These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports! Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #9…
12-13 October 2014
Time to say good bye to Mai Chau.
The only thing that makes it slightly less difficult is the fact that we are going back to Hanoi.
Having said that, it is our final destination. And I hadn’t been looking forward to reaching that…….milestone.
Four full days still left of this amazing adventure; don’t look too far forward.
Make the most of every minute. Live the moment.
So, Sunday morning in Mai Chau, head reasonably clear after the “local water” the previous night. Good start.
Unfortunately the trip to the market didn’t happen. Duong was extremely busy that morning at breakfast – think he had quite a few people checking out at the same time.
There may have also been a bit of a mis-communication. Oh well, never mind. We’ll just have to come back again.
So, what to do……
Went for a walk with Lisa (that’s right, kids stayed in their room…..) round to the contrived tourist village to show her. Lots of visiting Hanoians dressed up enjoying themselves.
Then got back to the hotel and just sat out the front and people watched. Almost as much fun as a market anyway.
Just watching the locals doing what they do. Now that’s interesting.
Eventually our car and driver arrived and we were off.
Back up the hill out of the valley. Typical winding road but at least it was made. Didn’t have to worry about being bounced around but did have the usual anxious moments of overtaking trucks and cars on blind corners.
Gee there was some clenching going on.
Didn’t worry Lisa though…..she just went to sleep.
The drive from Mai Chau to Hanoi, like Ninh Binh to Mai Chau, are good examples of how slow travel in Vietnam can be. Hanoi is around 140 kms from Mai Chau.
We were told it could take around 4 hours. In the end it took us a little over 3 hours. We had a good run, maybe because it was a Sunday.
A similar drive in Australia would probably be around 1.5 to 2 hours.
Yep, takes time.
Usual sights on the way back. Cows on the road, road side vendors selling…..stuff. Didn’t recognise most of it…., apart from the oranges, which are actually green. Didn’t matter. Never dull.
Finally the country road gave way for the wide open space of the freeway.
Woohoo! We were getting close.
The freeway gave way for narrower roads and at about the same time the number of people around steadily grew.
And then the unmistakable Old Quarter appeared.
We had arrived!
Got back to the Artisan Boutique early afternoon and were reunited with our luggage that we’d left behind a week earlier.
In hindsight, we probably could have left most, if not all, of that in Melbourne. Live and learn…..
Time for lunch so we headed out round the corner to a small “café”.
On the way, a street vendor – “Want to buy some books?” he asks.
“No thanks, not really much of a reader”.
Especially of books that were written 25 years ago….
The rest of the afternoon was spent re-acquainting ourselves with the streets of the Old Quarter. This time in daylight and with far fewer people (still s#@*loads though) than the week before. A stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake, and guess what….., the kids came too.
Probably prefer it when they stay in their room…..
That night we got a phone call from our Ninh Binh friends, and we decided to catch up for dinner.
It was suggested we meet at the big round-about near the lake. Not too sure why that particular spot was mentioned. It’s not like it’s a busy place or anything……
Anyway, in amongst the 27 000 people there, we found them.
Like us, they had arrived from Mai Chau during the afternoon. And like us, they had also loved Mai Chau.
And as it turned out, the duck didn’t end up being a pet.
It did, however, end up being delicious.
Went to a restaurant around the corner and had a great meal while we caught up on what we’d been doing and what we’d seen on our respective journeys.
After dinner we walked around the night market. Amazing sights. So many people. So vibrant.
Bid our friends farewell; they were leaving for HCMC the next day; and promised to catch up when we all returned to Melbourne.
Up early-ish the next morning to have breakfast in the restaurant next door (part of the hotel).
It seriously does not get better than this. Sitting on the first floor balcony, overlooking the street, eating probably the best hotel supplied breakfast we had had in Vietnam.
But it wasn’t the food that made it so good.
It was the setting.
And again, it was watching the locals go about their day.
The two women over the road that set up their kitchen in the narrowest of laneways and served breakfast to those that were obviously regulars.
The woman on her bike selling bags of ice to the shop owners in the street.
Another woman setting up her little stall selling drinks and snacks.
The fruit and vegetable vendors walking along selling their wares.
Amazing sights and just so wonderful to watch.
And the best bit?
Finding out that I would be able to finish my day the same way I started it.
Sitting there as it’s starting to get dark, watching the world go by. But this time with a beer.
It would become my afternoon ritual. Happy days indeed.
That morning we had a booking with Hanoi Kids. Our guide duly showed up to the hotel at 9.00am and asked us what we would like to see and do. Wasn’t overly fussed. Was just looking forward to spending some time with a local while looking at something.
He suggested Hoa Lo prison. Perfect, it was something I wanted to see anyway.
“Did we want to get a taxi there or walk”.
“10 minute walk”,
“Pffft……we’ll walk”. Partly to annoy the kids……
Sky, our guide, is a 21 year old university student who is studying tourism management. Lovely guy, very friendly and came across as really knowing his stuff.
