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 #10…
14-15 October 2014
Second last full day in Hanoi.
Second last full day in Vietnam.
Trying not to think about it….
Up early. Real early! 5.30am in fact.
Well, early for me. Especially when you’re on holidays.
And why were we up then?
Because of Tripadvisor.
Someone had posted something about getting up early and walking around Hoan Kiem Lake. Something about seeing the locals exercising, walking dogs, doing Thai Chi. That sort of thing.
Apparently, it’s interesting.
So we’re up, and down at the lake before 6.00am.
So, is it interesting?
The first thing you notice is how quiet the streets are.
Most of the shops are still closed. There are very few cars and motorbikes on the road. And it’s very quiet.
For the first time, we could actually get to a road and walk straight across it without waiting.
It was a bit eerie…..
Down to the lake; like I said; interesting. Fascinating, even.
I seem to use that word a lot. But it is. I just find the whole place fascinating.
Thousands of locals walking, or jogging, around the lake. Most of them (mainly the males) wearing white singlets and shorts.
People walking their dogs – one memorable one was the little black poodle, wearing red shoes.
Thai Chi groups.
People using park benches, or anything else that was available, for stretching exercises.
We did a lap of the lake and then headed back towards the hotel. The long way.
Again, it was just interesting to see the locals beginning their day. The fruit and vegetable vendors just starting out, the shops opening their doors for the first time, the street food breakfast places setting up.
And it’s just so quiet. So different from later in the day.
Yep, well worth the early start.
Back to the hotel for an earlier than normal breakfast. Our usual spot on the balcony.
Could sit there for hours.
Later that morning we decided we’d go for a walk.
Just the two of us, of course…..
Out the door of the hotel and around the corner.
There’s the guy with the books again.
“Want to buy books?”
“No thank you”. Same answer as yesterday….
No particular plans but we thought we’d walk towards Uncle Ho’s Mausoleum.
We had no desire go in; and in the end we couldn’t anyway as he was off being ‘serviced’? or whatever they do to him each year…..; but we thought we’d just walk up there to see where it was, and to see whatever else there was around.
It’s a fair walk. But it’s a good walk.
Apart from having to put up with the cyclo riders every so often.
“You want cyclo?”
“Where you going?”
“This way. Doesn’t matter”.
“You want cyclo?”
“You want cyclo?”
It’s all part of it but it does get a little tiring at times…..
We eventually got there.
And apart from a couple of policemen on guard duties, we were the only ones around.
A large impressive looking building in the middle of a very, very empty square.
I understand it gets incredibly busy there, but it’s hard to imagine with what we saw.
A quick walk around, posed for a ‘selfie’, seeing as our young photographers were having a sleep in, and then headed back in the same direction from where we’d come.
Came across some sort of demonstration. A group of 20 or 30 people walking peacefully down the street carrying a large banner.
Had no idea what they were trying to raise awareness of but decided that we were possibly better off on the other side of the road just in case the authorities took exception to them.
We got back to the Army Museum, which we had passed earlier, and decided that we’d have a look around.
Spent probably an hour and a half there and ended up getting kicked out because they close for lunch. That was ok, we’d seen most it by then anyway.
Interesting place and worth a look. Particularly the tanks, planes and helicopters on display outside. The Flag Tower is also impressive.
On our way again, back towards the old Quarter.
And another “Wow!” moment.
A woman, squatting down on the footpath next to the gutter.
A meat cleaver in her hand, and a chopping board in front of her.
And a plastic bag beside her.
In the bag. Frogs. Very much alive.
On the chopping board. Two neat piles.
One pile. A stack of headless frogs.
The second pile. A stack of, not quite surgically removed, frog heads.
Someone was certainly going to enjoy an incredibly fresh plate of frogs for lunch.
Again, just so natural. So real.
Unfortunate for the poor frogs, but fascinating none the less.
Back in the old Quarter we found a small ‘café’ that specialised in banh mi and fruit smoothies.
Simple stuff but oh so good. And cheap too.
Actually, lunch was one of the things that we often struggled with from time to time.
We didn’t actually need that much as we had often eaten a fairly big breakfast. What we wanted most days was just a snack or perhaps a sandwich. At times we found it difficult to find something like that.
There was certainly no shortage of food available but a lot of it was large bowls of steaming hot pho or similar. And the Vietnamese love that. They have it for breakfast and then again at lunch. But for me, when it’s 32 degrees, I don’t find a boiling hot bowl of something overly appealing.
Lunch done, we made our way back to the hotel.
Kids had been experiencing the real sights of Vietnam by sitting on their beds watching movies. Then venturing out to purchase the traditional Vietnamese food of a chocolate bar and a can of Coke.
It really was wonderful to see them getting so much out of it……
Time for a little shopping; and surprise, surprise, the kids are interested.
