4 October 2017 – Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi
Up reasonably early. And there’s a few reasons for that.
One, I have a 12.00pm flight to Hanoi.
Two, I want to make the most of my limited time here.
And three, I need to do something that we were unable to do on our last trip here. That is, to go up to Tao Dan Park to see all the birds that get taken there early in the morning.
Last time we were here we only had a single night in District One before returning home the next day. Neither of us were terribly well by this stage, and getting up early for the birds was just too much of an ask.
For 18 months I’ve been wanting to rectify that.
Out the hotel and up one of the narrow streets towards the park. It’s only 6.45am and already the kids are heading into school.
Our kids have it so easy….
The whole area is already a hive of activity. As well as the kids, and along with already ridiculous amounts of traffic, there are heaps of street vendors cooking on the footpaths. In some cases, they’re already packing up after selling out of whatever it was they were selling.
The sights, along with the smells, were more than just a little enjoyable.
It made me realise something that I don’t think I’d noticed before.
HCMC has a very different feel in the morning, compared to later in the day.
There’s a freshness, and a vibrancy, to the place. Maybe all places are like that, but on this particular occasion, it was the first time I’d noticed it about HCMC.
I really like it, and I really like that I like it.
Could be the beginning of a love affair….
Eventually up to the park, and there’s a lot more people around than yesterday afternoon.
And there’s plenty of birds in cages as well.
First things first, however, the morning caphe sua da needs to be ordered.
That done, it’s time to people watch. As well as a little bird watching, I suppose.
Anyway, it was all quite interesting to see the goings on. But to be honest, it probably doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, when you have a caphe sua da in front of you.
The bird’s owners, who seemed mainly to be men, turn up with their birds in their small cages and then hang them on these metal structures in the park.
The owners then enjoy a drink and a chat, while the birds chat to each other.
Well, I assume that’s what the birds do, but I could be mistaken.
Anyway, if I was a bird, that’s what I would do.
Caphe sua da done, it was off for a bit more of a walk through the other parts of the park.
And there was plenty going on there as well. Lots of people exercising, walking, jogging, playing badminton, doing aerobics; there were heaps of people out and about.
With time not really on my side, I headed back to the hotel for breakfast. I would have been quite happy to have something outside, but after last year’s final morning where I could stomach nothing more than a piece of toast, I needed to make amends and try the hotel’s food.
As I walk into the dining area, the guy from last year is there. The one that tried to get me to try some of the various offerings they had, which incidentally, looked really good. The one that I’m sure was so disappointed when all I could do was have a slice of toast.
I felt really bad at the time, and not just because I felt really ordinary.
Anyway, as I walk in, he says hello, and ‘welcome back’.
I must have made quite an impression last time…..
The breakfast again looks good. A couple of western options, but mainly Vietnamese. Including pho and half sized banh mi’s.
“Noodle soup?”, he asks.
I want to say yes, mainly to please him, as I still feel like I let him down last year. But seeing as I’ve just been out in the heat, a hot bowl of soup is not something I really feel like.
And seeing as the banh mi’s look so good, that is my preference.
And as it turned out, they not only just looked good. They were very good!
So much so, that I had three. And for me, at breakfast, that’s a fair effort.
As I’m finishing up, an English guy sits near me. We have a good chat about what we’ve both been doing, as well as what we will be doing.
It was nice, and it made me realise that I’d missed that interaction with people. Also, that travelling solo can be a little lonely.
Anyway, he’d been up North and had now made his way down South. He’d only been in HCMC a day or two, but had already decided that Hanoi was easily his preferred city.
We talked about that, and while I had just had a really enjoyable walk around the park and its surrounds, I said I agreed with him.
I really want to love HCMC, like I do Hanoi, but it’s just not the same. And I’m not really sure what it is that makes me feel like that.
With the clock still ticking, I bid farewell to my chatting partner, as well as my breakfast mate, and headed upstairs to get sorted.
Geez, I hate one night stays….
It actually took me longer to get here, than the actual time I got to spend in HCMC.
All packed up, and then it’s back downstairs for one of those ‘goodbyes’, with Anh.
