, but it was still a ‘moment’.

Into the airport by 5.25am, and we actually have to wait a few minutes before we can check in.

Bag dropped, we head off to security.

The fun begins….

Yep, that queuing thing.

They just don’t do it well, at all.

And it’s probably impacting me more today. My tolerance level is significantly lower than it normally is.

Finally through to the departure lounge, and because she’s awake, and because she hasn’t eaten since last night, Lisa needs something to eat.

The thought of eating repulses me.

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The gloominess of Noi Bai airport, Hanoi, at 6:15am matched my mood.

Instead, I go off to spend some quality time in the toilets. Yep, the day is just going swimmingly…..

Eventually, the boarding call is made. And as usual, the masses jump up to queue.

And as usual, we don’t.

If I’m going to feel like crap, then I’d rather sit in the terminal for as long as I can.

The queue finally begins to shorten, so we make a move.

In hindsight, I would have been much better off sitting there for a bit longer.

Let’s just say that the ‘boarding’ thing, didn’t go terribly well.

Again, the way I was feeling, was not helping my tolerance levels. Little things, as well as bigger things, were really annoying me.

So much so, that I sat there and began writing a trip report on my phone, for this part of the journey.

I wanted to write it then, so I wouldn’t forget any of it. I also did it because I wanted to look back on it when the dust had settled on our trip, to recall how I truly felt at the time.

Looking at it now, it’s not that pretty, and in fact, it may actually be a little harsh. But it’s how I felt at the time.

I won’t put it in this report, but I will post it somewhere separately. Either here on TA, or just on the blog.

So, anyway, while everyone else was getting themselves organised, we sat there in our emergency row seats. Yep, got the extra legroom again.

But I missed out on the window seat. Damn it; forgot to ask when checking in……

Just not thinking straight.

Finally, finally, finally……, up in the air, and we’re on our way to HCMC. As we begin our descent, we get talking to the English business man sitting next to Lisa.

Yep, amazingly, we found someone like us that was happy for a chat. Nice bloke, too.

The plane eventually pulls up at the gate, and yep, you guessed it, everyone jumps up to get off.

Apart from us, and our English mate. We just looked at each other and conversed without saying a word.

Out of the plane, and bag retrieved, we headed out of the terminal.

No hotel organised transfer this time, it was either going to be a taxi, or the relatively new, yellow number 109 bus.

As we exited, sure enough, there’s the bus over to the right, just past the taxi rank.

Yep, feel like crap, but let’s forgo the comfort of a car, and go with the bus.

Need to add another new experience to the trip, anyway.

Two 20 000 dong tickets purchased from the woman standing outside the bus, and we’re on our way.

There’s not that many on it, but I choose to stand in the middle section with our bag. Bit sick of sitting down, anyway.

The traffic on the way into the city is bedlam. Seriously, even with the occasional stop, I don’t think a car would have been any quicker.

The ride in, goes well, even though the emergency button sounds at one point.

I really need to be aware of what I’m leaning on.

So much for blending in, and trying to remain invisible……

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If you’re not getting the bus, this is one of the recommended taxi companies to use.  The other is Mai Linh.

Half an hour later we pull up at the Ben Thanh market bus station, and head off on foot towards our hotel.

We’re back in District 1, and we certainly know it. The heat, the noise, the hustle and bustle, and the smell. Yep, parts of it have a particular smell.

A 10 minute walk later, and we find our hotel; the Thien Hai.

As we make our way up the stairs to the front door, the doorman; who we find out later does a little bit more than just open and close doors; comes out to help us.

He seems very keen to please, and really goes the extra mile.

We check in with the girl behind the desk; she too comes across as incredibly friendly; and as we expected, our room is not yet ready. It’s still only around 10.00am.

She tells us it will be about an hour.

That’s fine we say, we’ll just sit on the big comfortable couches in the reception area and cool down. I’m exhausted, and anyway, I’m not sure I’m capable of using my legs anymore, at the moment.

Twenty minutes later, she announces that our room is ready.

Wow!

I was impressed the moment we walked in, but they just went up another notch or two.

“Thank you. Thank you, very much!”

We head up to our room, switch the air conditioner on, and collapse on the bed.

I’m knackered, and I just feel like absolute……. You know……

We have a bit of a rest, and then force ourselves to go outside. Have to try and get something out of the day……

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The sights of Ho Chi Minh City.

We head off, with a slight plan. To go and see the area around Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao. But it’s mainly about Bui Vien, because that’s where we spent the very first two nights in Vietnam, on our last trip.

The first two nights we’d ever spent overseas.

And those first couple of days and nights left an indelible mark on my memory, and perhaps even my life.

It was sheer culture shock, and in all honesty, it actually scared me. But I now needed to go back for another look.

We’re on our way, and it doesn’t take long, before it begins.

“Cyclo ride?”, comes the call.

“No thank you”, I call back, with a smile that was more of a grimace.

“Motorbike taxi?”, comes the next one.

Yep, we’re back……

We eventually find Bui Vien.

Damn map…..

It looks different, which I kind of thought it would.

Eighteen months, coupled with, now around 40 day old Vietnam eyes, will do that.

So, how does it look different?

It looks bigger; brighter even. It also seems less intense. Less intimidating. It actually seems friendlier.

So, is it different? Has it changed?

Nup, it’s me that’s changed.

Having said all that, I’m still not a rap for it. It just doesn’t do it, for me.

We grab a couple of Cokes; it’s hot, real hot; and continue down the street. We find ‘our’ hotel from last time, and are a little surprised to see that it’s now known as another name.

Turning down a side street, we head up to Pham Ngu Lao and find a shop selling those aeroplane head / neck pillows. It’s something that we’d planned to buy at the end of our holiday; so we didn’t have to carry them around the whole time; as our flight back is through the night.

I ask the shopkeeper how much.

“100 000 dong’, she says.

Hmmm, okay.

“How much for two?”, I ask, going down the ‘buying in bulk’ path for a better price.

“200 000 dong”, she comes back with.

Well, this is going well….

“150 000?”, I counter offer.

“No. 180 000”, she says.

“Ummm, I’ll think about it”, I say, as we make to walk away.

This’ll get her, she won’t let us walk.

She lets us walk.

Well, that didn’t go as planned…..

We head off……, pillow-less.

Back up Pham Ngu Lao, in the general direction of our hotel, and I almost trip over a street vendor selling bottles of water.

This is extremely fortuitous, as it reminds me that we need more water. And not only are they cheap; 6000 dong for a large one; but they’re also in ice!

And just to top off the experience, she’s incredibly friendly! Which, for some reason, surprises me.

A smile, as well as a ‘cam on’, and we head off.

Time to tick off another thing from our list.

Ben Thanh market.

Yep, never got there last time.

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Ben Thanh Market

I’m not really expecting much, and to be honest, my desire to see it isn’t exactly huge, but it is something that I think I need to see. Kind of for research purposes, if you like.

As we get close, I notice how quiet it is, outside it. And no cyclos, which surprises me.

We get to one of the entrances and notice a guy standing there, who looks like a police officer. But something doesn’t look quite right. He’s a bit scruffy looking, and it just looks a bit wrong.

I think back to TripAdvisor, and the reports of the fake cop tormenting tourists. Hmmm, could it be…..?????

We walk past him, and I can now see what is embroidered on his shirt. ‘Tourist security’.

Ahhhh!, that’s a good sign!

We enter the market.

Oh………my……….God!!!!!!!!

The pressure from the vendors to buy something is instant. And it’s intense.

They’re like seagulls on a chip.

It’s aggressive, and it’s full on.

We walk around the outside perimeter, before venturing in towards the middle sections.

It doesn’t get any better.

I actually find it ugly. There is just nothing appealing about the place, as far as I’m concerned.

And apart from all of that, it’s ridiculously expensive. The prices of some of the things in there are three times the price of things elsewhere.

So yep, most definitely not a fan.

I look over at Lisa. She has the same look on her face, as when we were in the cloth market in Hanoi, the other day. She’s gone downhill a little; probably a combination of the heat, the early start, as well as the madness of this market; and wants to head back to the hotel.

That’s fine, I’ve seen as much as I want to, and I’m heading down the same hill, she is.

Back to the hotel, air conditioner on, collapse on the bed. It’s going to have to be a fairly short recovery session, though. We’re meeting up with Stefan and Mark in less than two hours.

And I’m really not sure how I’m going to do it.

I’m so pissed off.

Bit of a nap; which doesn’t really work; a shower to help freshen up; which works better than the nap; and we head off on foot to the Opera House.

We get there with no problem at all; this map thing is easy….; and wait for the boys.

We were here two weeks ago to the day, almost to the hour, actually, while we were waiting to meet up with XO tours.

Where did all that time go….???

Geez, I hate it when holidays are coming to an end…..

 

A few minutes later, Stefan pulls up in a taxi. It really is great to see him again.

But he’s alone. Apparently Mark is not well and won’t be able to make it tonight.

Must be awful when you get sick on holidays…… 🙂

We head off behind the Opera House in search of our bia hoi place from the week before last, and have no problem finding it.

And once again, there ain’t anyone else in there, that looks like us.

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No one that looks like us, and they seem more than happy for us to be a part of it.

Good, just the way I like it.

We settle in, and order what you order, when you’re in a bia hoi place.

And surprisingly, the first one goes down alright!

As does the second one. And the third. And the……..

Well, you get the picture.

Apart from Mark not being there, the afternoon was perfect. Drinking beer, chatting, about anything and everything, and just enjoying each other’s company.

Yep, with all things considered, it went far better than I could have imagined.

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Cheap beer, great company, good fun!

My second HAG (Hanoi Appreciation Group) meeting was most definitely a success.

As with all things that go into your body, at some point it needs to come out. No problem, Stefan pointed me in the direction of the establishment’s toilet.

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Yes, this is the toilet.  Not sure why Lisa was reluctant to use it…!

And while the toilet was certainly an experience in it’s own right, it was what greeted me on my return that will live with me for a very long time.

When I got back, there was a local sitting at our table with Stefan and Lisa.

He was getting on a little in age, and looked like he’d seen a fair bit in his lifetime. And there wasn’t much of him. ‘Little’, is a word that comes to mind.

And his English was as fluent as my Vietnamese.

While I would have loved to have been able to talk with him, to hear about his life, the fact that he came over to spend time with us was just priceless.

He seemed so genuinely pleased to be sitting with us, sharing a beer.

This wasn’t just another one of those little ‘moments’.

This was an incredibly ‘special’ one.

Several photos were taken; which he seemed as happy about, as we were; before he disappeared off into the night.

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Just a lovely guy.
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An incredibly special moment.
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He took a real shine to Lisa.

 

Yep, just such a memorable encounter.

Not long after, we also headed off, in search of dinner.

It’s this bit that gets a little hazy. Someone, who shall remain nameless, (Stefan) will say that it was I, who chose the restaurant.

If I did, then it was only because someone (Stefan), couldn’t make up his mind.

Anyway, regardless of who is to blame, (happy to pin it on Lisa to avoid any awkwardness….) we ended up at some overpriced restaurant, somewhere between the bia hoi place and the main part of District One.

And to make matters worse, the food wasn’t even that good.

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Stefan chose the best looking meal.  Unfortunately the taste didn’t live up to the appearance…

Not that food and I were getting along that well, anyway.

Dinner done, we headed back towards the backpacker area. Stefan and Lisa were after fruit smoothies; I was not yet done with beer.

While they did the fruit thing, I headed off in search of a Circle K convenience store.

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Impressive at night – the Peoples Committee Building.

Both parties successful in their endeavours, we returned to the 23/9 park on the Le Lai side, where we found a park bench.

Beer good, as too were the fruit smoothies, apparently, and it was nice to just sit and relax and watch the world go by.

As well as the rats.

Yep, there was the odd rat, or two.

But don’t worry, they’re not terribly big. There’s no way they’d be able to carry away a child over the age of ten.

Under ten, on the other hand……

But yeah, fascinating little creatures.

It was starting to get a little late, and I was now finding it more difficult to keep ‘going’. Well, I was still ‘going’, but it was now all downhill. Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye.

And that, was very, very difficult.

I hate ‘em at the best of times, but this was just that little bit harder.

I don’t care what others say about you, Stefan; as far as I’m concerned, you are a good bloke. 😉

Anyway, the ‘goodbye’ thing done, we headed back to the hotel.

Twenty four hours earlier, I had a wish that I wouldn’t wake up the next day feeling worse than I already was.

Well, that wish ended up being a waste of time.

No more wishes tonight; just didn’t see the point; but did have reasonable concerns about how I was going to get through tomorrow.

Sitting on planes, and in airports, for over 12 hours.

Actually, it was probably a little more than just, a concern.

It was more a fear…..
Cheers,

Scott

 

old-bloke-hcmc-drawing
He made such an impression on Lisa that she had to draw him.

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 16

Hanoi

Woke up.

Good start!

It’s always nice to wake up…..

Felt……, well…., good…..ish…..

Which surprised me.

But, then…….

Laying in bed, and my stomach starts gurgling.

“Sounds like a party is going on in your stomach!”, Lisa says, in a slightly upbeat way, that just……

Well, you know, it just…..

It certainly wasn’t a party that I wanted to be a part of……

Last full day. Last opportunity to do the pho over the road.

I just can’t do it. I really, really want to….., but I can’t.

I have to push myself, at the best of times, to eat in the morning. And to push myself to eat something that I wouldn’t normally eat in the morning, feeling the way I do, well, it just makes me feel worse.

I’m gutted. It was something I really wanted to do. It was even on a list that I’d written up.

I’m pissed off.

So, we head next door.

I can’t believe it; the balcony is free again. We must be sharing the hotel with idiots.

Then again, maybe it’s just me….

Once again, the breakfast selection is good. As it always is.

And I have fruit.

I can’t do anything else.

Yep, I’m pissed off.

So, ‘breakfast’ done, we head off.

Where? Nowhere, really.

Just some of that ‘aimless walking, getting lost’, thing.

Although we do have a slight plan. Lisa wants to find stationery street. She likes drawing and arty type stuff, and wants to see what she can get in Hanoi.

Great, more shopping……

So, we walk. And walk. And walk……

Which is still okay, because there’s plenty to look at. And we walk along streets that I don’t think we’ve walked along before.

But we just can’t find stationery street.

We find hardware street, invitation street, cooking utensils and stainless steel and aluminium street, bamboo street, and even door handle street.

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Stainless Steel Street?

But no stationery street.

Maybe it’s moved?

Which would probably mean it’s no longer stationary.

Hehehe, see what I did there?

Yeah, sorry…..

Anyway, we give up, for the time being, and head back to the hotel to get some money.

