Vietnam 2017 – Trip Report 4

5 October 2017 – Hanoi – Tu Le

Up reasonably early again, but not quite bouncing out of bed.  Long days and late nights will kind of put a dampener on the amount of bouncing achievable….

Downstairs and out into the still fairly quiet streets of Hanoi to do something I should have done yesterday; and that is, to exchange some money.

Being a little after 7.30am, most tour agent places, as well as shops, are still closed.  Having embarked on this exact exercise when I was last here 18 months ago, I head up towards beer corner.  It was here that I got a better rate than some of the places in the streets closer to the lake.

Again, most places are still closed, but there is one lady sitting in a tour agency.

Fortunately, before I’d left the hotel, I checked what the current rate was for Australian dollars.  It was around 17 800 Dong.

I asked my potential exchange lady what her rate was.  17 200 was her response.

“Hmmm”, I responded, with a slight screwing up of the nose.

Now, another couple of hundred Dong, in the whole scheme of things, makes very little difference to the total amount.  Unless, of course, you’re exchanging massive sums of money.  Which, in my case, I wasn’t doing.  Partly because I didn’t need massive sums of money, and partly because I’m not the owner of massive sums of money.

But, there is a principle involved here, and not to mention, a little fun to be had in the negotiations of a mutually acceptable rate for both parties.

“How much would you like to exchange?”, she asks, obviously aware by my response that I was not overly enamoured by her offer.

“Probably two hundred”, I said.

“Hmmm, ok, 17 300”, she countered.

“Will you do 17 400 for four hundred dollars?”, I asked, with a smile.  And that’s the bit that’s really important; the smile.

Exchanging money, buying a souvenir, or whatever, always do the bargaining with good nature.

Another look at her rate, along with some punching of numbers into her calculator, and she smiles while agreeing to that.

She then goes to her stash of Dong and begins counting the amount out, before quickly realising that she doesn’t have enough.

“Please wait here, I will get more and will be back in five minutes”, she says, with a slight look of concern on her face.

“That’s alright, I’ll come back in ten minutes”, I say, thinking that I might use the time to find a caphe sua da.

“No, no, no”, she says, that slight look of concern now turning into quite a worried look.

“Please, just wait here, I’ll be quick”, she continues, obviously very nervous that I may not return, which incidentally, I’d never considered.

I smile, and agree to wait.

She returns a few minutes later with more money, and after counting it twice, our exchange is completed.

Four one hundred dollar notes, swapped for considerably more notes, my wallet is now struggling with the extra demand placed on it.

6 960 000 Dong will do that.

A ‘cam on’, and I’m on my way, trying to work out exactly how many glasses of bia hoi my extra 80 000 Dong will buy me.

Oh, and here’s just a little reminder of the whole ‘should I change my currency at home, or wait till I’m in Vietnam’, scenario.

So, with a currency exchange website showing the rate at 17 800 to one Australian dollar, I could have got 13 000 Dong at the airport before I left, or 17 400 here in Hanoi.

6 960 000 compared with 5 200 000 Dong.

A 1 760 000 difference.  Which is around $100 AUD.

Now, that’s a lot of bia hoi!

Back to the hotel for a quick pack up, and a second check out in less than 24 hours, and I sit out the front waiting for Toan (my tour guide for the next eight days) to arrive.

This is the part where I get a little nervous.  One, hoping that he remembers, and two, hoping he’s able to find this little alleyway.

Once again, nervous for no reason, and Toan turns up just after 8.30am.  It’s great to see him again.

Helmet on, bag stowed on bike, and we’re on our way.  Even though it’s been 18 months, it feels like only yesterday that I last sat on the back of his bike.

And here I am again, but doing something I’ve not done before.  And that is riding through the streets of Hanoi.  A small thing, and something that I’d wanted to do, but had just never got around to actually doing.

Busy, crowded, noisy, and fun.

Out of the Old Quarter, and now into areas I’d never seen.  The place is rather large.

But one thing remains the same.  And it’s something that I have noticed since day one, three years ago.

Vietnam is a country of contrasts.

Brand new skyscraper buildings next to small single storey shops and houses.  Motorbikes and bicycles sharing the road with luxury cars.  Street food vendors selling their wares opposite new designer shops.

Contrasts and extremes.

And then there was the new railway line being built.

Not on the ground, mind you, but about four stories up in the air.  They still have a fair bit to go, but those pylons are huge.  I suppose it has to be, considering that at least one point it actually goes over the top of a road overpass.

Yep, it’s huge, and it goes a fairly long way.

Eventually, the big busy landscape of city life starts to give way to glimpses of green.  And then it’s not long before we are finally out in the countryside.

It was nice to see, as well as feel.  I love Hanoi, but this made me realise I’d missed the open spaces of rural life in Vietnam.