Already, and once again, it’s the people.
Out the door and off in the direction of Ben Thanh market to get the 109 yellow bus, back to the airport.
Twenty seven ‘no thanks’, to the cyclo drivers and xe om’s as I walk past, and I can see the bus in the distance.
Reaching it, a guy tells me it’s not going anywhere at the moment. Apparently, it’s been involved in a small accident with a car and they’re sorting it out with the car’s driver. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the car driver doesn’t seem convinced that he’s done anything wrong.
Oh well, not my problem, and ten minutes later another 109 bus turns up.
Another 20 000 Dong handed over, and 30 minutes later I’m back at the airport.
It really is so simple.
Into the terminal, and to try and quicken things up a bit, I head over to the self check in machines. Being somewhat technology challenged, I get the Vietnam Airline’s girl to do it for me. I don’t think she has the same issues I have, but she can’t get it to work anyway.
Great, we’ll do it the old fashioned way.
Doesn’t take too long and I’m quickly heading upstairs for the security check. There’s a few there, but it seems to be moving alright. Having to take off shoes, belts, watches and hats slows things down a bit, but what price security, hey?
Through to the other side, and it’s time to play the waiting game.
A quick phone call to the guy we’re staying with when we return to HCMC in a week and a half, and it’s then off to find another caphe sua da fix.
It’s a bit of a McDonald’s type of one, and it costs a whopping 50 000 Dong, but it’s actually alright.
I mean seriously, when is a caphe sua da not alright.
It’s a bit like pizza and sex; even when it’s not that good, it’s still pretty good.
So, I sit, wait, savour my drink, and do Trip Advisor stuff.
Soon, the call comes. And yep, as usual, they all race up. Queue diminishing, I make my move. Downstairs and out on the tarmac, and then into the bus to take us to the plane.
What seemed like ten minutes later, we finally got there. I’m not sure if the plane could actually be parked further away from the terminal itself, but for a few moments there I thought we may have been bussing it to Hanoi.
Anyway, all good, and we take off just a few minutes late.
Being over a one hour flight, as well as it being lunchtime, we get fed on the plane. And as far as airline food goes, it was pretty good.
Oh, and the other good thing was that I finally got a window seat.
Which, unfortunately, due to cloud cover, was only partly good.
But the cloud made up for it in other ways. As we were coming into Hanoi, it got bumpy. Not so bumpy that you were in danger of needing a change of pants, but bumpy enough that you ended up getting a really good ride.
Well, it entertained me. Not sure if everyone else was that happy with the proceedings.
Off the plane pretty quickly, and still without any checked luggage, I was out through the doors of the terminal in just a few minutes.
Now well and truly a convert for buses, along with wanting to experience other options, I quickly spot the orange number 86 bus.
Taking a seat, handing over 30 000 Dong, we are quickly on our way. First stop is the International terminal, and the bus is now full.
I end up with a young French girl sitting next to me. Well, I didn’t realise that she was French until I started talking to her. And it actually took me a few minutes to get that conversation started, as I didn’t want to come across as this weird old guy.
It’s funny, I don’t think of myself as old, but when I think of my age, I quickly realise that I ain’t that young anymore.
I also don’t think of myself as weird, but I’m probably not the best one to be a judge of that.
Anyway, when I finally got up enough courage to talk to her, we ended up having a really good chat.
It was her first time in Vietnam so I was able to give her a few tips on what to do, as well as what not to do.
She wasn’t sure where she was staying, but she was apparently meeting up with someone. Where she was meeting them was also a bit of an unknown, so I said that I would help to get her to Hoan Kiem Lake, and then she could then work out the rest from there.
The other advantage of that for her, was that she would get a couple of lessons in how to cross the roads.
And judging by the sounds she was making as we did cross, it seemed to be a rather steep learning curve.
It was kind of funny.
Safely at the lake, and as a shoe repair guy approached her, I gave her one final tip as I politely told him to go away.
Yep, say no thank you to the shoe ‘repairers’, and keep walking.
Wishing her all the best, I left her and headed off in search of my hotel, feeling more than a little pleased with myself. As well as feeling very happy to be back in my Hanoi.