Apparently we still have some things to buy……

Oh well, if I have to go through more of that, then I’m going to make sure we include something that appeals to me, as well.

It’ll also mean ticking off another little thing on my list.

Egg coffee.

We’d had it last time, much to the initial shock of the intrepid explorer, but even she came around when she tried it.

Gee, amazing what can happen, when you at least, try something…..

So, back out the hotel, down to the lake, around to the other side, and up Lo Su, and then left into Nguyen Huu Huan. Which incidentally, is the street that Café Giang is in. Café Giang, being probably the most well known café that sells egg coffee.

But Café Giang, which we’d visited last time, was not our destination today. Instead, we were off to find Café Su, which we’d been told was also very good.

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Our egg coffee stop in 2014, but not this time.

Despite having the map at hand, as well as the address, we actually found it very easily.

Hmmm, might be starting to get good at this…..

Probably had more to do with luck, than anything.

So, café found, egg coffees ordered, seats taken outside, plenty of people around to watch; yep, apart from still feeling slightly less than ‘so so’, life was pretty good.

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People watching from the footpath.  Love it.

As were the coffees.

Think I prefer a good caphe sua da, but an egg coffee, once in a while, is nice for a change.

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When in Hanoi, you just have to try egg coffee.

Coffee done, we headed off up towards Long Bien bridge, before turning left and heading back into the Old Quarter.

We end up on Hang Giay street, which is kind of planned, because with the help of Google translate, I find out giay, apparently, means paper.

We could be in luck with our stationery thing.

We’re not. And we give up.

Which I’m actually not unhappy about, at all…..

Back down towards the lake, and on our way, we manage to tick off a purchase or two. Some things for the boy and girl; a bag and a shirt or something.

I don’t know, I’ve lost interest…..

Lighter in the wallet, we head back to the hotel to drop them off.

As we walk into the street, Hai is in his usual spot.

Ahhhh!, need to do that photo thing!

I make sure he’s going to be there for a while, and continue on to the hotel.

The thing that I want to show him is a Vietnamese phrase book.

He sold it to me – yes, sold it to me, rather than, I bought it from him; yes, there is a difference – 18 months ago.

I’d brought it back for two reasons. One, on the off chance that I got inspired to study some words and phrases, and two, if I could find my book seller, I wanted a to remedy that lost photo opportunity with it.

Seeing as ‘one’ never happened; and in all seriousness, was never going to happen; at least ‘two’ was now a definite.

We headed back up the street and had a bit of a chuckle while we did the photo thing.

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My book selling mate.

Finally, that regret, had now been solved!

Feeling pretty happy with life, we went off in search of lunch. Banh mi, once again, being the preferred option.

Steering clear of the pate, we headed up past beer corner. I wanted to see if our banh mi girl from Saturday was still there.

She is! And she’s almost as happy to see us, as we are to see her.

She quickly organises our little stools, and Lisa forces every muscle and joint in her body to help her get down that low. I don’t quite use every one of mine, but still a number of them, all the same.

While we’re sitting there, a little dog, who has obviously been inside for quite some time, comes along and decides to relieve himself just a metre, or so, away.

Not overly interesting, or unusual, in itself, but the amount of time he spent doing it, was.

I’m not sure of the anatomy of a small dog, or a large one for that matter, but judging by the puddle he left, I would say that his bladder would easily be the biggest organ in his body.

It certainly was impressive, and I’m sure I noticed a relieved and contented look on his face once he’d finished.

Another round of eating and people watching done, it was time to head back for a rest and recovery session.

Still surviving, but the fight is becoming really difficult.

On the way back, Lisa spots some bamboo bowls, and decides that she needs to reduce the amount of money I’m carrying.

Great…..

While she procrastinates over the colour, the size, and the shape, with the shop owner, I check out their range of Buddha’s.

I’d bought a few in Hoi An, the last time we were here, and for some reason, they just appeal to me.

Well, as soon as you pick something up in a souvenir shop, and the shop keeper sees you, you know the sale is all but made.

There’s now very little you can do, to get out of it.

I then make it worse by asking how much.

I’m sure I heard, ‘ka-ching!’, come from somewhere…..

I can’t remember how much she said, but it was a lot. And it was far more than I wanted to pay.

After all, I didn’t really need another one.

And now, I didn’t want to counter offer her, because my offer would have come across as insulting. And I didn’t want to do that.

But she wouldn’t let it go.

“You tell me?”, she says.

I really, really don’t want to. But she insists.

Finally, I come back with something like 100 000 dong. But I do it with a smile and a bit of a laugh.

A nervous sort of laugh.

She’s insulted. Or at least comes across as insulted.

But it doesn’t stop her.

Yep, I’m stuffed.

I’m about to buy a Buddha I don’t really want, and a Buddha I don’t really need.

And I’m going to pay far more for it, than I want to.

And yep, that’s exactly what happens. As it was always going to.

Oh well, at least it was a bit of fun.

And on the positive side, it gave me something to do while Lisa wasted far too much time choosing bloody bamboo bowls.

Seriously, how hard can it be!?

And the recipient of the bowls won’t really appreciate it anyway.

I keep telling her, she has a far better mother in law than I do……

Richer, but also poorer, for the experience, we head back to the hotel.

The rest and recovery session?

It don’t work. I feel crap.

After an hour or two, I decide if I’m going to feel like this, then I may as well be outside enjoying this amazing city, rather than laying on the bed staring at the ceiling.

So, bugger it. It’s caphe sua da, time.

We head out again, and end up at the café that had all it’s chairs and tables confiscated by the police, the other day.

The thinking being, that we’ll help them buy some new ones.

Yes, very noble of us. 🙂

And our nobility is rewarded. Caphe sua da very good; people watching, as usual, also very good.

In particular, the tourists going past in cyclos.

Yep, that, bored, slightly embarrassed look, is worth keeping an eye out for.

Finally, it gets to that time. That last walk up to beer corner.

On the way back to the hotel to drop Lisa off, I check out the exchange rate at a local tour office.

My app says the rate is around 16 000 dong to 1 AUD.

They offer me 15 000.

“Thank you for your generous offer, but you can go and get…..”, I want to say, but don’t.

Lisa dropped off, I try another agent on the way.

Low 15 000’s.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Tried a third one. Same result.

I’ll hang on to my Aussie dollars, thank you very much!

Thieving…….. money exchange people……

Finally get to beer corner, and I’ve given up on finding my ‘perfect’ bia hoi place.

Yep, plastic cups, once again.

It’s my last night, and there’s no point trying to change things now.

While the whole beer corner thing hadn’t quite lived up to expectations, and memories, it was still more than, ‘just good’.

I still wondered though, whether it had changed, or whether it was I, that had changed.

I’m still not sure, but I do have my suspicions.

Eventually, it was time to bid farewell, and I headed back to do a final balcony session.

Geez, I really, really hate these ‘last’ times…..

On the way back, I passed another agent advertising money exchange on their window.

I kept walking, but then stopped, and doubled back.

One more try.

And this time, 15 800!

Deal!!!!

In the whole scheme of things, it was only a handful of dollars’ difference. But it was the principle of the matter.

Couple of notes converted to lots of notes, and my wallet is now under more pressure than someone confronting the taxi scrum at HCMC airport for the first time.

But I’m happy!

And now, back on the balcony, I’m even more happy.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve said it before, but geez, I just love it up there.

Unfortunately, the time to do the dinner thing arrives, and once again, we choose to go somewhere that we know.

I just can’t get adventurous; just can’t bring myself to try something different. As much as I would like to…..

So, dinner at our ‘last place’, again.

Kind of seems fitting, anyway.

Interestingly, we meet a couple who had only arrived the night before. Interestingly, because the same thing happened on our last night in 2014, at this very same restaurant. They, back then, had this shocked look on their faces. They were finding that Hanoi was just a bit too much for them.

I gave them some tips, as well as some encouragement, and they seemed very appreciative of that.

This time, the couple sharing our table, had a similar look on their faces, to our friends from last time.

I struck up a conversation. Or tried to.

They, like quite a few other tourists we’d come across this time, just weren’t interested.

I gave up pretty quickly.

Hopefully they get to spend a few quality minutes with a shoe repair guy, or a fruit selling lady, in the next few days…..

Dinner done, we head back to the hotel for the final time.

Goodbye beer street, goodbye beer corner, goodbye underwear lane.

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Well, it’s Underwear Lane to me…

Hate that last walk……

Up the lift for the final time, and onto the bed for the beers and TripAdvisor thing.

We have a very early start tomorrow, to get to the airport for our 7.00am flight to HCMC.

The alarm is set for 4.30am.

Wonderful……

But the one saving grace, is that we’re meeting up with Stefan, and Mark from Sydney tomorrow.

And that, is one thing I’ve really been looking forward to.

My big problem, still, is how I’m feeling. I’m not good.

And while I hold out little hope of coming good in the morning, I do have one wish.

And that is to not feel worse than I do, now.

I’ve been getting by, but it’s wearing me down.

Hopefully I’m no worse, tomorrow.

Hopefully……..

Cheers,

Scott

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Hard work, long day.  Much harder than it looks.

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 15

Hanoi

Well, the ‘coming good’, didn’t happen.

The night’s sleep, unfortunately, didn’t really include a great deal of it.

And now, in the cold hard light of day, the hope that it was a 24 hour thing, had gone down the toilet.

Which is kind of ironic, seeing as where I spent a bit of time last night…..

So, the beginning of our last two full days in Hanoi.

Only two more opportunities to have pho over the road with the locals.

Can’t do it……

I just can’t stomach the thought of a hot bowl of noodle soup. And I know I wouldn’t be able to eat it all anyway, and that would just make me feel worse.

So, it’ll have to be breakfast on the balcony again, next door.

Not that that’s a bad thing….

We head over, and, sure enough, there’s room outside.

What’s wrong with these people??????

We take our spots, and then head up to fill our plates.

As usual, the food looks good. But I know I just won’t be able to eat it.

I settle for fruit; pineapple and watermelon.

Good fruit, and I’m not unhappy about eating that, but I was hoping for something a little more….., ummm….., less fruity.

It’s not to be…..

Breakfast done, and feeling slightly better now that I’m on the move, we head up to Dong Xuan market.

 

It’s shopping day. Unfortunately……

Been putting it off for a while, but time is running out, and don’t want to be mucking around with it on our last day here.

But geez, I hate shopping……

We walk around the market. Just looking, apparently.

If only we had a plan. An idea of what we’re looking for. And for whom.

But no, planning is a male thing, and shopping is a female thing.

It’s never going to work….

Being a wholesale market, not all the vendors are keen to sell you stuff. But a lot are.

If you find something that interests you, pick it up and take a closer look. If the stall holder doesn’t acknowledge you, move on to another one. You’ll soon find one that will happily make a sale.

It doesn’t take long before I spot something that I’ve been meaning to buy.

And I’ve only been meaning to buy it since October 2014. Yep, another one of my little regrets about to be rectified.

Phins! Vietnamese coffee filters.

And I can’t not get them now, seeing as we bought coffee yesterday with our Hanoi Kids.

A friendly smile from the female vendor, and I know I’m in.

Now the decision between the large, or the small, phin.

Pfffft, when is small ever better?????

Large it is, now for some friendly bargaining.

We make a deal, and have some fun in the process. The best way to do business.

She also sells those coconut bowls, coasters, along with all the other souvenir bits and pieces that you see out on the streets.

To help her, with more sales, and to help me, with less stops at various other stalls, we take the opportunity to tick a few more purchases off.

Win, win, hey? 😉

First lot of buying done, we head off to look for….., well, we’re not really sure what we’re looking for. Which is a bit of a problem.

And is one of the reasons I hate shopping so much…..

As we’re wondering aimlessly around the market, I notice a young boy; maybe ten years old?; looking at me.

He has this great big smile on his face, and while I’m not really in the mood to be smiling; mainly because I’m shopping; I give him a big smile back, as well as a wave.

His smiling face is now beaming.

Just another nice ‘little’ moment.

But it made me think about that. The fact that I seemed to be experiencing these ‘little’ moments, less and less.

Maybe it was as it had always been in Hanoi. Maybe I was just noticing it more, now?

Perhaps it was because I had just been spoilt after Quy Nhon and Pu Luong???

Hmmm, not sure, but it was certainly making me think…..

Shopping done; or as much as we could decide on what to buy; we headed back outside and made our way back towards the lake. But in a round about sort of way.

That aimless type walking thing….

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Caphe Sua Da combined with history – the Old Quarter Gate.

We stumbled across the Old Quarter Gate again, and seeing as there was a little café opposite it, and seeing as we were yet to have a caphe sua da today, well, it was obviously just meant to be.

So we did.

And once again, it was good. As was the people watching.

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You don’t have to be doing something, to actually do something, in Hanoi.

 

Suitably rested and refreshed, we headed on.

Next stop was another coffee place, we just happened to stumble across. Not a ‘coffee drink’ place; although I think you could actually get a coffee there; but a ‘sell you packets of coffee’, place.

Seeing as we now have phins; perfect!

I even got to sniff the various varieties before deciding which one.

End result – two lots of 200 gram bags for 100 000 dong.

I don’t know if that’s good, but it was about half what I paid yesterday.

So even if it wasn’t that good, it was certainly ‘gooder’ than yesterday.

With the smell of coffee in our bag, we walked on, eventually reaching ‘shoe’ street.

For some reason we rarely end up in shoe street, but it’s a street that I really like. Even if you have no intention of buying shoes, it’s worth a look.

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The colours of Shoe Street.

We then come across a lady selling hats and caps. Which was rather fortuitous, as I needed a new cap, and one for the boy back home as a present, wasn’t a bad idea either.

Dusted off the bargaining skills; hadn’t really done much this trip; and had a bit of fun with the lady in the process.

Make sure you always do it with a smile. Always.

We head back towards the hotel, and turn into our street.

“Morning, Hai!”, I say, thinking that sounds pretty good. But also remembering that I’m running out of time to get that photo, as well as show him what I need to.

Up to our room for a rest, but we’re back too early for the room cleaners.

They’re very apologetic, which they should never have to be.

That’s okay, we’ll come back later.

Out the hotel, and off down the street. The opposite way we normally go, though.

What to do, what to do…..

Hey, it’s been just over an hour since our last caphe sua da! Let’s do that.

And around the second corner, we find our place.

Plastic stools on the footpath, along with a few locals. Perfect!

We take a seat, and the guy comes out to take our order.

“Two caphe sua da’s, please”, I say.

I get a blank look.

Puzzled, I try again, this time holding up two fingers.

He doesn’t understand.