We continue on.

And on….

Through a toll way on what looked to be a fairly new road.  Seeing as there’s a bit of space on the side of the road, Toan decides that a short break is required.

I, as well as my bum, agree with him.

Timing was quite good, too.

A couple of guys were out walking their cows.

Again, that contrast thing.

Tolls and cows…
A pleasant morning stroll.

Bum rested, and we’re on the road again.

Eventually, up ahead in the distance, and I mean a long way off in the distance, mountains come into view.

And they’re big.

Yep, excitement levels increasing just a tad.

Through countless country towns, with so much to see and try to remember, that it all became a bit of a blur.

All so very interesting, particularly with what the shops were selling.  Anything and everything, including so many food places, more motorbike mechanics than you can imagine, places selling timber or bricks.  Even coffins.

But it’s not just what you can see, it’s also what you can smell.  The cooking of food, the food itself, smoke, the smells of industry.  Sensory overload, but I love it.

Yep, just all so fascinating.

The sky looks a little ominous, and sure enough, it’s not long before it starts to rain.

Toan pulls over and out come some rather fetching green plastic pants, along with a matching jacket.

Pants on first, followed by jacket, and I manage to break the zip in the process.  Great…..

Now reasonably waterproofed, apart from my feet, we continue on.

I’d always thought it might be a bit of fun being on the back of a motorbike in the rain.  And it probably was for the first two minutes.  But it began to wear pretty thin, pretty quickly.

Part of the issue is the water, but other thing is being wrapped up in plastic when it’s still quite warm.  Yep, just a little sticky and uncomfortable.

Into, and then out of, yet another town, and Toan pulls over to check we’re on the right road.

Google maps says we’re not, so we head back to the last main intersection and turn left.

As we approach a fairly large bridge, I notice a small-ish pig on a spit beside the road.  While it’s rather unfortunate for the pig, he does look rather delicious.

We head over the bridge and stop again.  Google maps says we’re still going the wrong way.  Toan seems to have it now, and we turn around and go back over the bridge.

I get a final glimpse of the delicious looking piggy; it must be getting close to lunchtime; and we’re now on the road we need to be on.

The scenery is starting to change.  It’s now getting a little hillier, and the roads are becoming windier.  (why is windier and windier spelt the same!? Anyway, there was no wind blowing.)

Rice fields, mostly harvested but still some left, are becoming common.  There’s also heaps of corn, as well as green tea plantations.  There’s lots of other stuff too, but horticulturally, I’m a little challenged.  I know it’s edible, though.

We come into yet another country town, and the decision is made to have lunch.  The husband and wife owners are very surprised to see me; perhaps even a little chuffed.  They set about making our lunch – fried rice for Toan, pho bo for me.  Then followed by those little cups of tea, while watching the goings on of small country town life.

Suitably full, we’re back on the bike.  The rain has stopped so my plastic clothes are no longer required.  Pretty happy about that….

Another notable change in the scenery is the houses.  Yep, far more stilt houses of some of the minority groups.

Which also means that the people you see out and about are also different.  The clothing gives it away.

Something else I start to notice are the local’s reactions towards me.  Not much in the way of ‘hellos’, but more in surprised looks and ‘double takes’.

I like that.

We stop for another break near a bridge on the outskirts of a town.  In the fields are a few people working, lots of water buffalo, and some young kids just playing around.

Kids being kids.
Local life.

A young boy, maybe eight years old, yells out “hello, hello”, to me, and then makes his way towards me.  I put out my hand to shake his, and he obliges.  We try to have a conversation, but that was rather limited.  He starts to walk away and I ask if I can take his photo.

“No, no”, he says, in a raised voice.

“No problem, that’s fine”, I reply, respecting his wishes.

We then get back on the bike and continue our journey.

The earlier rain is now just a distant memory, but it’s at this point that I realise I’m fairly sunburnt.  It had been sunny for the last hour or so, but I suspect that a lot of it was from when we were heading out of Hanoi.  It’s mainly the top of my thighs, but also the top of my forearms.  Along with the underside of my right forearm, which is the arm that had been holding the back of the bike seat from time to time.

Great, only day one…..

Now hoping for cloud cover, I continue taking in the sights.  So much better than sites…

The rice harvesting that is still going on, with non la’s bobbing about in the fields, the animals; so many animals.

Water buffalo, now in some of the ‘empty’ rice paddies, eating the left over straw, cows on the side of the road, goats, chickens, dogs.  A lot of dogs.  It’s nice to see, but I do fear slightly for the ones roaming near the thit cho restaurants….

The scale of this area is just huge.  Coming around a bend in the road, a whopping great big mountain is revealed.  But it’s not that mountain that is impressive (although it is), it’s the bigger one behind it, as well as the even bigger one behind that.