Up optical street, keeping an eye out for Hai the book seller, but not seeing him, and left into Hang Gai which then becomes Hang Bong.
I spot the little alleyway that I have to walk down. Very local, very different feel, and very much a place that I probably wouldn’t have walked down on our first trip.
But now on the third trip, well, this kind of thing is what I crave.
So, yes, very happy with the location, except I can’t actually find the hotel.
Fortunately, I had the name written down and I was able to ask a rather perplexed local sitting on his bike. Turns out it was just around the corner.
Quickly checked in to the Tung Trang hotel, and while the room is rather small, it is quite modern and also seems pretty new.
So yes, pretty happy with my choice.
But some things never change, and once again, I have phone issues.
This is now more of an issue as I’m trying to contact someone I’d been talking with on Trip Advisor. She’s been in Vietnam for the last three weeks or so, and she now has a couple more nights in Hanoi before she heads home.
Tonight is the only night that we’ll both be here, so a catch up was trying to be arranged. My phone issues, coupled with some limitations on her phone, are making communication more than a little difficult.
Email seems the ‘best’ way, and that’s working at the moment, but unless I’m sitting in the hotel, I don’t always have wifi.
Trying to find a meeting point is also problematic. Partly because she doesn’t know where beer corner is.
Yes, while her research on Trip Advisor had been quite good, it was far from perfect.
In the end I take a chance and head out. I still need to find that power adaptor that I half heartedly looked for in HCMC.
I ask the guy at the hotel where I can get one, and he mentions a shop over near optical street.
Excellent!, I know exactly where that is.
Well, it would have been excellent, had I been able to find the shop, but alas, I either misunderstood what he said, or the shop is no longer there.
Yeah, yeah, I suspect a misunderstanding is probably the more likely scenario….
Starting to get a little frustrated with everything that’s going on at the moment, I have a brilliant idea about how to solve my wifi issue.
I head around the corner to the hotel that we normally stay at when in Hanoi, and sit out the front in the hope that my phone will automatically connect.
As it turned out, my idea wasn’t as brilliant as I first thought.
Frustration levels now slightly higher, I do the only thing that I know will definitely help.
I head up towards beer corner.
I’m not sure which place I’ll go to, so I walk around the block for a bit of a look.
This, as it turns out, is quite fortuitous. I pass a shop that seems to sell electronic type stuff, and sure enough, they have power adaptors.
See, beer, or even just the searching for it, can solve all sorts of problems.
Anyway, 65 000 Dong later, and one of my issues is taken care of.
I have no idea if I paid over the odds for it, but at that point I didn’t care.
Not really finding any other beer place, I head back to the one I was at last year.
Unfortunately, for some reason, they didn’t have a beer keg on this particular day. It would have to be bottled beer.
Aaaaargh, fine then……
I just need beer. Doesn’t matter what vessel it’s in at this stage.
Now, I don’t know if it was the beer; it probably was, remember, it is an amazing thing with extraordinary powers; but I then get wifi.
I email Rachael again to let her know where I am. She emails straight back and says she’s just about to leave her hotel.
Ahhh, things finally seem to be working out.
So I sit. And wait.
And wait some more.
I then start to get that feeling of being the old weird guy.
What if she’s seen me, and then decided to just keep walking? Maybe she thinks I am that weird old guy…???
Bloody hell, this must be what a blind date is like!
This kind of stuff is no fun at all.
Might have to hang on to Lisa a little bit longer….
Damn it, I’ll just get another beer.
Then, she finally arrives.
“Oh, sorry for keeping you waiting”, she says.
“No problem, all good, just been people watching while relaxing and enjoying a beer”, I say, of which only some of that is true.
So we chat for a bit, and then decide to get some dinner.
Now we just need to make a decision on where.
I mentioned a bun cha place that I’d walked past earlier, not far from the hotel. It was quite small, and fairly ‘basic’.
Both those things appealed, but it was the fact that there was a tour guide in there at the time with some tourists, obviously on a food tour, that really caught my attention.
If it’s on a food tour list, then the assumption is that it must be reasonably good.