I’ve been here almost two weeks, and this now worries me. Have I been doing this wrong the whole time?

“Caphe sua da”, this time pointing at the menu.

“Ahhh, okay”, he says, and he disappears to fill our order.

Hmmm, that was much harder than it should have been…..

We sit there and do two of my three favourite things that I like to do in Hanoi; (replacing coffee with beer is the third, just in case you’re wondering….) sipping and watching.

A shoe shine guy comes along and asks the local guy next to us if he’d like his shoes polished.

He does!

Which surprises me. Not sure why, but it just does.

But gee I’m glad he did. The effort and intensity, as well as the care he took, really impressed me. It was really interesting watching him do his thing.

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His pride in his work is impressive!

He spent a good 10 minutes working on them, before he was happy enough to hand them back.

I’m not 100% sure what he charged him, but it looked like a 10 000 dong note was handed over.

And interestingly, well, I thought it was interesting, it was the guy with the now polished shoes’ mate, who paid!

So yeah, not only did it seem ridiculously cheap, but he also got out of paying.

Wish I had friends like that…..

I think even the little brown poodle, sitting on one of the plastic stools, was impressed with how hard shoe shine guy worked.

And yep, the dog was sitting on the stool…..

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Told you…

Full of coffee, as well as new images and memories, we headed back to the hotel for that ‘rest’ thing.

The timing wasn’t too bad, either. Those ominous looking dark clouds had finally come through with their threat.

Rest done, but not really feeling much better, we headed out for our afternoon excursion.

Destination? The Women’s Museum.

I’d actually heard good things about it, but yeah, hmmm………

In the end, I only agreed to go because Lisa promised me that we could go to the Men’s Museum afterwards.

I hadn’t actually heard anything about the Men’s one before, but it seemed like a fair deal…..

It had been raining on and off, so we grabbed an umbrella from downstairs and headed out. First stop, something for lunch, and as usual, banh mi was at the top of the list.

But without pate, today….

We’d noticed a banh mi stall; more like a hole in the wall; opposite the café we’d been at earlier. And seeing as it was kind of on the way, we went there.

Pate-less banh mi ordered, and devoured, we then made our way to the museum.

The decision to bring the umbrella along proved to be a very good one, as at times, it was really coming down.

Finally into the Women’s Museum, and yep, it’s mainly about women.

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Still looking for the Men’s Museum…

But it is interesting.

But parts of it are also quite sad.

Thought provoking, too.

It does give you a bit more of an understanding about what women; not all women; in Vietnam need to do. And what they need to go through, in order to, well, survive.

I kind of knew that they had a pretty hard life, but I didn’t fully appreciate the hardships that some had to deal with.

Men also got a mention. But only occasionally……

Their mention came mainly as the groom, and what was required of him around the time of the wedding.

Hmmm, seems being an Aussie bloke isn’t actually that bad…..

As we made our way up the building, my degree of feeling crap also rose. Having to read all those information cards probably wasn’t helping, but seriously, it was becoming quite difficult.

Towards the end of our visit, I looked out the window to see that it was pelting down outside.

Hmmm, I thought, what sort of stuff would you do in Hanoi when it’s coming down cats and dogs?

I’d never thought about that before, as we’d never experienced rain here.

It was then that I realised that we were doing exactly what you would do, if it was raining.

Hmmm, that worked out well!!!, I thought.

But also feeling slightly dumb at the same time…..

Finally, knowing everything you can possibly know about Vietnamese women, we headed out into a very wet Hanoi.

Back to the hotel, for another rest, as well as some paracetamol.

Kind of works, but after a while it’s that time of the day again.

But because it’s too wet to sit on plastic seats, and drink beer out of plastic cups, it will have to be the balcony.

Geez, and I’m really spewing about that…..

I head off, leaving Lisa to do her thing, and as soon as I get outside a forgotten thought pops into my head.

The car transfer to the airport that we require the day after tomorrow.

And rather than ask our hotel to arrange it for us, I decide that as we’re now Vietnam veterans, I’m going to organise it myself.

So yep, out the hotel door, walk across the street, veering slightly left, and into the Hanoi Transfer Service office.

Gee, I’m like an old pro, what, with being able to spend all that time hunting down what I was looking for…..

Our flight to HCMC is at 7.00am, so the young, incredibly friendly, girl, suggests a pick up at 5.00am.

Geez, who booked the bloody 7.00am flight……???

Anyway, while she’s filling out the paperwork, I notice a plate she has with some kind of fruit cut up on it.

It’s plum, apparently, and she offers me some.

But you don’t just eat it like that.

“No?”, I respond.

“No, you dip it in the salt, first”, she says, kind of in a way, that that is something I should know.

I’d seen, and tried, the salt and fruit thing once or twice in Vietnam, before.

I didn’t really get it then, and I still don’t, but hey, when in Rome…..

So, transfer organised, for the total sum of $12 USD, which when converted, (obviously in their favour) came to 260 000 dong.

Just pointing that last bit out, just in case anyone might be thinking that I would be paying for anything over there, in a currency other than dong.

Job done, I headed back across the road and up the stairs to my balcony.

While the beer is good, I do have to work a little harder to get it down. But that’s okay, I’m pretty good at what I do, and I’m more than happy to work through it.

The view down below, while not as busy as it normally is, due to the rain, is still more than interesting enough.

The interaction with the two English business men, sitting a couple of stools from me, is, well, just typical of the vast majority of interactions I’ve had with other ‘tourists’ over the last few days.

I don’t know, perhaps just a bit too difficult to be friendly???

Left to entertain myself, I continued to soak up ‘my’ street, from ‘my’ balcony.

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May not be elegant, but it’s effective!

Apart from feeling ordinary, I was still more than happy.

I’ve said it before; I love it up there.

Back to the room to get ready for dinner, but to also make a decision on where that dinner will be. Which was more difficult than it should be. This thing that I have, just makes me struggle with food. Both eating it, as well as thinking about eating it.

It kind of just turns me off wanting to eat.

In the end, we decide to return to our BBQ place.

Two reasons; it’s good food, and it’s safe. Safe, in the way that I know what it is. Which at the moment, is what I need.

We head on up towards beer corner, and around to Ma May street. It has a really different feel tonight. In fact, all of the streets have a different feel.

It’s much, much quieter, because of how wet it is. It’s strange, and it just doesn’t have it’s usual vibrancy. Interesting to see, but I’m not sure I’d want to see it like this, too often.

We get to the BBQ place and have no problem getting a table. But this time, because of the rain, it has to be inside.

Oh well…..

Once again, the food is good, and while it is quieter than usual, it still has a fair bit of atmosphere about it.

We ask our waiter to take a photo of us, and it’s just as well he’s good at his waiting job. At some point, hopefully, we will manage to achieve a clear photo at this restaurant.

Hopefully……

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Just the usual blurry photo…

Dinner done, we head off back to the hotel.

Well, that was the plan.

Not really concentrating, we end up on a street we weren’t supposed to be on.

Don’t ask me how; I have no idea.

I’ll just blame Lisa……

We keep walking, not at all worried, but just waiting to come across something we recognise.

And then we see it.

The Old Quarter Gate.

Really!!!!????

Geez, how long have we been here, now!?

I can’t even blame the bloody map…..

We get ourselves back on track, and head off in the direction of the lake.

It actually works out okay in the end, because Lisa finds a shop that looks like it sells something that she needs.

But that’s her story…..

Finally back to the hotel, for the beer on the bed thing, as well as a little TripAdvisor.

And all to the sounds of a pretty impressive storm happening outside. A storm that I tried to photograph; but failed at, rather dismally, I might add.

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I tried…

But yes, unlike my photos, it was pretty impressive.

Eventually off to sleep, to the sound of torrential rain; which was nice; and knowing all too well that tomorrow was our last full day in Hanoi; which was not nice.

Damn you!, goodbyes and last days…..
Cheers,

Scott

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 14

Hanoi

Up reasonably early, and feeling reasonably okay. But not great.

I consider the possibility of sitting over the road with a bowl of pho, but feeling just a little so so, I decide I need something a little more substantial. Less liquid-y, I guess.

Maybe tomorrow……

So anyway, back to the routine of breakfast on the balcony next door, it is.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably keep saying it, it just never gets boring.

Watching Hanoi, and Hanoians, begin the day. I never tire of it.

Sitting, watching, learning, appreciating.

So simple, so interesting, and oh so much fun.

Breakfast done, which didn’t make me any better, but also didn’t make me any worse, we head back to the hotel to get ready for our ‘tour’.

And interestingly, we didn’t know what the tour would be of. But it didn’t matter, because the tour is secondary to what I think it’s all about.

Back downstairs by 9.00am, and a few minutes later our tour guides turn up.

Tino and Thuy from Hanoi Kids.

We sit in the foyer for a few minutes and just chat a little. They seem like really lovely girls and they’re incredibly friendly.

They ask where we’d like to go.

We don’t really care. Like I said, it’s more about the interaction with a couple of locals, than the tour itself.

They suggest the Temple of Literature, and while it’s not something that overly appeals to me; I probably have it in the same basket as pagodas and temples; we decide that would be good.

It’s a bit grey and murky out there, so we grab an umbrella from the hotel, and jump in a taxi.

A few minutes later and we’re out the front of the Temple of Literature.

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Entrance to the Temple of Literature.

Hmmm, it’s old looking, and very Vietnamese looking. Which is probably not too different to what I thought it would look like.

It also looks fairly temple-ish, which is probably not surprising, seeing as what it’s called…..

Lisa seems to like this sort of stuff, and as soon as we walk through the entrance she wants me to take photos. Which would be fine, but I forgot the camera. Idiot…..

Fortunately, I have my phone, so mobile phone photos will have to do.

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Lake at the Temple.

Anyway, it’s interesting, and the girls explain a lot about it’s history, as well as the meaning behind a lot of the various statues and artefacts.

It really is a place that I think you need a guide if you visit. Walking around by yourself, you just wouldn’t understand the significance, or the meaning, of the things that you were looking at.

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A tour group!  On a very small scale…

Temple of Literature done, we headed off.

But rather than get a taxi back to the Old Quarter, we decided to walk.

We’d mentioned to the girls earlier that we’d like to be shown a bit of the Old Quarter that we may not necessarily had seen, so we just walked.

I had no idea where we actually were, and I didn’t have a map, which was probably fortunate for everyone involved.

The girls however, knew exactly how to get back.

And it was a really enjoyable walk. Yes, taking in the sights, but more importantly, just talking to them about their lives.

And they were as interested in us, as we were in them.

Although, at times, it was difficult to explain about things that were either specific to Australia, or just not familiar to Vietnam.

Australian Rules Football was one, and cricket was the other one. I’d tried to explain cricket before in Vietnam. It was in Hue in 2014, when we got talking to a young girl that worked in a restaurant there.

I didn’t do a very good job of it then, and let’s just say that I hadn’t improved any…..

In the end I resorted to Google.

We also talked about the streets of Hanoi, and what the traditional product was that was sold in several of them.

I then asked a question that I’d often thought about, but had never actually got around to asking someone.

Many of the streets in Hanoi begin with the word, ‘Hang’.

As in Hang Hanh, Hang Bac, Hang Bo, Hang Gai, etc.

“What does the ‘Hang’ bit, mean?”, I asked.

“Street”, was the reply.

Ohhhhh……..

Youuuu, idiot……, I thought, shaking my head……

So, dumb question out of the way, we headed on down towards Hoan Kiem Lake.

We soon ended up on Ma May street; or is Ma May Hang? 🙂 ; and the girls took us to the ‘Traditional House’.

It’s a traditional house of Hanoi, and it’s been restored to how it would have been when it was built at the end of the 19th century.

It was quite interesting, and if you’re in the area and have a few minutes, it’s worth a look. I can’t remember how much it cost to get in, but it would have only been a dollar or two.

After the house we walk a few more streets, before heading down towards the lake.

We’d mentioned that we were planning on buying a couple of phins (coffee filters), and that we’d also want to buy some coffee. The girls then took us to a rather large café / coffee selling place over the other side of the lake, near the water puppet theatre.

Not exactly the type of place I had in mind, but, oh well, it’ll do.

Suspecting I’d paid a little more; rather, hoping it was only a ‘little’ more; for some coffee, we headed off to find some coffee that was already mixed with water in the cup.

On we walked; still feeling so so, but managing; and eventually we turned into the street where St Joseph’s cathedral is.

The girls chose a café that was on the corner, opposite the cathedral. I can’t remember it’s name, but it has a bit of an army type feel to it. I suspect it has a bit of a name amongst the locals; particularly the younger ones.

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Our Hanoi Kids guides – Thuy and Tino.

It was at this point that I realised that what I was looking for, wasn’t actually what the younger generation of locals was looking for.

I was looking for authentic, basic, perhaps rustic?, experiences. Street food, street coffee places, type of things.

They, on the other hand, were looking for more upmarket, ‘image-y’, type places. Which, of course, there was nothing wrong with.

And really, they are no different to the vast majority of the younger people in Australia.

Geez, I’m sounding old…… 😦

But, it just goes to show that Vietnam is changing.

Anyway……., when you’re sitting in a café, you need to order a drink.

And yep, no prizes for guessing; caphe sua da! But this time, with coconut milk.

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Tasted as good as it looked!

Any good?

Yep! As I knew it would be.

Coffee, completely and utterly enjoyed, but conversation with two strangers; enjoyed even more. It was a lovely way to finish our tour with them. Tino and Thuy, really were incredibly friendly, young girls.

Our tour done, they walked us back to the hotel. Even though we’d only known them for three hours, it was still difficult to say goodbye. And you know how much I love goodbyes…..

We headed upstairs for our usual rest and recovery session. And I really needed this one, today.

I was really starting to feel a little ordinary.

Rest and recovery done, but not terribly successfully, we went off in search of lunch.

Up the street and past Hai in his usual spot, and we headed back to yesterday’s banh mi shop.

With the usual pointing we ordered a pork banh mi.

We then headed back to Hoan Kiem Lake and found a bench seat at the northern end, where we could sit and eat. As well as people watch.

Perfect?

Well, almost…..

Feeling average wasn’t helping, and the fact that the girl had put pate on the banh mi was also contributing.

Now, normally, I don’t mind pate, but today it just wasn’t helping.

Lisa, not being a friend of pate; ever; was being impacted as well.

So yeah, just a little short of ‘perfect’.

Banh mi finished; Lisa’s almost finished; we headed off around the lake towards the southern end.

As we passed a café on the other side of the road to our right, we noticed a bit of a commotion.

It took a minute to work out what was going on.

Ahhhh, it was the police doing their thing.