An hour or so of that, and I’m done.
It’s also very close to beer o’clock.
“See you later, I’m off. I’ll meet you on the balcony next door to the hotel at around 5.00pm”, I said.
Repeating myself 5 times to ensure there was no mix up and thus alleviate my need to apologise again for Lisa’s inability to listen properly……
So, off towards ‘beer corner’.
Arriving at the particular intersection, I’m faced with two immediate possibilities.
One, a largish establishment with maybe somewhere between 50 and 100 people sitting on plastic chairs out the front.
Ok, obviously popular. But they’re all tourists.
Second possibility is opposite the first. Half as many people but a few locals sprinkled amongst the group.
Neither overly appeals.
Turn to the right and begin walking down the street.
Ahead is another bia hoi place.
A local standing next to his keg. A sign indicating bia hoi for 5000 dong.
And the best bit; about 15 to 20 locals sitting on the footpath drinking his beer.
He sees me and acknowledges me with a smile.
This is the place.
I sit and he pours me a glass of fresh, and very cold, beer.
For 25 cents, it don’t get much better than this.
It really is a great way to relax at the end of the day.
And it’s so interesting to soak in everything that’s going on around you.
From the guy on the motorbike dropping off kegs to other bia hoi places; another guy carrying more crates of beer on his motorbike than I thought was possible; to the food vendor who would crouch down in the gutter and cook something (not sure what it was) on her little portable stove with charcoal.
Here I go again…..fascinating
I think I sat there the whole time with a silly smile on my face. I just loved it.
It was funny though. Every so often a couple of tourists would walk past me. I’d smile; they’d smile; and they would continue on their way. Quite often, into the tourist oriented bar across the street.
I just didn’t get it.
You come all this way and you end up sitting in a bar, just like the one you sit in at home, with people just like you.
Yep, just didn’t get.
Anyway, couldn’t stop at one so ended up having a few. After all, at 5000 dong, it really was a case of – ‘the more you drink, the more you save’.
Did the right thing and left with enough time to get back to the ‘balcony’ by 5.00pm.
Turned into the street the hotel is in……
“Would you like to buy a book?”
“No thank you”.
Enjoyed the last hour or so of daylight on the balcony and then headed up to get ready to go out for dinner.
Had no plans so just walked till we found something.
Then we found it.
A mass of people, more importantly, locals, sitting on the footpath in the usual chairs. On each table was some sort of hot plate, like a little barbeque.
Turns out you cook your own food.
“Would we like a table?”
Kids look a little horrified.
That helps with my answer.
They fire up our barbeque and a large plate of meat and assorted vegetables arrives.
Instructions are given and the cooking process begins.
And guess what!?
The kids get into it. They did all the cooking and they loved it.
Who would have thought!
The food was beautiful and the beer was cold.
It was a fantastic night, and a great way to finish off what had been, a really good day.
The next day……unfortunately, our last full day…..
Started the day in the usual way.
Downstairs and into next door for breakfast. Grab our usual balcony seat.
Watch the locals go about their morning.
Absolutely fascinated by it.
Breakfast done, we drop into the kid’s room on the way back up to ours.
“We’re going for a walk. Assume you’re not coming?”
“Ok, breakfast finishes shortly so get yourselves organised. Here’s 100 000 dong if you get hungry later. We’ll be back when we’re back.”
We’re happy. Kids are happy.
Back downstairs, Angela, the hotel receptionist, asks us where we are going.
We’re not really sure but we mention Dong Xuan Market.
“Is it worth having a look at?”, we ask.
Yeah, she says, but certainly not ‘selling’ it to us. It’s a wholesale market apparently.
Ok, that’s where we’ll head.
Out the front door and up towards the corner.
“Would you like to buy a book?”
Sigh……same answer as the day before…..
Eventually, we get there.
What a place!
It has everything.
Everything you see in the shops around town comes from here.
All the tourist souvenirs.
The coconut bowls, the placemats, the t-shirts, the hats. Everything.
But it’s not just souvenirs.
Clothes, material, food, hardware, shoes.
Anything and everything.
It’s crowded, it’s cramped, it’s busy, it’s vibrant and it’s just so interesting.
Being a wholesale market I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to buy anything there. We actually assumed you couldn’t.
We stopped at a souvenir type stall run by a little old woman. I picked something up to have a closer look and she motioned to me indicating I could buy it.
In the end we bought quite a few things from her and had a lot of fun in the process.
And it saved us a few dollars. More importantly though, it saved us heaps of time.
But the real highlight was just walking around the whole place.
Yep, incredibly interesting, and here’s that word again, fascinating.
Oh, and another first….only took the best part of 4 weeks….I had my first sugar cane juice. I’d wondered what it would be like but never had the guts to try one. Assumed it would be really sweet. It’s actually not too bad. Quite refreshing with a large block of ice in it.