It’s hard to comprehend and take in.

Not a bad view.

We stop again; I am very much grateful for these stops as legs need a stretch, and bum needs to, well, just not be sitting on a motorbike seat anymore; this time outside a stilt house.  A couple live there with their very young child, and Toan seems to know them.  We have a bit of a chat; well Toan does, seeing as English is of not much use up here; and have a bit of a look around.  They are from the ‘Tay’ group, which apparently is pronounced a bit like ‘Thai’.

There are so many groups, so many names, so many different characteristics.

All quite confusing and difficult to remember, but it’s all so interesting.

We bid our farewells; me still trying to wrap my head around things, but perhaps not as much as the young child who couldn’t quite seem to work out who, or what, I was; and continue on down the road.

It’s still sunny, or so say my legs…..

Damn it, I was going to bring sunscreen but it wouldn’t fit in the zip lock bag that I had to put all my toiletries in on the plane.  I should have bought some in Hanoi yesterday, but never thought about it.  I could have put some deet on, which apparently does have sunscreen in it, this morning, which I did happen to bring, but I have this vague recollection that I don’t like it.  I can’t remember why, but there’s something in the back of my head from three years ago when I first and last used it.

And anyway, who would have thought I’d get sunburnt!  Damn it!

Fortunately, not too much later, and my hoping for cloud cover becomes a reality.  Ahhhh, relief.

But now I’m a little cool….

Being tough, I suck it up.

We’re back onto windy roads, as well as being up reasonably high.  We then come across a group of four women cooking something on the side of the road, under shelters.

Toan pulls over.

Turns out they’re cooking, and selling, some of the corn we’ve been seeing growing in the fields.

“Want some corn?”, Toan asks.

“Yeah, why not”, was always going to be the answer.

So we sit beside, but pretty much on, the road and eat corn.

It wasn’t actually something on my list, but I can now tick it off.

The corn is boiled in pots over hot coals, and then those coals are used to roast the corn slightly.

It’s nice, but the whole experience is better.

Toan and our corn lady.
Our snack.
Our view while eating our snack.

All the women are from the Dzao minority group, and the one that served us is 32 years old.  She’s been married for seventeen years.

Yep, she married in 2000, and yep, she was only fifteen at the time.

I think of my own daughter who is now sixteen, and then try not to think about any of that anymore.

Yep, a vastly different world.

Incidentally, feng shui played a part in her marriage date.

Yep, vastly different…..

Corn done, we get back on the bike.  Which now just happens to be a little wet as a result of a light shower while we were eating.

Geez, it’s been bright and sunny, overcast, cool and wet, today.  This four seasons in one day is the kind of thing that happens in Melbourne.

Kinda feel like I’m still home….

A little over half an hour later, just after 5.00pm, we enter the town of Tu Le.  This is where we’ll spend the night.

The view of Tu Le from my window.

As much as a walk down the main street appealed, I was spent.  A shower, a rest, and a phone call home, was all I was capable of.

After an hour or so, and now feeling far more refreshed, I headed downstairs at 7.00pm to meet Toan for dinner.

I pretty much leave the ordering up to him.  Yep, I’m one of those people that eat to live.  Not fussed, just give me something.

We end up with pork, beef, rice, egg, and some green plant type stuff that surprisingly, for me anyway, was really good.

But the thing that was the best?

Yep, the beers.

Ohhhh, they were good!

Actually, there was one other thing that was really good.  The rice wine.  It wasn’t your normal everyday peel the paint off the walls and turn you blind type stuff, this one had been infused with…..aaaargh,…….I can’t remember.

It was some kind of herb or spice, and it had turned it a slightly pinky, browny colour, from memory.  Apparently it has to sit for 12 months, or so.

Anyway, however it’s made, it was really good.

But oh my, did I mention how good the beers were…???

Met some Vietnamese tourists who were eating at one of the other tables.  Judging by the noise and laughter, as well as the look on their wives’ faces, they too were enjoying the beers and rice wine.

One of the guys came over and shared a couple of sweet dessert type things with us.  While it kind of mucked up the taste of my beer for a few minutes, it was a nice gesture and certainly much appreciated.

Called it a night about 9.00pm for the usual beers on the bed, as well as some Trip Advisor.  Also a fair bit of note taking.  So much happened, and so much seen, I had to make sure I remembered as much of it as I could.

Speaking of the bed, well it’s…., ummm…., well, half a notch down from really hard.  One positive of that is I’m able to actually sit the beer on the bed without any real risk of bouncing it over.

It was pretty safe!

Breakfast tomorrow is at 7.00am, so I kind of do the right thing by not staying up too late.  It’s been a long day, but a good day, and I suspect, scenery wise, there is only better to come.

We shall see…..




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