Dealing with that heinous crime of shop keepers having tables and chairs on the footpath for their customers.

That crime which is so rare in Hanoi, that you hardly see any shop have the audacity to clutter up the area in front of their establishment.

And how do the police deal with such flagrant behavior?

They pick up anything, and everything, that is on the footpath belonging to the shop, and throw it all in the back of their truck. Tables, chairs, fans; whatever is there.

While they’re doing this, the shop owners are frantically moving as much of their stuff back into their shop to avoid it being confiscated.

It’s kind of humorous to watch, but I also find it sad.

And in my eyes, kind of pointless.

We continue our walk south, now past the lake, and headed down Hang Bai.

Our mission; well, probably more my mission – I was just dragging the intrepid explorer along for the ride, who incidentally was struggling with her health as well, by now – was to have a look at Hom market.

Which I’ve just realised, now looking at the map, was quite a walk away.

To placate her somewhat, we stopped at a small street side vendor and bought a couple of cold drinks. The thinking being that that should take her mind off things for a little while.

The drinks were actually very much required, as even though it was quite overcast, it was still very warm and humid.

Yep, it just slowly, and sometimes quickly, just eats away at you. Grinds you down…..

Anyway, we continue on, past nothing much in particular, apart from normal everyday Hanoi street life. Which as I’ve said, is more than interesting in itself.

Finally, we reach the market and cross the road to go inside.

We walk in the main entrance, and continue straight. Up ahead is the fresh food part; the various meats and vegetables. It’s around 2.30pm, so all the major activity is over. This makes it easier to walk around, but without the hustle and bustle, it is a little lackluster. But it’s still good, as markets always are.

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Bit quiet, but still good.

We head back from where we’d come, and turn left into the main building. On this floor there is more fruits and vegetables, but upstairs is the cloth section, for which this market is probably more known for.

As ‘upstairs’ requires actually walking up some stairs, the intrepid explorer declines the opportunity to take a look.

I think the cold drink is beginning to wear off……

Oh well, I’ll head up on my own.

And yep, there’s cloth.

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Stacks.  Literally.

Heaps of cloth…..

And there’s just enough room to move between the stacked piles.

Well, if you’re a small Vietnamese person, there is….

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A-maze-ing cloth…

I squeeze my way through, and around, and at one point I come to five or six girls who look like they’re in the process of buying and selling.

I ain’t getting through.

This now worries me a little. I need to go back the way I came, but the way I came was like a maze, and I didn’t have the foresight to bring a pocket full of rice.

Slightly disorientated, I kind of guess my way back to the stairs.

For the first time in my life, I actually guess right.

Down the stairs I go, and there’s Lisa waiting for me.

Uh oh……., she’s not looking the best.

Another drink is not going to remedy this.

Not sure even chocolate could help……

“You okay?”, I ask, already well and truly knowing the answer.

“No, I feel like I might be sick”, she says, with that kind of look that tells me she’s pissed off with me.

She’s actually quite good at that look…..

We make our way towards the exit. Rather briskly. But not really together.

My thinking being, that if this goes bad, I don’t really want to be in close proximity.

She gets to the exit first, so I take the opportunity to take one last photo.

This gives me both a good photo, as well as a little more distance.

We begin our walk back to the hotel. She still looks a little green, but eventually the fresh air, of 34°C and 95% humidity, starts to work it’s wonders.

She’s still not feeling that good, but at least I’m reasonably confident now of not seeing her pork banh mi with pate, again.

We eventually get to the lake, and seeing as we have to walk past the ANZ bank, I decide to stock up on dong.

Now, the important bit. Perhaps the only important, travel related tip in this whole Trip Report. If not all of the reports……

5 000 000 dong is what I was able to withdraw from the ANZ bank next to Hoan Kiem Lake.

And the fee was 40 000 dong.

So there you go, after however many trip reports, there’s something that’s actually relevant.

Wallet bulging, eyes darting (and that’s the problem when you’re able to withdraw large amounts), we head back to the hotel for our second rest and recovery session of the day.

And it’s something I could really do with it. I’m knackered.

And the intrepid explorer is, too.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. I just can’t sleep, even though I give it a good two to three minutes, or so.

I give up, and decide that beer may be my answer.

Leaving Lisa to do her thing on her own, I head up towards beer corner.

Through underwear lane and out onto what will become beer street. Up to the corner itself, and I stop myself from going direct to my usual ‘plastic cup place’.

I turn right to see if our place from last night, with the little kid, is open.

It’s not…..

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Yes, we sat where those red stools are, on the roof, while having dinner last night.  Looks… different… in daylight…! 

Around the block, and I soon have a plastic cup in my hand.

Sigh…….

A couple of beers there, and while it’s not making it worse, it’s not really making it better.

Craving beer in a glass, and a better view in front of me, I head back to my balcony.

I see Hai on the way, and fortunately manage to greet him without actually saying, ‘Hi’.

Stopping for a brief chat, I tell him that I have something I want to show him in the next day or two.

I then realise it has to be in the next two days, as that is all we have left in Hanoi.

Live the moment. Live the moment……

Back up on the balcony, and I feel a little more at home.

The beer is going down, well……, not too bad.

The scene below me, well……., that’s always good.

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It doesn’t matter how it’s stuck to the bike; it just needs to be stuck…

The combination kind of works, but it’s still harder than it should be.

I’m not going to let it beat me, though.

I head back to the room and we get ready for dinner.

I find it a bit of a struggle to decide what I feel like eating. I need to eat, and I kind of want to eat, but I don’t know what I want.

Although I do know that I don’t want anything too ‘out there’.

We decide to return to New Day restaurant, where we went with Stefan on Friday night.

Once again the food is good, but it’s just not doing it for me.

I soldier on though, like the trouper I am….. 🙂

Dinner done, we head back to the hotel for beers on the bed, as well as some TripAdvisor updating.

The updating goes well. The beers do not.

That wall is particularly hard, and I hurt. Aches, pains…..

There really is no point flogging a dead horse.

I pull the pin for the night; hoping, really, really hoping, I come good in the morning.

Cheers,

Scott

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 13

 

Hanoi

No real sleep in today, but not up that early, either.

That plan for the day?

Ticking off another thing from my list. Well, a couple of things, actually.

West Lake and Truc Bach Lake. As well as that downed B52 bomber in another lake.

But first, breakfast on our balcony. Which, strangely, after three nights in Hanoi, was the first time we’d had breakfast there this trip.

Downstairs, out the door, into the building next door, and up the stairs.

Perfect! A couple of empty stools out on the balcony.

In all our times here, we’ve never once sat inside to eat breakfast. We’ve always been out on the balcony. I absolutely love it, and I don’t really understand why people actually choose to sit inside.

Watching the world go by, down below, at any time of the day, is always good fun. But watching it in the morning is just that much more entertaining.

Food and ice being delivered, by both bicycle and motorbike, shop keepers opening up and the little old lady, who was also there in 2014, setting up her street stall over the road from the hotel.

But the best bit?

The two women directly opposite, who do an absolutely roaring trade selling pho. And they do it all in the narrowest of alleys. A steady stream of customers come each morning and sit at a couple of small plastic tables on the footpath. I just love watching it.

And it was exactly the same last time we were here.

It was also another thing that was on my list. To give up our free breakfast one morning and to sit over the road with the locals and enjoy some pho.

We still had a few mornings left, so that was most definitely a plan.

Breakfast and people watching done, we begin our walk up towards the lakes.

I have the map, and I know roughly where the B52 is. Or I think I do…..

I also know there are two certainties on this expedition.

One, the reading of the map, at some point, will not go well. And two, the intrepid explorer, also at some point, will get to a stage where she will not be happy.

Up past Dong Xuan market, and then on to the large concrete and rock water tank. We then head west and happen upon the old North Gate.

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Water tower.
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The old North Gate. Top and bottom left you can see where the wall suffered cannonball damage.

Again, I just love it when we find stuff we aren’t actually looking for.

Not long after the North Gate, I suggest we head south, down some side streets to see if we can find our B52. Remember, I think I know roughly where it is.

We don’t find it, but we do find the Mausoleum. Again, we weren’t really looking for it, but seeing as it found us, we decide to walk over to it to take a few photos.

There’s a lot of police around, as well as barricades set up in different areas. Not so much around the Mausoleum, but just in the area. Barack Obama’s visit seems to have them on edge, a little.

We make our way towards the Mausoleum and go to walk across the grassed area.

This prompts some yelling from behind us.

It’s one of the policemen, and the yelling is directed at us.

Okay, obviously not allowed to walk on the grass….

We then go to walk on the path.

Same response.

Okay, not really sure where we’re allowed to go now.

He motions to us and points at probably the furthest area away from where we are.

It seems we have to walk all the way around to the far corner of the square, to enter.

I’m not really sure why, because I don’t see why it makes any difference.

If you’ve been up to the Mausoleum before, you’ll understand how big the area is. And it’s why we give up on the idea and decide to continue towards West Lake.

Finally, we get there, and find our way on to the road that runs between West Lake and Truc Bach Lake.

I knew West Lake was big, but I’m not sure I knew it would be this big. It’s massive.

But I also find it fairly unimpressive.

I’m not sure if the day was having an impact on it; it was overcast and fairly hazy; but it was just a pretty ordinary looking lake. The colour of the water and the rubbish on the edges, wasn’t helping either.

And the tacky swan shaped paddle boats, well……., if swan shaped boats can’t improve it, then nothing can…..

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A trip to West Lake is not complete until you’ve been on a swan boat.  But not for me…!

I wasn’t actually expecting much from West Lake, and unfortunately, it duly delivered.

But that’s okay, if you don’t go have a look, you’ll never know.

We got to the end of the road and headed right, around Truc Bach Lake. This lake was much smaller and had a bit more of a nicer feel about it. Although the colour of the water, as well as some pretty dubious looking patches floating through it, wasn’t overly appealing.

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Not sure I’d swim in it…

Past some chickens foraging on the footpath next to a pretty busy road; yep, expect the unexpected….; as well as some girls in ao dai’s posing for photos.

And again, that contrast that is so familiar in Vietnam.

Large, expensive looking, hotels sitting behind small run down houses.

Chalk and cheese…..

We eventually get to the entrance of Ngu Xa Island and walk across the bridge.

It feels like a bit of an oasis. Just has a different feel to it. Bit quieter; calmer, perhaps?

We stay on the same road and end up coming out on the banks of the lake.

There are people sitting on the usual plastic chairs under the trees beside the lake. Ahhh, it’s a café!

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Truc Bach Lake from Ngu Xa Island.

Before I even come up with the idea of a drink and a rest, the owner spots us and motions for us to take a seat.

Brilliant idea! And no prizes for guessing our choice of drink.

Yep, caphe sua da!

And I needed both those things; the coffee and the rest.

We’d only been going about an hour, but I was starting to struggle. That occasional feeling of not being quite right over the last few days, was becoming more noticeable.

It wasn’t stopping me from doing things, but it was starting to slow me down.

Energy levels, kind of, restored, we headed off. This time we left the island by the south road, and continued south.

Then that finding stuff, without actually looking for stuff, happened again.

A market.

A very much, wet market.

And very local.

That was one of the things that I liked up here; the lack of tourists.

So, the market.

Yep, very local, and very real.

And maybe a little, ‘too’, real, for some.

Especially the frog stall.

A guy, and a girl, ‘processing’ frogs. And a lot of frogs.

For the squeamish, you may want to look away…..

The guy would remove their heads, as well as their little feet.

A small pile of frog heads, sitting next to a large pile of headless frogs.

Unfortunately, for some of the headless ones, it would appear that it is quite possible to remain alive without a fair amount of your head.

The fact that some of them were still gasping for air sort of proved that.

It was then the girls turn to finish the ‘processing’.

A small incision enabled the removal of all of the important stuff that is inside a frog. That then, well and truly, ended any air gasping.

This was then followed by another incision which allowed the frogs clothes to be removed.

In one piece, I might add.

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Gruesome but fascinating…!

The speed at which this was all done, was amazing.

It was rather a brutal scene, but at the same time, I found it absolutely fascinating.

The rest of the market was just as fascinating and we spent a few minutes wandering around. I think we stood out a fair bit, too, which I think is always a good thing.

Back out in the street and we still had the plan of finding that B52.

And once again, map in hand, it wasn’t long before we got lost. Only ever happens when I have the map….

Eventually we found out where we were, but that didn’t really help as we were on a road that we didn’t really want to be on. And unfortunately, with no side streets running off it for quite some time, we were stuck there for a while.

Added to that, we had now walked off the map.

That, quite possibly, was not a bad thing…..

Finally, we came across a small lane that allowed us to get off that road, and it took us up to the road that the Botanical Gardens is on.

While that was good, the gardens now stopped us from heading further south towards where I thought we needed to be.

Kind of ironic, as unlike us, the search for the B52 was heading south.

And at a fair rate of knots, I might add.

And I knew the intrepid explorer was probably not going to be too far behind…..

On we went, until we came across a policeman outside an official looking property. Even though previous attempts at using police officers for navigation tips had been unsuccessful, I decided to have another crack.

I needn’t have bothered…..

From what I had read about the site; that it is underwhelming, anyway; and by his response, I realised at that very moment, that the chances of us finding this plane were significantly less, than slim.

And when, following substantially more walking, we came across an intersection that we’d passed earlier, (much to Lisa’s dismay) well……, the hunt was finally abandoned.

Yep, we’d essentially walked in a great big circle.

Defeated, fatigued, knackered, and any other not so happy descriptive word you can think of, we trudged on.

At least now we were heading south, kind of in the general direction of the Old Quarter.

And then, up ahead, we found the Mausoleum again.

That was good; because I knew where we were; but I wasn’t really in the mood to be told off again.

We eventually ended up at exactly the same spot as earlier, police and barricades still visible, and tentatively made our way into the square itself.

Hmmm, no one yelling at us. That’s good, I think.

But also hoping they haven’t reached the ‘ask questions later’ stage……

Nope, all good, and we head to the area right in front of the Mausoleum.

There’s a few people around, but not that many. It’s lunchtime and they’re no doubt closed at the moment. We don’t care if they are or not, we have no intention of going inside to see the main ‘attraction’.

We stay out the front and take a few photos. Including a couple of ‘selfies’ that I am incredibly bad at doing.

Which actually pleases me.

Lisa, on the other hand, is actually quite good at it.

Which actually concerns me a little.

Anyway, seeing as we took a couple of ‘selfies’ the last time we were here, we decide that we need to take some for ‘old times’ sake.

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I just love selfies…

Awkwardness complete, we head off down Dien Bien Phu past the Military Museum. And perhaps for the first time today, I know exactly how to get back to our hotel.