Yep, ice……oooohhh. Living dangerously…..
Reluctantly left the market and headed towards the Long Bien Bridge. Only because we were reasonably close to it. Then headed back to the hotel along that busy road we’d crossed the day before.
Eventually back at the hotel to meet our now incredibly knowledgeable movie reviewers to drag them out for lunch.
Lisa was keen to return to our lunch place from yesterday and show the kids what they had been missing out on. I suspected that they would feel that they hadn’t missed out on anything.
I was half right.
The boy enjoyed it but did a reasonably good job at hiding it.
And the girl just sat there with that face she does so well.
Bit more shopping followed before the call from my bia hoi mate became too strong.
One last visit before that dreaded final day arrives tomorrow.
“Meet you at the balcony at 5.00pm”.
I’m off, out the hotel and up to the corner.
You know what’s coming.
“Want to buy a book?”
But quickly followed with –
“Hey, I keep seeing you and asking you the same thing!”
“Yes, yes you do”. “And no thank you, I really don’t want a book”.
The penny well and truly dropped….finally….we both head on our way with smiles on our faces.
Sitting in my usual spot I have my last few bia hoi’s.
Just as good as yesterday. Just as much fun as well.
It’s at this point I started to realise that this is unlikely to be the only time we visit Vietnam.
I’d sent my aunty, who was back in Melbourne, a couple of texts while I was sitting there drinking my beer, as well as several during the preceding 4 weeks. She’d sensed that I’d fallen in love with the place and that I’d probably want to return.
I hadn’t actually thought too much about it up until now.
I suspect it was the first time I’d had a chance to reflect on what we’d done.
Beers finished, I headed back to the hotel.
Surprisingly, even though it was essentially our last day, I felt good. I felt content.
I’d had a fantastic day, I’d loved Hanoi, and now I realised that at some point, hopefully not too far down the track, I would return to this wonderful country.
Back to the street the hotel is in.
There he is.
He has the biggest smile on his face when he sees me.
I burst out laughing and shake my head.
He tries one more time.
“No….., I don’t want a book”.
He laughs. I keep on walking.
“How about a Vietnamese phrase book?”
He has me. Almost. If we’re going to return, a phrase book could be handy…..
Mmmm…..I stop. I almost ask him how much.
But I’ve been here for 4 weeks. I’m much more street smart now. If I ask him, he’ll have me.
“No, no thank you”.
Back up on the balcony with Lisa, doing what I love. Just watching the world go by.
I look down. And there he is again; my book seller. But he’s further down the street than he usually is.
He looks up and spots me.
He laughs. I laugh.
He holds up his little phrase book.
I’ve lost it.
“Ok! How much?”
I have never seen a bloke move so fast.
All of a sudden, he is on the balcony with us.
It’s funny. We’re all laughing.
We haggle back and forth and in the end I give in. I probably pay a dollar or two more than I should have.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter.
I bought a book that I can use, and along with that I got an experience. It was nice.
He disappeared off into the night, happy with his sale and, like I said, I was content.
It had been a great day.
Time for dinner.
Like last night we had no plans. Worst case scenario we would go back to the same barbeque place. Not a bad scenario at all.
So we walk.
And there it is.
A big place, or more to the point, area, filled with the usual tables and chairs.
Lots of locals as well as a fair few tourists. It’s pumping.
This will do.
We sit down and order. Can’t remember exactly what we had but it was a couple of meat and noodle dishes. Doesn’t matter. It was beautiful and there was plenty of it.
A couple of Hanoi beers. With ice of course. It was just a fantastic way to spend our last night.
While we were sitting there a western couple sat down beside us. They seemed to be a little lost and actually pointed to our food when the waiter came up to take their order.
Turns out they were French and they had arrived in Vietnam only 6 hours earlier.
I asked them what they thought so far, even though I knew the answer.
They looked the same as we did 4 weeks earlier, when we first arrived in HCMC.
They were stunned. The culture shock had whacked them over the head. They were struggling.
I gave them a few tips from what we had learned and I think they were happier by the time we had left. I think they were grateful for the chat.
It was a nice feeling knowing that I had helped to put their minds at ease, too.
Back to the hotel to drop the kids off; apparently there was a movie on they wanted to see…..
We, on the other hand, were not quite done.
Back up to the big round about and into the building that overlooks it. There’s a bar on the top floor.
Very touristy, very western, and of course much more expensive.
But, I was going up there for the view.
And again, what a way to finish your last night.
Watching the madness that was still going on below; even at 10 o’clock at night.
A fantastic day that had turned into a wonderful night.
Yep, just a great way to end it.
So that was that.
I think there might be one more report.
A bit of a summation to finish it off.
I’ll include the last half day in that as well.