What the hell, let’s give it a go.
My problem, however, is that I can’t really remember where it is. I know it’s somewhere near the other end of the street that I walked down, when I first got to the hotel.
So, knowing how to get back to the hotel the same way I originally arrived, we did that.
We then walked past the hotel, turned right down another alleyway, then turned left.
And whaddya know, there it was!
Very happy with my deduction skills, as well as my memory.
We take a seat on the footpath and continue chatting, while the food arrives.
Chat was great, and food was pretty good, too.
Although, to be honest, and I’m sure people will roll their eyes here and wonder what the hell is wrong with me, but I don’t really ‘get’ bun cha.
I mean it’s nice, but I just don’t really understand the combination. Either, or, but not both together.
Anyway, maybe it’s just that old, weird guy thing….
Dinner done; but what now?
I don’t know if she’s had enough of our catch up, and wants to run away rather quickly, or whether she’s not quite sick of me yet.
So, trying to sound as least weird as I can, I ask her what she wants to do.
Nup, she wants to hang out a bit longer.
Oh, ok, just a little surprised at that, but also quite happy with it.
But now, what will we do.
Unfortunately, Rachael isn’t a beer drinker. If I’d known that beforehand, this catch up may not have happened.
We, or mainly I, decide to head further away from the lake in the hope of finding somewhere different to beer corner.
After 20 minutes of aimless walking, the only thing that we manage to succeed in doing, is get lost.
A combination of my paper map, as well as Rachael’s google maps (ok, mainly Rachael’s google maps) we finally work out where we are.
Walking through some ridiculous sized crowds at times, we take the easy option and head back to beer corner.
Somewhere on Ma May street, just opposite a backpacker’s place, I spot the welcoming sight of a beer keg.
The guy in charge of it also spots us and is quite keen for us to patronise his establishment.
Sorry, some times big words just pop into my head. I’m not sure where that came from…
Anyway, the non beer drinker asks our man if he has anything other than beer to drink.
He thinks for a second, and then offers the suggestion of vodka.
The beer hater likes that suggestion, and the guy quickly pulls a bottle of vodka out from underneath his motorbike seat.
I mean really, where else would you keep your vodka….???
We take our seats on the small plastic chairs on the footpath, which is by far the best way to do this.
Beers, vodka, people watching in the madness of the Old Quarter, and a new friend.
Geez, that was going along ok until I went all gushy. But she is a nice girl, even for a Queenslander, and we got on extremely well.
Maybe don’t tell her I said all that, though.
So we chatted, drank, chatted, and continued to drink. Which was going along alright until some of the drink needed removing.
Fortunately, I checked our establishment’s toilet first. While it wasn’t the worst one I’d used in Vietnam, it also wasn’t the best one.
A heads up was given to Miss Vodka, and a quick visit to the backpacker’s over the road was made.
As much as I didn’t want it to end, it was eventually time to call it a night. Another early start in the morning awaited me.
But it had been a great night, and it was just nice to be able to chat with someone. Especially someone that was so easy to get along with.
Again, don’t tell her.
Because I’m a gentleman, but not a really good one, I walked her part way back to her hotel.
But she still must have thought I was a reasonable one, as we had to do the selfie thing.
After some confusion on where I was supposed to be looking, we finally worked it out.
Yes, that technology thing….
Time for one of those ‘goodbyes’; still hate ‘em….; and we went our separate ways.
Off back towards the hotel in streets that were now far quieter than what they were earlier, and I drop into a small independent convenience store for some supplies.
Not being completely sure what I’ll need, or where I’ll be, for the next eight days, I decide to be prepared with some ‘just in case’ items.
Toilet paper and soap purchased, and seeing as they also sell beer, a couple of them too.
Finally back at the hotel at 11.30pm, and I was rather pleased to find the front door still open.
Greeting the manager as I walked in, I was not sure if he was as pleased, as I.
He played a rather straight face….
Up to the room for some Trip Advisor and note taking, as well as those two beers that I didn’t really need.
All that done, it was time to crash.
A new journey is to begin tomorrow. And it’s why I’m here by myself.