I’m getting good at this; I think……

It’s not long before we’re back in the Old Quarter, and because it is lunchtime, we’re on the lookout for something to eat.

I then remember a little café that we found last time, where we had a banh mi and a fruit smoothie.

And we actually find it again.

Happy days!, I think.

But they don’t do banh mi’s anymore.

Aaaargh…….

We need to stop trying to re-live stuff, I think. You know, make new memories.

Oh well, it was still worth it for juice, though.

Thirst quenched, but still hungry, we head off down towards Hoan Kiem Lake.

We get to the end of our street, and there he is. My bookseller, Hai.

It’s at this point I realise I’m going to have to be careful with my greetings.

I can’t really call out “Hi, Hai”, cause that just sounds silly.

“Hey, Hai”, is not much better.

“Hello, Hai”, will probably have to do. A bit more formal than I’d like, but at least it sounds half reasonable.

I introduce him to Lisa, and we have a bit of a chat.

It turns out that he also sells sunglasses and spectacles, which is probably not overly surprising, seeing as he is in, what I call, Optical street.

It is kind of ironic though, seeing as in a previous life, I did exactly the same thing.

And he seems to enjoy knowing that, too.

He then tries to convince Lisa to buy a book.

Oh, geez……

It’s that ‘deer in the headlights’, again.

2014 comes flooding back……

The coconut vendor in HCMC, the threading woman in Hoi An, the fruit seller in Hanoi.

I just know this is about to cost me money.

And yep, it does……

And I thought we were now friends, Hai…..!

Book in Lisa’s hand, less money in my pocket, we’re about to head off.

Hang on, he’s a local. He can help us with our problem.

“Hey, can you recommend a place where we can get some lunch? A banh mi, perhaps?”, I ask, hoping to get a little more for my money.

“Yes, follow me”, he says.

Which surprised me a little, as I expected him to just point us in the general direction. I now also felt a little embarrassed, as I was taking him away from a potential sale or two.

But then again, the 200 000 dong I paid for the book was probably well over the odds, so yeah, embarrassed feeling quickly disappeared. 🙂

Anyway, back up the street, and over past the big roundabout in front of City View Café, and then up one of the side streets.

Bingo! Banh mi place.

Hai even helps us order them. Not that we really needed help with that, but it was a nice touch.

We bid Hai farewell, and head back to the hotel eating our banh mi’s. And they were good, too.

A quick check of emails, and whaddya know! A message from Ross and Alison, (who I’d met up at beer corner before we went to Pu Luong) through TripAdvisor.

They’re back from Sapa and want to know if we want to catch up tonight for dinner.

Absolutely! And arrangements are made to meet at the same place where we’d met the first time.

Our night sorted, it was now time for a much needed rest. I was stuffed.

Sleep done, and feeling a little better, but still not great, I head out. Lisa remains to do…… whatever……

I’m not sure where I’m going, and not really sure what I want to do.

I think I might want a caphe sua da, but I don’t know.

Oh well, we’ll just do the walk and hope I get lost, thing.

I head south of the hotel along streets that I’ve been down before, but don’t really know that well.

Ahhh, a familiar sight; St Joseph’s cathedral.

And hey, it’s open and people are going in. So I do as well.

It really is an impressive and striking building. I’m not really a church person, but there’s something about this one.

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It really is as dominating as it looks!

My reasonably rare church visit complete, I head off for more aimless walking.

I’m not sure where I walked, but I was south of the lake. It’s different to the Old Quarter; it looks different, and it has a different feel.

I walk past a couple of whitegoods / fridge places, that kind of look out of place, as well as a driveway that goes through a building. That bit is not the interesting bit, though. It’s the large fish tanks that are embedded in the walls of the driveway that catch my attention.

I don’t know……., a restaurant’s supplies perhaps??? Or maybe someone who just likes fish…..???

I got no idea…..

A quick look, and I walk on.

I come to an intersection. On the other side is a small food and drink stall being run by a woman.

Hmmm, perhaps I do want a caphe sua da, I think, as I scan the stall for something that tells me that’s something that she does.

While I’m doing that, the lone local guy who is sitting at the stall gets my attention.

He’s smiling and trying to communicate with me.

“Beer. Beer”, he says, with a big grin.

“No, coffee”, I try to say.

“Beer, beer”, he says again.

“Oh, alright”, I say, not needing a huge amount of convincing.

So there I am, once again, partaking in one of my great pleasures in Vietnam.

It ain’t Beer Corner; it’s only him and me; but I like it. I like it a lot.

His three mates are sitting on their motorbikes over near the traffic lights, and they’re getting involved in our little interaction, as well. They’re enjoying it as much as me and there’s a fair bit of laughter going on.

I then realise they are xe om’s. I’d always kind of known what those guys were, but I hadn’t really stopped to think about them, before.

Yep, I’m a little slow sometimes….

Anyway, we sit and enjoy a beer together.

It certainly wasn’t a free flowing conversation, but we sort of got by.

He filled my glass before I had a chance to do it myself, and when his glass was getting a little low, I filled his.

He liked that.

And then he showed me how to eat sunflower seeds, so there was also an educational component, as well.

As the beer was coming to an end, he managed to communicate to me that he would drive me back to the hotel.

He kept saying, what I thought was, “Low money, low money”.

I politely declined and made a walking motion with my fingers.

But he repeated it a few more times.

I then realised it wasn’t ‘low money’, but in fact, ‘no money’.

Wow, I thought, he really was enjoying this as much as I was.

Yep, another ‘little’ moment.

I politely declined his offer again, but gave him several ‘cam ons’ as I was leaving.

But before I left, I did something I’ve never done before.

I asked him if I could take a ‘selfie’ with him.

He obliged.

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He was actually much happier than he looks.

That interaction could well have ended in a regret, 18 months ago.

But there was no way that was going to happen this time.

Yep, I loved it, and I think I floated back to the hotel.

A few beers on the balcony next door, before heading up to beer corner to meet Ross and Allison.

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There’s always something happening down below.

Sure enough, they were where they said they’d be, and we have a few beers at my ‘plastic cup’ place.

No real plans on where to go, so we suggest our ‘last place’ from last time, which is our ‘first place’ from this time.

That’s getting confusing, so I’ll just call it ‘last place’ from now on.

Ross and Allison are happy with that, so we walk up there.

The place is buzzing. It’s absolutely packed, and for the first time, I think they may not be able to fit us in.

Pfffftt, who am I kidding. This is Vietnam!

They’ll get us a table no matter what.

And oh my, what a table!

We’re led through the cooking area, and inside the actual building. Up some, let’s say, slightly non-regulation stairs, and then through a ridiculously small, and low, doorway.

We’re now on a very small roof area, overlooking the mayhem of the restaurant below.

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Truly a ‘wow’ moment!

Plastic tables and chairs quickly appear and I’m now sitting alongside the edge of the roof.

No balustrading, or barrier, to stop a reasonably significant, potential, fall.

But it was brilliant!

Would have happily paid for the experience alone!

Food, as usual, was fantastic, and it was great to spend some time with our new American friends.

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Food great; company, location and experience brilliant!

Unfortunately, once dinner was done, they had to call it a night. They’d had a big night returning from Sapa, and had to be up early the next morning for their Halong Bay trip.

We weren’t quite done just yet, so we headed back to beer corner.

Beer street, as we’d expected, was packed. So we headed around the corner to see if we could find a slightly quieter area.

Low and behold, I find a bia hoi place!

And while the area is still buzzing, it’s a much more civilized ‘buzzing’.

And the best thing about this bia hoi place?

It serves kegged beer in a glass.

And, it’s a friendly, family run place, to boot!

Yep, I’d finally found the type of place that I’d been looking for.

Finally……

And one of the nicest aspects about it all?

The interaction we had with the young boy who lived there. As well as his mother.

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It’s all about the interactions.

Yep, just so much more relaxing, and enjoyable.

We didn’t stay too long; it had been a pretty big day, and Lisa had hit somewhat of a wall…..; so we headed back to do the beers on the bed thing.

See a recurring theme here……???

Anyway, an earlyish night would be good, as we had a tour organised reasonably early in the morning.

Yes, a tour…….

Cheers,

Scott

 

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 12

Hanoi

Well, we had a sleep in!

It was actually the first sleep in since, well……., since the last time we had a sleep in.

Which I think may have been a few days before we left Melbourne.

And it was a long enough sleep in that we missed breakfast on the balcony next door.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like we slept till lunchtime or anything. I think we’re up and getting ready by 8.30am.

First job; sort out our dirty clothes.

Which happened to be every piece we took to Pu Luong.

We opened the plastic bag they were in, then we opened the door on the balcony to get some fresh air.

Geez, three days of perspiration mixed with dirt, dust and whatever else was on them……

Yep, not real good…..

We headed downstairs, handed the laundry bag over to a suitably warned Sophia, and headed out to……, well, just walk the streets of Hanoi.

Apart from finding something for breakfast, we had no plans.

Headed up towards beer corner, which was now far quieter than last night, and eventually found ourselves on Ma May street.

Up ahead we see the typical Vietnamese street food cart. Yep, a banh mi one.

It’s a young girl, maybe early twenties, and she has her cart set up in front of a very narrow ‘passage way’ (that might be the entrance to where she lives???), between a gift shop and a bar.

She’s talking to her friend, with her back to us, and it takes her a second or two to realise we’re there. When she does see us, she seems surprised.

Not sure why, seeing as we’re in a pretty well tourist populated, area. Maybe her banh mi’s are no good and she’s surprised someone wants to buy them? Or maybe we just look like crap, and we’ve shocked her with our appearance???

Now slightly self conscious, as well as wary, we order two banh mi opla’s.

She seems very eager to please, which again, is slightly worrying, but also nice, and she grabs us two small plastic stools to sit on while she prepares our breakfast.

Now, when I say the stools were small, they were actually slightly smaller than small.

So while she cooked the eggs, I sat on the footpath on my smaller than small stool, and watched the world go by. As well as counting each individual hair on my knees…..

While we’re sitting there, the young girl comes out with a couple of drinks for us.

It looks like dirty water, which means it’s tea. It’s a bit different to other ‘teas’ we’ve had, though; this one is a slightly different colour, and has quite a distinctive taste. Not unpleasant, but just different.

She really seems to be going out of her way for us, which is nice, and I think even if the tea gives me Hepatitis C, well, it’s been a very pleasant experience, anyway.

Our banh mi’s are soon ready, and yep, they were worth waiting for. Simple, but good. And that, combined with her friendliness and attitude, makes me want to return.

Stomachs happy, we head off.

Where?

Doesn’t matter.

Which is good, because we got lost. Again….

We just walk for a while, taking in the sights around us, and eventually work out where we are. We then head back to the hotel to cool down and freshen up. It’s pretty hot already.

Back out into the heat, and this time we do have a plan.

Last time we were here we crossed the train tracks up near the Military History Museum. I took a couple of photos, and also considered walking down the track for a bit, but wasn’t sure if you were allowed to do that, or not. So I didn’t. Which as it turned out, was just silly western thinking.

So this time, I was putting health and safety aside, and running the gauntlet of the one or two trains that travel this particular section of the track.

Up our street we go, and at the end; there he is.

“Want to buy a book?”, he asks. As he always does.

I’m sure it’s him. Absolutely positive.

I think…..

No, I’m convinced it’s him. It is the guy from our last trip in 2014.

Or wait, maybe he just looks familiar from when I saw him on Tuesday.

No, no, it is him.

“No thanks”, I say, with my usual smile, wishing I’d just go and ask him if it’s him. But not really sure how I’m going to do that anyway.

We walk on up towards the train tracks, taking in the usual sights of Hanoi wherever we look. Including a squirrel in a cage on a running wheel, outside a shop.

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Even squirrels need to take a break occasionally…

Yep, just another case of expecting the unexpected…..

We eventually reach the train tracks, and I’m rapt. Not only am I ticking something off my list of things that I wanted to do in Hanoi, but I’m also ticking off one of my regrets from last time.

But now I have one other small regret. My plan was to take photos at each road the track intersected with and to list the street name. Well, I took the photos, but didn’t write down the street names, as I stupidly thought that I’d remember them.

I’m reasonably sure we began our walk at Nguyen Thai Hoc, and then headed North away from the station.

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Train track.
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If you hear a train coming, you might want to move…
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Work can be done anywhere.

While there weren’t a lot of people around, I still found the walk incredibly interesting. We ended up getting to the part of the track where it starts to become slightly elevated; around Nguyen Van To; and headed off to seek some shade back in the streets.

We found a small café, and it didn’t take too much convincing to order a caphe sua da.

I’ve said it before; it truly is one of the great pleasures to do in Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi; just sitting there, watching the world go by, with a caphe sua da, or a beer.

I could quite happily do it all day.

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Mangosteen vendor

Suitably cooled, we headed off. Next stop was a place that we’d been to last time we were here, which, incidentally, we’d loved. Dong Xuan market.

To achieve this from where we were, which we didn’t really know, we needed to use the map. Walking aimlessly around Hanoi, finding things by accident, is one of my favourite things to do. Finding places in Hanoi, with the help of a map, is not really one of my favourite things to do.

I don’t think it’s me, as I don’t have ‘map’ issues elsewhere, so I’ll have to blame the map creator.

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Bamboo street.

Anyway, I eventually figured out where we were, and now knew that the market was just around the next corner. As we got close we passed a narrow alley way. Something caught my attention and we doubled back to take a closer look.

It was filled with people eating at various little street food places. Very local, as well as very busy, although one stall stood out a little. It was the only place that had vacant seats. Maybe it was no good? Or maybe their last customers had just left?

Funny what goes through your mind…….

I decided to try and wind up the intrepid explorer a little.

“We’ll go and have a look around the market, then we’ll come back here for lunch”, I said, expecting at least some resistance.

“Yep, okay”, I received without hesitation.

Hmmm…..seems to have gained a bit of confidence……

Spent a bit of time in the market, and just like last time, it didn’t disappoint.

It just doesn’t matter what it is that somebody could need, it will be in Dong Xuan. It has everything.

Food, both processed and, umm……, not yet processed. Some areas could be mistaken for a pet shop…..

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Quintessential market! 

Clothes, cloth, shoes, hardware, souvenirs, toys, electronic gadgets; you name it. Everything.

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Need shoes?

Being a wholesale market though, some stall holders may be reluctant to sell to you. But it’s certainly not the case with all of them.

Market fix achieved, we headed out to find our food alley.

Walking down it from the other direction, I tried to remember which was the quiet stall. I’d decided I was going to avoid it, just in case other people knew something that I didn’t.