Once again, it was great to just talk to him about his life and about his plans for the future.
And the prison?
Would not be a place that you would want to have had to spend time in.
Depressing, soul destroying, scary.
We spent around 1.5 hours looking around and it was well worth the time.
Having a guide enabled us to get more out of it too.
On the way back to the hotel we walked past St Joseph’s Cathedral.
What an amazing building. It just comes out of nowhere and has so much character.
Great photo opportunity.
Finally back at the hotel Sky grabbed a map and noted a few places and things for us to go and explore.
Two of them grabbed my attention immediately.
First, where to get the best egg coffee.
And second, beer corner.
Seeing as it was only 12.00pm, beer corner would have to wait.
It was time for egg coffee.
“Egg coffee Lisa! How about that?”
You’d think I’d said, “Fried goat testicles and chicken feet”.
“Trust me, I’ve read about it on Trip Advisor”.
She’s not convinced. She has that look.
Doesn’t matter; we’re doing it.
Already gone up to their room.
So off we go; trusty, non-drawn, map in hand.
We have the address and we’ve been told what the front looks like.
We’ve also been told you have to walk down a narrow passage way, so don’t be nervous.
That was good to know. I’m not sure I would have been game enough to go in.
Eventually we get there.
Sure enough, there’s the passage way.
In we go.
Lisa still has that look.
We get to the end and the guy tells us to go upstairs. Getting even more interesting.
Upstairs it’s quite open, very bright and pretty warm.
And there’s no one else like us up there.
This is good!
Lisa still has that look though.
The waiter arrives,
“Egg coffee please”.
“Hot or iced?”
“Iced please”. It’s hot up there. Has to be iced.
Lisa still has that look.
Fair dinkum, she’ll be left home with the kids next time as well……
It’s in a glass.
It’s yellow and a little frothy.
I had no idea what to expect, but Wow! I like it!
Lisa tries it.
That look disappears.
“Seeeee, told you so”, said in that annoying voice I’m so good at.
Even if you have to be dragged kicking and screaming……
Another thing ticked off the list, we head out to explore more of Hanoi.
Heading further away from the lake we get to Tran Quang Khai street.
It’s wide (3 or 4 lanes each way?), it’s on 2 levels and it’s busy.
Is it worth risking life and limb to see what’s on the other side?
We’ll find out.
So what’s over there?
More of Hanoi.
Different Hanoi though.
How is it different?
No one tries to sell you anything, there’s no one else that looks like you and the locals are just as curious about you, as you are of them.
I love it.
It’s so real.
So we just walk.
Where ever. It doesn’t matter.
Yep – I just love it.
We cross “that” road one more time and head back towards the lake.
Eventually we end up somewhere around ‘beer corner’.
Still a bit early for one so we find something to eat.
A traditional Vietnamese meal of French fries and fried cheese is ordered…….yum……hmmmm…….
Lunch done, it’s probably time to try out some parenting, so we head back to the hotel.
They’ve spent their 100 000 dong lunch money on soft drink and chocolate bars.
Surprisingly……they’re still hungry.
We head out to do a little shopping and I offer to get them a snack to tide them over till dinner.
Five minutes later we’re standing in KFC.
I feel dirty…..
Souvenir shopping done, Lisa has promised the girl a hot chocolate from the multi-national coffee chain place thing near the round-about.
Lisa wants one too and the boy is also interested.
“Knock yourselves out, I’m off”.
“See you back at the hotel”.
It’s this part – “See you back at the hotel” – that is disputed.
I’ll get to that later.
Off I go, just doing my people watching thing and exploring the streets.
Eventually I get back to the street the hotel is in. The same bloke that tried to sell me books the day before is there again.
“Want to buy some books?”
Still, “No thank you”.
Can’t blame him for trying I suppose…
Back at the hotel I discover they haven’t yet returned.
That’s ok, I’ll go next door and do my beer on the balcony thing.
Now this the life. Yep, what a way to finish the day.
Well into the second beer and I’m thinking Lisa and the kids must be out doing some more shopping.
Then all of a sudden, a thought pops into my head.
They’re not waiting for me at the coffee place are they……?
A few minutes later…….Oh, here they come.
If looks could kill….
Time for another beer….
Beer finished, it was time to head back and apologise to Lisa for her not listening to me properly…… :-)
That done, it was off to dinner.
An Italian / Vietnamese restaurant opposite the previous night’s restaurant as it turned out.
Can’t remember what I had, but whatever it was, it was ok. And the kids were happy.
So it actually probably wasn’t that good after all…… :-)
It was just nice sitting on the first floor balcony, within touching distance of tangled power lines, watching the world go by.
First full day in Hanoi down; two to go.
The days were flying by now…… :-(
There you go, told you it would get out of hand again…..
Till the next one.