Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 13



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 complimentary 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.

Water tower.
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…..

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.

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!

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.

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.

And yep, not surprisingly, it goes as expected…..

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 kind of pleases me.

Lisa, on the other hand, is 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.

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.


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 rather surprisingly, there’s 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.

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’ve 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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…….




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