Damn it! I couldn’t remember which one it was.

We slowed at one of them and were quickly offered a welcoming look. A couple of customers just finishing up told us the food was really good.

Okay, this’ll do, I thought.

I did have that lingering doubt however, that this was the place I wanted to avoid, for quite possibly no good reason.

I then realised I didn’t even know what it was we were about to eat. The sign above the stall mentioned bun cha. Okay, that’ll do, I thought. Still not really sure what I was about to eat….

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Time for lunch.

Told you before, I’m no good with the particulars of food. Definitely an ‘eat to live’ type of person.

Anyway, it was nice. And pretty cheap, too. 110 000 dong, which included more food than we could eat, as well as two cokes.

Lunch done, we head back to the hotel for the afternoon recovery session. I really would much prefer to be out and about all day, but the heat just gets to you. It saps your energy, and is just so draining. The scary thing is, it’s only May. June and July must be unbelievable.

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The locals know how to deal with the hottest part of the day.

Energy levels, kind of restored, I left Lisa to do whatever Lisa does when I’m not there, and headed off to do my most favourite afternoon thing in Hanoi. And no, it doesn’t involve water puppets or green tea….

Up through underwear lane, on to beer street, and then to beer corner. Because I wasn’t overly enthralled with beer in plastic cups on Tuesday, I decided to go back to the place I went to first.

You know, just give it one more go. Maybe I was too hasty in my initial assessment, kind of thinking….

Nup, I wasn’t.

The welcome, and the vibe, was cool. In fact, it was cooler than the actual beer.

Damn it, this just isn’t working.

I walk around the block, hoping to find another place that appeals, but I’m unsuccessful.

Not wanting to waste anymore beer drinking time, I bite the bullet and head back to the plastic cup place. It’s not perfect, but it appears to be the best I can find.

It’s probably not just about the cups; the whole atmosphere is, well, not really annoying me, but probably more frustrating me.

It’s just too touristy, and too full on. The constant in your face touting for business from the shop owners, and the steady stream of, sometimes rude and arrogant, tourists.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying it, but it’s just not how I remember it.

Has it changed?

Or have I changed?

It may be a bit of both, but I suspect it’s mainly me.

Even the tourists sitting there drinking Budweiser beer. I mean really, you come all this way and you drink the beer you drink back home!?

Geez, live a little, for……….., never mind……

And another thing with them? They don’t, or should I say, very few, actually acknowledge you.

Hell, I don’t want to sit down with you for an hour and discuss in intimate detail everything about your life. But how about a smile, a nod of the head, a wink, or even, god forbid, a hello???

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Bia Corner / Street 

I must be getting old. Which I am. And Lisa is obviously right; I’m a grumpy old man.

I quickly order another beer. That’ll fix things.

Well, it would have, if the old western tourist bloke with the younger Vietnamese girlfriend hadn’t sat at the table next to me.

Dead set, I have never heard so much garbage and drivel spill from a person. The biggest self centred, egotistical, know it all, pain the you know where.

Seriously, I almost got up and dragged his girlfriend away. I don’t even know her, but she is far too good for that moron.

The speed at which my beer consumption is happening, is increasing. But it has to, and eventually it begins to work. 🙂

Finally in a much better place, I head back to the hotel to do the balcony thing.

As I get to our street, there he is.

“Want to buy a book”, he asks.

I smile, shake my head, and say no thanks.

But here’s my chance. Damn it, I’m going to sort this out once and for all.

I walk towards him.

“How long have you been here selling books?”, I ask him.

I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like ten years.

I explain to him that we were here 18 months ago and he sold me a book back then. He actually seems to remember me, which I find hard to believe, but he does seem very genuine.

We spend a few minutes chatting, and I find out his name is Hai. I’m actually very happy with that as I shouldn’t have too many problems remembering it. 🙂

Much, much happier now, I almost skip back to the hotel.

I grab Lisa and we adjourn to ‘our’ balcony. The beer almost becomes secondary to the ‘people watching’ down below. I love it, and never, ever tire of it.

But, all good things must come to an end, and apparently we need to eat.

And tonight’s choice?

The BBQ place we found by accident last visit. Even the kids loved it back then.

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Doing the work yourself makes it even better.

Back up to beer corner and onto Ma May street. We’d found it the other day so knew exactly where it was.

As good as last time?

Absolutely!

And it’s not just about the food. Although the food is very good.

It’s the whole experience.

It’s busy, with a lot of locals, it’s noisy, and it’s basic and simple.

And cooking your own food on small burners on your table, just adds to the whole thing.

Enjoying a cold beer or two, while doing all that…..; well, it just makes it even better.

As we were finishing up, we got an added extra.

A police raid.

The police were out and about enforcing the rule that forbids restaurants from having tables and chairs set up on the footpath. There’s obviously a good reason for that, but unfortunately, I’m not smart enough to know what that is.

Anyway, the waiters usher everyone into the restaurant itself, and very quickly move all the tables and chairs in as well. Anything left out can be confiscated by the police.

As we were sitting to the side of the restaurant, one of the guys there got us to ‘hide’ in a little alley way.

It was all very entertaining, and just added to the night.

Food, a few beers, and a police raid, all for 260 000 dong.

Yep, good value!

Another life experience ticked off, we decided that seeing as it was a Saturday night, we’d go and see the night market.

An incredibly good plan, and would have been executed perfectly, if not for one small thing.

The market wasn’t on.

Not sure why, but I came up with two possibilities.

One was that Vietnam was currently going through Government elections, and for some reason had cancelled the market for this weekend, and two, the US President, Barack Obama, was going to be visiting Vietnam, including Hanoi, in the next few days, and for safety reasons the market wasn’t going to held.

Obviously there was also the possibility of a third, but those two were the only ones I could come up with. But knowing how good my presumptive powers are, I would probably put money on the third possibility.

Whatever that may have been…..

Anyway, end result was that, for some unknown reason, the night market wasn’t on. So all that was left to do, was go for a bit of a stroll around the streets. And being a Saturday night, that wasn’t such a bad thing.

It has a bit of a different feel to it. It’s a bit busier, and there’s a certain extra vibrancy to it.

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It’s always busy, but sometimes…

Don’t get me wrong, Hanoi is always good. But sometimes, it’s even…… gooder…..

Walking done, and suitably stuffed, we headed back to the hotel for nightcap beers on the bed, as well as tentatively planning our next day.

And the plan?

Just for something different, it would involve walking.

Yep, the intrepid explorer really does love me…..

Cheers,

Scott

 

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 11

Pu Luong – Ninh Binh – Hanoi

 

Up early. Again…..

But that’s alright. Sort of…..

Everyone else seems to be up anyway, so why shouldn’t we.

I’m feeling alright, not 100%, but nothing that’s going to stop me doing anything.

Laying in bed, I grab the camera to look at some of our photos. Mucking around, I then take a ‘selfie’ of the two of us laying there.

Let’s just say that I was feeling far better than I looked in the photo. Lisa as well.

Time for a new camera, I think.

And don’t bother asking. That photo will never be linked to. 🙂

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The intrepid explorer with her little protector.

We get dressed and head out to see our little village in the morning light. It’s calm and peaceful and we just take it all in. Our little puppy is out and about, and much happier today since ‘our’ dogs are no longer protecting us.

It’s not long before Toan comes up the hill with breakfast.

Another one of Dien’s pancakes, some fruit, as well as my favourite morning drink; caphe sua nam.

The holes in the condensed milk tin are now slightly larger, so it’s still reasonably ‘nam’, by the time it’s sorted. 🙂

Once again, the pancake is bigger than my stomach can handle, so before things get messy, I pull the pin on trying to eat it all.

Lisa’s in the same boat. Although, if it happened to have been made of chocolate……

We put a fair dint in the fruit, but even that is more than we can handle.

Stomachs now as full as we want them, we just sit and take in our surrounds. There’s not that much else to do; not that we were looking for something to do. There’s no wifi, and I’m not sure I could have made a phone call even if I wanted to.

And that was one of the nice things about where we were.

Simple, back to basics stuff. Yep, nice!

While we were sitting there, one of the neighbour’s kids from yesterday, came up to us and sat next to Lisa.

He didn’t say anything; he just sat there.

Seeing as we had all this food left over, I offered him some fruit.

He responded with a quick shake of the head.

Hmmm, ok, maybe he’s already had breakfast, and like us, he can’t fit anymore in, I thought.

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Pancake is much better than fruit!

 

I still had half the pancake left, so I thought I’d give that a try.
Ahhh, the pancake was far more appealing to our little friend, than the fruit.

 

He sat there intently, and ate it as most seven year olds would do; picking it apart, and handling it far more than he needed to.

 

 

 

 

I think he enjoyed his pancake as much as I enjoyed watching him.

My pancake finished, we then offered him Lisa’s one, expecting him to decline the offer. The thinking being that, seeing as we could only eat half each ourselves, there would be no way he could eat any more.

Nup, wrong assumption.

He polished off the second one exactly the way he had done the first; pulling it apart, studying it, part playing with it, and then finally eating it.

Just another one of those ‘little’ moments…..

A little later Sohn comes up and sits with us. We try to communicate with hand and arm gestures, and it kind of works. She seems an incredibly genuine and caring person, and I think she’d also be a lot of fun.

It’s times like these that I really wish I spoke Vietnamese. And I suspect she really wishes she spoke English.

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Our hostess Sohn.

I would love to hear and learn all about her life.

We get ourselves organised, sorting out our stuff and packing up our ‘house’.

Then, that time arrives. The first of the ‘goodbyes’, for the day.

Toan does some translating, and we thank our hosts very much for having us.

We’re soon on our way back down the mountain.

It’s actually quite comfortable, weather wise. A bit of cloud cover is keeping the temperature down a little and it’s making for a very pleasant ride.

Eventually the track makes way for the road and we’re back to travelling at a reasonable speed. Not that we’re in a hurry, but it just makes for an easier ride.

I really have no idea which roads we travelled on, either on the way up, or on the way down, but I’m pretty sure we were on different roads. It just seemed different, and in fact, I probably found things more interesting on the way back down.

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Must have been something interesting in the river!

And here was my problem back again. How was I going to remember all of the things I was seeing?

It played on my mind the whole way. Damn it!

The number of the little towns we went through. Seriously, you’d be hard pressed to count them all.

And all the things that were in these towns, or villages. The shops, or more importantly, the type of shops, and what they were selling. Also, where they were set up in the town.

There were the usual ones that sell things like food, fruit and drinks. But then there was the plumbing supply place next door to the guy that sold bricks. Or the hardware store next to the restaurant. And the open fronted hairdressers, with two salon chairs in the middle, next to the mechanic’s workshop.

Once again, just something so very different from what I normally see. But oh, so fascinating.

Between the towns, the endless fields of rice, bananas, pineapple, corn and just about any other fruit or vegetable. Or so it seemed. I didn’t know what half of it was – I could have asked – but I wouldn’t have remembered anyway….

It didn’t really matter.

So yeah, great scenery. But the thing that really stuck out?

Yep, the people.

Mostly the kids.

I have never waved and said hello so much in my life.

They loved it, and I loved it, too.

For the first time ever, I felt like I was someone important. They just wanted to interact with these strange westerners in their community.

The most memorable occasion was probably towards the end of the descent down the mountain. A group of maybe seven or eight school children, distinguishable by their distinctive school uniforms, were riding their bikes towards us. As we got closer they recognised that we were most definitely not locals.

A chorus of hellos rang out from the ones at the front; mainly girls; as we passed them. But it was the young boy, who was lagging behind them a little, that seemed the most excited.

As we came towards him, and while he was continually calling out hello, he put his arm out to ‘high five’ me.

I obliged.

He doesn’t know it, but he well and truly made my day.

We continued on, stopping occasionally to stretch our legs. It was now starting to get a little warmer; now actually bordering on hot.

Into another, of the many, many small towns, and we stopped at a small shop on the side of the road for a drink. While the ‘shop’ was interesting, as per normal, it was what was underneath it that I found even more so.

Fish.

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Under house fish tank!

In a quite large ‘pond’, or tank, for want of a better description. The shop, and house, was actually above this big tank and the tank was full of fish. Pretty big ones, too.

Toan got them excited when he threw some leaves in. Yeah, they eat leaves.

While we enjoyed our cold drink, we walked behind the house to take in the view. Which, even though we were well down the mountain now, was still pretty impressive. A bamboo bridge over a small stream, with rice paddies on the other side, and off in the distance, another mountain range.

Yep, not too shabby.

As we walked back to the shop, Toan pointed out something else that was interesting. It was a communal ‘bathroom’ behind the shop. A man made bathing pool, I suppose you’d describe it as. Apparently a lot, if not all, of villages have them. Yep, interesting.

Drink done, legs stretched and slightly more knowledgeable, we were once again back on our way.

It wasn’t long before we were completely off the mountain. Two things told me that. One, the scenery had changed and the road was now flatter, and two, it was no longer ‘pretty warm’. It was now just plain hot.

At one point, we were going along a road that was either a very long bridge, or just a bit of a raised section. It was a bit hard to tell. Anyway, this section was quite exposed. It was at that point that ‘hot’ went to another level.

The sun beating down, the heat radiating back up from the road, and the hot wind hitting us head on, was just incredible. Like being in an oven.

A few minutes later we turned off to the right and came into another small town. We then pulled up out the front of a familiar looking restaurant. It was same one we’d had lunch at two days earlier.

I can’t remember what we had, it may have actually been pho, but it was just nice to sit and relax and cool down a little.

As we were getting ready to get back on the bikes, I mentioned to Lisa about how hot it was going across that raised section of road. She’d noticed it as well.

Heading out along the main road of town we got to an intersection and turned left. Up ahead was that raised section of road. Yep, we were going to finish off the cooking process…..

It was around about now that I was starting to struggle a touch. That worried me, because if I was feeling it, the intrepid explorer was going to be in more trouble.

Yep, the relative coolness of the restaurant was now a distant memory, and we wouldn’t feel that again, for quite some time.

On we pushed,……..; well, Toan and Dien pushed, we just hung on, both literally and figuratively. The scenery, while not as picturesque as earlier in the day, was still worth admiring.

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Taking the buffalo for its daily walk.

Just as I was thinking I wouldn’t mind another break, Toan pulled over out the front of another house / shop arrangement. A very open ‘shed’ like structure with the obligatory small plastic chairs. Very basic looking, but judging by the house behind it, a very profitable business.

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Pit stop for sugar cane juice.

A very new looking traditional stilt house. But different to the other stilt houses we’d seen because this house had concrete stilts and a tiled roof. Apparently timber is becoming difficult to source, and as such, more modern materials are now being utilised.

 

Toan orders four sugar cane juices (yep, even the intrepid explorer indulged. Finally……) and we sit in the shade and cool down with the aid of electric fans. It works surprisingly well.

Time to confront the heat again, we continue our journey. Another half an hour or so, and we pull over again. This time we stop at a pagoda. Yep, one of my favourite things. 😉

And just to make it even better, there’s a heap of stairs to climb to see it.

“Coming up for a look?”, I ask the intrepid explorer, knowing exactly what her answer will be.

Yep, I’m right.

So it’s just Toan and I who head up. We get to the top, and yep, it’s a pagoda. It’s interesting, but my legs probably got more out of it than I did.

Back down all those stairs, and we’re on our way again. I ask Toan how far we are from Ninh Binh. Another couple of hours, apparently.

This is starting to get difficult. Who would have thought it was so hard to just sit on the back of a motorbike….?

Our next stop is beside a river. I can see more signs of civilization, so I think that we must be getting close. Hoping that we’re getting close. We’re not really.

I mentioned the heat before. It really is draining.

At one point I walked behind Lisa and noticed the back of her shorts. They were soaking wet with perspiration. I then realised mine were the same. Normally you’d feel that; a slight coldness on the skin; but the perspiration itself was obviously the same temperature as me.

Yep, just so hot…..

I would kill for a beer right now. In fact, that’s probably the only thing that’s keeping me going.

We continue on……

Finally, I see something that I recognise. I still don’t know exactly where we are, but I now know we’re not too far away.

It’s the river just outside of Ninh Binh. It’s a fairly decent size and it has plenty of boats on it. Big boats, too.

Between the road and the river is rice paddies. The last time we were here, in early October 2014, they were harvesting the rice. It’s now May, and I’m surprised to see they are harvesting at this time as well. Probably couldn’t have planned that any better if I’d tried…..

I like rice harvest time. There’s something about watching non la’s bobbing around in a field. It’s such a quintessential Vietnamese thing.

And this time it’s the same.

But in one field, it’s a little different. There’s a motorized rice harvester doing the work.

I’ve talked about the contrasts of Vietnam before. Well, here was another one. And it didn’t fill me with happiness.

Can’t hold back progress though, I suppose…..

Further on ahead there’s what looks like a new bridge across the river. And that’s where we need to be, on the other side.

I’m not sure it’s actually open, but I see a local on a motorbike going across. I start to get a little excited that we really are very close. As we get to the bridge the local guy has come back again. He yells out to Toan that, while on this side you can just drive around the big pile of soil that they’ve placed at the start of the bridge to stop people from crossing it, on the other side there’s no way of getting off the bridge.

This both disappoints me, as well as amuses me. I think it’s funny that even though the authorities are making it quite clear that the bridge is not yet ready for service, this guy believes he knows better.

Again, one of the things I love about Vietnam.

We continue on and Toan mentions that we can actually get a boat across the river further up, to avoid having to go all the way up to the existing bridge.

We pull off the road and head down a narrow dirt path to a small tributary that runs off the main river. There’s a couple of small wooden boats floating there.

Toan calls out to one of them and a lady appears. I think he may have woken her up. They have a conversation. Obviously I have no idea what is being said, but I suspect Toan is being told what he doesn’t want to hear.

Unfortunately, I’m right.

The guy that ran the ferry service across the river, has given it away. There’s now no call for it since the new bridge has been built.

The fact that it is not yet open, seems to be of no real consequence.

Back up our dirt track and we’re soon on the main road again.

We continue along past the river and I’m still staggered by the number, and the size, of the boats on it.

There’s even a dredge doing its thing.

But it’s not your standard type of dredge boat. This is the Vietnamese version.

An excavator on a barge!

And each time the excavator reaches forward into the water, the barge tilts with it. And quite significantly, I might add.

I’m shocked, horrified, amazed and amused, all at once.

Just another Vietnamese thing……

Finally, we get to the bridge. We’re almost there and I think I can smell the beer.

And that is exactly the plan. Beer.

Last time we were here, in 2014, we finished our final day of our two day tour with Toan, with a couple of beers at a bia hoi place. It was great way to unwind and just have a chat about things. We didn’t know it at the time, and it’s a bit of a long story, but we weren’t actually with Toan. We were with his cousin, who is also Toan. Known by us now as T2.

When all of that came out after our return, I was, initially, fairly disappointed with that. But after thinking about what we’d done, and how much fun we’d had, as well receiving a couple of apologetic emails from the original Toan, (T1) I’d accepted his apology and moved on.

So much so, that in the lead up to our second trip, I’d asked Toan by email if we could finish our three days doing the same thing. I’d also asked him, if his cousin was going to be around, then we would love to see him as well.

We eventually pulled up at the same bia hoi place as last time. It was great to see it again. Not too many tourists here. Actually, there weren’t any. Just the way I like it. 😉

Beers arrived, and seriously, I’m not sure a beer has ever tasted that good.

A few minutes later, Toan motioned to me to look over my shoulder.

Aha! There was his cousin, getting off his bike. He had a big grin on his face. Almost as big as mine.

I jumped up and went over to greet him.

A handshake was never going to be enough. Only a hug would do.

Even though we had only spent two days together, and that was 18 months ago, it was like seeing a long lost friend again.

The five of us spent the next hour just chatting, and generally enjoying each other’s company. It really was a great way to finish our three days, and as I said, it was wonderful to see T2 again.

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Good friends.

Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better, I received a text message on my phone.

It was Stefan (who we’d got to know on TripAdvisor). We were due to meet him next week in HCMC but he’d changed his plans slightly and was actually spending tonight in Hanoi before leaving for HCMC the next day.

Would we like to catch up tonight as well?

Absolutely we would!

But first I had to go through one of those ‘goodbye’ things.

And unfortunately, that time had come. It was now just after 5.00pm and our train was due just before 5.30pm. Time to go.

Back on the bikes and off to the station we went. And just for old times’ sake, I jumped on the back of T2’s bike. Well, he insisted I do that.

I wasn’t going to complain.

Once at the station, I ran over to our little café from two days earlier, and grabbed some water.

On the way back, I took one last photo.

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Ninh Binh railway station.

And then that ‘goodbye’ thing.

It was tough. Real tough. But I got through it.

Mainly because I’d already planted the seed of a return trip. That was the only way I’d be able to get through it.

Goodbyes done, not to tour guides, but to friends, we headed into the station and through to the platform.

Timing was pretty good, too. The train turned up within a minute or two.

We found our carriage, and took our seats.

Two things were significant about that.

One, once again, we were in seats that were facing backwards. I think I heard a groan of dismay…..

And two, Toan had booked us hard seat tickets.

Yep, after spending the best part of a day sitting down, and looking forward to something comfortable to sit on, we found ourselves on hard seats.

I actually had a bit of a chuckle to myself. Well, you had to laugh….. 🙂

Lisa did what Lisa does best, and managed a bit of sleep. Maybe she has a little Vietnamese in her…..

I think I lasted about an hour before my rear end had had enough. I just couldn’t sit any longer.

This seemed to worry some of the locals a little. More than once I was offered a seat, but I think with some pointing and gesticulating I got my point across as to why I was standing.

Well, I assumed they understood, judging by the big smiles on their faces.

Getting close to Hanoi, some of the locals nearby were starting to get a little agitated. It took me a while to work out that they were unhappy with the temperature inside the carriage. Apparently the air conditioning wasn’t working.

A few minutes later, one of the conductors came through. I bet he wished he hadn’t, because a couple of the ladies really gave it to him.

It was funny to watch, and he handled it as best you can when middle aged women get stuck into you. At one point the women pointed at me, and then back at the conductor. That just made him feel more guilty and he then even apologised to me.

It was funny, and in the end we all just had a bit of a laugh about it.

We finally pull in to Hanoi station about 8.00pm and head out the front doors.

Yep, they’re all there. As I knew they’d be.

Spot the distinctive green of a Mai Linh taxi to my right, and head towards it dragging the intrepid explorer behind me.

Oh the joys of having done all this before. Having the knowledge and the confidence to just know what you want, and then go about getting it.

Past all the touts from the dodgy companies, ignoring their requests to rip me off.

Yep, a man possessed, I was.

As we get closer to the Mai Linh, a guy approaches us. But not the Mai Linh guy.

Before he has a chance to say anything, I look towards the Mai Linh guy and tell him, “Mai Linh”.

He stands there blankly, looking like I was speaking some foreign language, or something.

The smaller, non Mai Linh, guy comes forward.

“Where you going?”, he asks.

“Hang Hanh street”, I say, not really quite sure why he is getting involved.

“100 000 dong”, he comes back with.

“Hey!???”, I reply, both stunned and confused at the same time. I know it should only be 50 000 after what Sophia had told us and what we’d actually paid two days earlier.

“No. Meter!”, I finally come back with.

“No meter. 100 000”, my little cretin mate responds with.

The Mai Linh guy stands there, saying nothing. Obviously he’s just there for show.

The intrepid explorer, however, is now all up and about.

“It’s only a 50 000 fare! Why would we pay 100 000?”, she says, in a more aggressive manner than I normally see.

Hmmm, she has learnt something, I think…..

This seems to concern cretin guy, and he begins to move away.

“Come on, let’s get away from here. We’ll start walking and get a block or two away”, I say, a little warily, worried that my request for her to walk after a pretty long day may result in some more aggression.

Fortunately, she follows, and before long we see another Mai Linh taxi go past. He spots us, does a U turn, in typical Vietnamese fashion, and picks us up.

“Hang Hanh street, please”, I say, and he immediately acknowledges with a smile.

A few minutes later we’re driving past the lake, and just after that we pull up outside the Artisan Boutique.

The fare came to less than 40 000 dong, so I hand him a 50 000 note. He goes to give me change but I tell him to keep it. He gives me a big smile and thanks me. He seemed like a really nice guy, and it just restored my faith after dealing with cretin guy.

We go inside and re-check in. It’s nice coming back to a familiar place.

We retrieve the bag that we had left, and while Lisa heads up to the room, I duck outside to the mini-mart a couple of doors down to grab a few beers.

Back upstairs, and I phone Stefan. We’re all still good and we make plans to meet at beer corner.

I jump in the shower, and I’m seriously not sure if a shower has ever felt this good.

Feeling, almost, human again, we venture out. Up through underwear lane, and then on to beer street.

I’ve seen plenty of photos of Stefan before, so I know what he looks like. This shouldn’t be too difficult….

We get to beer corner.

Hmmm, this might be a little more difficult than I thought.

It’s packed!

As it was always going to be, you idiot!, I think to myself.

It’s almost 9.00pm, and it’s a Friday night, and the weather is good.

Yep, idiot…..

A quick text, and he’s on his way.

Two minutes later, and we’ve found him.

It’s nice to finally be able to actually meet the person I’ve had so many conversations with. I feel like I already know him.

We head out of the mayhem and make our way up to Ma May street. Stefan mentions New Day restaurant; he’s been there a couple of times and says it’s good; and we’re more than happy with that.

Over dinner; and no surprises here, I can’t remember what I had; we spend an hour or so chatting and catching up on what we’ve been doing.

Dinner done, and we need to find something else to do.

As is usually the case, beer is the answer. We head back to the chaos of beer corner and we pull up a small plastic chair each.

Bottles of beer, not glasses, so it’s not quite perfect, but it’s close enough.

Lisa has one with us and then pulls the pin. She’s knackered. So am I, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

We order another one, and as we’re finishing that one, there’s a bit of movement from over at the other establishments.

Yep, the fun police, which are actually the police, have come to shut everyone down. It’s midnight. Apparently it’s time to go to bed.

Actually, it probably wasn’t a bad thing from my point of view, because really, I’m not sure I could have gone on much longer.

Our catch up, while fairly brief, had been a bonus.

This particular HAG (Hanoi Appreciation Group) meeting had never been on the agenda. It only came about when Stefan’s plans changed slightly.

Although, I suspect he may have changed his plans on purpose just so he could meet me earlier.

Which in my eyes, was completely understandable…..

Anyway, as it turned out, it was quite fitting that my first HAG meeting was actually in Hanoi. My second one, however, would be in HCMC in just under a week. And I was very much looking forward to that.

So, HAG meeting adjourned, I bid farewell, promising to catch up in a week, and headed back to the hotel.

More than just a little happy in the knowledge that before that would happen, I had a full five days in Hanoi.

Yep, these next five days were most definitely ‘Christmas morning’ type stuff.

Cheers,

Scott

Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 10

Pu Luong – Day 2

There are ways to wake up, and then there are ways to wake up.

And if I could wake up like this every day for the rest of my life, then I’d take it in a heartbeat.

The soothing, and peaceful sounds were still there. Including the running water one.

Normally it takes me a little while of ‘waking up’, before I actually ‘get up’.

Not today.

Out the door and onto our little balcony, and I look across to where the water sound is coming from. It’s water pouring out of a pipe, into a reasonable size pond, or dam, which is situated just below the neighbour’s bamboo thatched house.

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Could wake up to this every day.

Just a little bit picturesque….

I turn to my right, which is the area behind the hut.

I’m not sure what my face looked like when I saw it; I know I did have trouble speaking, though.

I tried to call out to Lisa, who, kind of typically, was still in bed. Awake, but still in bed.

“Uh….., oh….., ah……, ummm…….. You should come out here and have a look at this”, I finally stammered out.

It was another one of those ‘unexpected’ moments. I’m not sure what I expected to see. I hadn’t really thought about it. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have pictured what was now in front of me.

Rice paddies, and rice terraces. Stretching up the side of the hill on my left, with the same thing happening on my right. The terraces also flowed away from me, down the hill.

In the distance, the tops of mountains could be seen poking through the low clouds that hung in the valley.

Yep……., just ridiculously stunning.

A view that you could never get tired of.

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Just wish the photo could show it how I saw it.

We get dressed and head down to the main house. While waiting for breakfast we walk out the front gate and reacquaint ourselves with the views of yesterday.

It has a slightly different look, and feel, today. The rain last night had freshened things up a bit, and there was a bit of a haze hanging around from the low cloud. It had a slightly crisp feel to it, but certainly wasn’t cold.

Some of the locals are already out and about, and many ‘xin chao’s’ were exchanged. Although, quite often, we only receive the ‘chao’ part. Not sure if that was a minority group ‘thing’, or not. Should have asked Toan.

Speaking of Toan, he calls us for breakfast, and we make our way over to the table and bench seats underneath the house.

Caphe sua nam, with phin, I might add, arrives first. I love him even a little more than last night.

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Ahhh! Great way to start the day.

Although the holes he punched in the tin containing the condensed milk, could have been a little larger.

Ever tried to pour tar through the hole in a sewing needle….????

Anyway, we eventually got there. Was probably more ‘da’, than ‘nam’ by the time we did, though. 🙂

Breakfast was a pancake, and a fairly large one at that, as well as some fruit. Pineapple, if I remember correctly. Dien had come good, once again. Although, his opinion on how much my stomach can hold, differs rather significantly with what it actually can.

Stomach filled, we pack up and just hang around outside the house doing that people watching thing. Always one of my favourite things, but with the backdrop, it was even better.

Eventually, and unfortunately, it was time to move on. Toan informs us that we could stop at a market on the way to the next homestay.

Hmmm…., that just made it a little easier for me to leave.

Bags packed onto the bikes, and Toan then lets us know that we need to walk the first bit of this leg of the trip. I think I may have heard the intrepid explorer gulp…..

Toan and Dien head off, and we begin our walk. Even though it was starting to warm up, at this point it was quite comfortable. And as we hadn’t walked up this part of the track, and it was more track than road, which was part of the reason we were walking, there was plenty of new things to see.

I hoped that with that being the case, a potential meltdown may be averted.

Past more stilt houses, as well as ever changing scenery, it really was a very enjoyable walk. At one point, the track arced around an embankment that fell away quite sharply. It wasn’t until we were on the other side that I looked back and saw a local guy part way down the embankment, picking something. When we’d walked past him initially, he would have been no more than a couple of metres from us. I never saw him and had no idea he was there.

It made me think about the war. As well as how useless I would have been…..

Not far after that, we came across Toan and Dien. The narrow track had now become more of a road, so we’d survived the walking component without incident….

Now back on the bikes, it was time to just sit back and take it all in. And try to remember what we were seeing. Yep, still had that concern floating around in my head…..

Just so much to see, and as I’ve said, it just never gets boring.

Although, there was one scene that made me stop.

Travelling along quite a wide, and well maintained, road, up one of the many mountains, I noticed a few bags of rubbish to my right. I probably noticed it because it looked out of place; up until that point, I hadn’t really seen much in the way of rubbish. Anyway, as we went past, I looked back and was surprised, actually, shocked, to see that the rubbish pile stretched way down to the bottom of the valley. And it was a long way down.

I know the rubbish has to go somewhere, and I know that the whole rubbish thing in Vietnam is a work in progress, but to see what had been done here, really saddened me.

Not long after that, we came into a fairly small town. Assumption made that this was probably the place where the rubbish originates.

Further up ahead, in the main street, which was probably the only street, we could see our market. We pulled over and Toan went about buying supplies, while we walked around the market.

Very, very local. And once again, there was no one else there that looked like us. And again, we were as interested in them, as they were in us.

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And yes, she was as friendly as she looks!
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Gotta love a market!

We walked slowly down the street, weaving around the stalls and the motorbikes. Lots of smiles, hello’s, and chao’s, both given, as well as received. I just love it!

We get to the end of the market, turn around, and head back. Again, slowly. Another thing I didn’t want to end.

It was starting to warm up a little, and as we walked past a girl selling sugar cane juice, I decided to indulge. While the drink is nice, the interaction is just as enjoyable. We walked on and came to a fruit stall. I must have looked interested, as the guy running it, handed me some cherry type things. I tried to say no, but he wouldn’t accept that. He was quite adamant that I had to take them. Several ‘cam on’s, lots of smiles, as well as a handshake, followed.

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Evil little cherry things!

Yep, just one more ‘little’ moment to add to the list.

The fact that the ‘cherry’ thing was quite possibly the most sour thing I’ve ever eaten, as in, makes one of your eyes close as you chew it, didn’t matter. Again, it was all about the interaction.

We eventually got back to where we’d started, and while waiting for Toan and Dien, just sat back and watched it all unfold. Yep, I just really, really love it.

 

 

 

Toan, all stocked up, and we were once again on the move. After a while, the road began to change. Well, not so much change, but more, disappear. We were now on a dirt track. Quite a hilly and bumpy one in places. But all part of the fun.

Across a couple of rickety looking bridges, you know, the type that makes you wonder if they’re going to be able to take the weight of an adult, much less two adults on a motorbike…..

Stopped at one point to come to the rescue of a local, who had managed to drop her bike at a particularly steep, and very bumpy, section of the track. The fact that the bike was fully laden, as is the norm in Vietnam, probably didn’t help.

Not long after that, the track began to climb more steeply. I suspected we may have been getting close, and sure enough, stilt houses soon came into view.

Up the track, with a small creek on my left, and rice paddies, slightly terraced, on my right. The other noticeable thing was the water flowing around beside the track. The water that has been harnessed by the farmers to water the rice. Both fascinating and ingenious at the same time.

We eventually reach the end of the track, and this is where our homestay is. The main house, which is a stilt house, is down a small incline. Just like our first night, we once again have our own room. Actually, more like our own house. Sitting in front of the main house, it overlooks the valley that is filled with rice. It is also a stilt house, and you could probably sleep twelve people in it quite comfortably. It sits up quite high, too; high enough in fact, that you can stand under it. There’s actually a table with bench seats under it, as well.

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Our house.

We get ourselves sorted and spend a bit of time relaxing at the table. It’s at this point that I realise that I’m stuffed. Not really sure why, as we’ve not really done that much. Maybe the heat is just starting to catch up on me.

Toan returns shortly after with our host’s eight year old daughter, Hiyen. She’s very shy and doesn’t really want to talk to us. Toan takes us for a short walk back down the track we’d come up earlier, to show us the waterfall. Hiyen comes with us, and we also pick up four of the neighbours kids along the way.

The waterfall, while not terribly big, is still pretty impressive. It spills over several rocks into a small pond. The water is very clear and you can actually see the bottom. It doesn’t look that deep, but it’s deep enough for the kids to jump into off the rocks from a reasonable height.

It’s even deep enough for some of them to jump from a tree next to the pond. They were a fair way up, too!

Oh to be young and carefree again…..

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Kids. Just being kids.
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The waterfall.

A couple of them occasionally went up to a gate, to the left of the pond, and made barking noises. This would result in the dogs that lived there, to run down towards the gate barking at the kids. The kids would then run back and leap off the embankment into the pond.

They loved it. And so did I.

We spent maybe half an hour there just watching them play. They were having a lot of fun. But probably not as much fun as I was having.

We then headed back to the homestay and resumed our positions at the table. Suffering a severe case of lethargy, I laid down on the bench seat. A few minutes later I feel someone touching my hair. I look up expecting to see Lisa, but it’s not her. It’s a local guy.

I sit up, and he takes a seat next to me. He seems to want to have a chat, but the language barrier is going to be somewhat of an issue. That however, doesn’t stop him from trying. I’m not sure what he’s trying to do, and he seems a little ‘unusual’. I then realise that he’s drunk. Very drunk. And it’s only 11.00am!

Not sure if he’s started early, or he’s finishing very late…..

The kids that had come to the waterfall have now also returned. They too, seem intrigued by him; or by what he’s trying to do. A few minutes later, our host Sohn, (Hiyen’s mum) turns up. She’s not happy. I have no idea what she was saying to him, but she is not happy at all.

Some things just transcend language barriers……

He finally gets the message, and leaves. Hopefully to sleep it off.

Not too long later, Toan appears with a couple of beers. Even though I was struggling just a little, I happily accept. It would have been rude not to. If it wasn’t 12.00pm, it was very close to it. Hey, I was on holidays! 🙂

As the first beer came to its end, Toan reappeared. This time with lunch. As well as another two beers.

It really is very difficult to not love him. 😉

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Lunch under our house!

Lunch is pretty good, too. Noodles with fried egg and morning glory. Nice and simple, but also very good.

The beers and lunch just add to my lethargy, and once I’ve finished lunch I go back to doing what I was trying to do when drunk guy showed up.

It’s pretty warm, but not too bad under our ‘house’. The bench seat is reasonably comfortable, although obviously a little hard.

But I’ve slept on harder things in Vietnam……

Before I’ve had a chance to drift off, Sohn turns up again. She goes up the stairs into our room and grabs a couple of pillows. I’m just blown away by that.

I’m not sure how much sleep I actually had, but I certainly felt better for it, by the end.

Back in the land of the living, we just sit around for a while. Our host’s little puppy comes to keep us company, as do a couple of chickens. The dog must have been feeling a little off colour, because at one point, a touch too close to us for my liking, she brings up her last meal.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, she quickly gets rid of it again.

Yep, nothing like enjoying the same meal twice…..

Hiyen then returns and comes and sits down next to me. The little shy girl has disappeared and we spend some time practicing English and Vietnamese.

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Hiyen – such a fun young girl.

She only knows a few words, but we still had some fun. She comes across as being incredibly smart, as well as just being a really lovely kid.

I can’t remember what we were talking about, but at one point, I said ‘Vietnam’.

She giggled, and repeated it the way I had said it, several times.

Apparently it’s pronounced ‘Vietnarrrm’, not ‘Vietnam’.

Yep, shown up by an eight year old, but we all had a good laugh.

We headed back to the waterfall for another look. This time there were more people there. All locals, but more than likely from another small town further down the mountain. It seems they come up later in the afternoon to cool off. Some have small kids with them, others just come with friends. Quite a few are either in the water, or just sitting on rocks in the water.

Interestingly, none of them are really wearing bathers. No, they’re not naked, they’re just wearing clothes.

Just another one of those things…..

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Locals enjoying the waterfall in a way that only locals can do!

On our walk, we’d somehow picked up three new ‘dog’ friends. For some reason, they just decided to walk with us. If we stopped, they stopped.

We left the waterfall and headed back down the hill. Dogs in tow.

We meet a French couple and stopped for a chat. The dogs waited patiently.

They’ve ridden their motorbike all the way from Mai Chau and are now hoping to find a place to stay. They have actually found somewhere, but it’s over $100 a night. They don’t really want to spend that much, but they also don’t really want to ride the three hours back to Mai Chau. It’s about 4.00pm now, and I don’t really want them to ride back to Mai Chau. I couldn’t imagine doing that in the dark. We tell them where we’re staying, and we mention that Toan may be able to help them. It sounds like they may have already seen Toan and they’re now waiting for a possible solution.

We wish them well, and continue down the hill. With ‘our’ dogs.

More great things to look at, in particular the water harnessed thing. It really is fascinating the way that the water is directed where the farmers need it. It starts higher up the mountain, and as it makes it’s way down, each farmer gets an opportunity to use it before it continues on its way.

I find it very, very clever.

Knowing that the further we descend, the further we’ll have to walk back up the hill, and not wanting to risk the intrepid explorer’s wrath, we turn around and head back.

Dogs accompany us.

On the way back, a local approaches us. He really just wants to say hello. He doesn’t have a lot of English, but we spend a couple of minutes chatting. Turns out he’s a police officer from Hanoi. We seem to be attracting them…..

On we walk with ‘our’ dogs and eventually get back to our ‘house’. We sit at our table, and the dogs also take the opportunity to relax. At this point I’m worried that we may have ‘stolen’ the dogs.

Our host’s dog then returns. Or tries to.

The three dogs won’t let her and they beat up on her quite aggressively. She ends up having to sit on her own on the other side of a small pond, whimpering, that is not far from us.

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Our three ‘protector’ dogs.

It’s a sorry sight…..

Toan then reappears; and with beer!

Yep, hard not to love him….

He asks us if we’d like to go and see the Eco Lodge. He knows the guy there and wants to show us around. He says it’s nice, but also very expensive. Over $100 a night.

Ahhh, that must be the place that the French couple had looked at.

We go to have a look.

On the way there, we see the French couple. They’ve found a place, and yes, Toan had spoken to them earlier.

The Eco Lodge turns out to be the place with the gate, next to the waterfall. The place that had the dogs that the kids were tormenting earlier. The very dogs that had adopted us!

It’s nice when a jigsaw puzzle comes together…..

We go in and meet the guy, and he shows us around. It is nice! Very peaceful with bungalows dotted around, and over, a small lake. The gardens are also very good.

But it doesn’t have something that we have where we are.

A view!

Don’t get me wrong, it is very nice, but I definitely know where I’d rather be staying. Regardless of the money.

Toan’s mate invites us in and we have a beer together.

Again, just one of those ‘little’ things.

You don’t get that sitting in a resort…..

It’s getting dark so we head back to the house to get ready for dinner.

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Kids chipping in – unlike at home…!

While Lisa has a shower, I watch Hiyen’s brother (I can’t remember his name) fix an issue with the water irrigation directional thing. He takes it upon himself, and uses his initiative. He does it very well and I’m suitably impressed.

I also wonder if our own boy would be able to figure something like that, out.

But I don’t wonder for long. It has nothing to do with an iPhone, or a football, so the answer of course is, no.

 

Dinner is in the main house with the whole family, including Sohn’s husband, who I think was Lon. But I could be very wrong….

And once again, Dien has done a great job.

Tonight it’s spring rolls, rice, some greenery, and little rissole type things.

But the piece de resistance!?

Snails!

Hmmm…….

Big black garden type looking snails. Oh well, when in Rome…..

Sohn shows me how to ‘dig’ them out, and then dip them in a chilli or fish sauce.

The first one is……, ummm…….., interesting……

A bit chewy, and a bit……. snail-y…….

I think one might be enough.

I think wrong.

Sohn keeps ‘digging’ them out, so I have to accept. In the end, they actually grow on me.

Hopefully, not in me…..

But they’re alright. Not my favourite food by a long shot, but not bad.

The less snail-y stuff was also really good.

But once again, it was more about the whole experience, rather than the actual food.

Sitting on the floor; although we were given small seats to sit on; in someone’s house, enjoying both a meal and each other’s company, is just a real highlight. A truly wonderful experience.

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Mot, hai, ba, yo!

Like the previous night, there was more rice wine, and as such, much ‘mot, hai, ba, yo-ing’, going on.

It really was a lot of fun. And made even more so, by Sohn’s husband.

He had a light globe, attached to an electrical cord with a plug on the end. Every so often, he’d put the plug up his nose.

And when he did that, the light would come on!

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I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter…  So funny!

 

This time, it was me who was in tears. But from laughing.

Yep, just a wonderful night.

Getting late, it was time for bed. It had been a fairly long day, even though we hadn’t done a lot. Sometimes you just need to pull back a little; to just stop and recharge. A ‘down’ day, if you like.

And we’d done that, and now felt much better for it.

Tomorrow was another day, and while part of it filled me with dread – with it being a ‘goodbye’ day – I was really looking forward, in particular, to what we had planned at the end of the tour.

Cheers,

Scott