28 October – Hanoi
Once my brain kicks into gear out of the fog of just waking up, the possibility of having a bit of a nothing day today is pretty much confirmed.
I feel ordinary; sort of hungover, but I’m not sure that’s all it is.
I thought today might have been the day to sit downstairs on the street with a bowl of pho, but I don’t really feel up to it, so we head next door for our usual breakfast.
Back out on the balcony; why do the majority sit inside???; and it’s the light and ‘safe’ option of mainly fruit. Which I’m more than happy with most times, anyway.
But again, it’s not really about the food, it’s all about what’s going on down below. And that’s what we do for a while; just sit and watch.
Eventually, we decide we really need to do something, so we head back to the room to get ready. The plan is caphe sua da, but by the time we do get back to the room, I’ve gone downhill a little. I just need to lie down for a bit. And hopefully add a few minutes of extra sleep.
Well, the sleep bit doesn’t happen, but the laying down did help a little. Around 11.30am, we attempt the caphe sua da plan again.
Gee, this nothing day really is going quick….
We grab our pile of accumulated clothes that no longer smell as they should, and head outside. Around the corner we find a travel agent that offers laundry at $1 a kilogram, on a sign out the front. Well, that $1 actually works out to be 30 000 Dong, apparently, so while it’s close-ish, it’s not really $1.
Not sure why they can’t just advertise an amount in Dong….
Anyway, not worth arguing about, so we let them deal with our dirty clothes.
The girl then tells us that they’ll be back at 7.00pm.
Well, didn’t expect that. Would have been quite happy to come back tomorrow.
Around the next corner we come across our café from Thursday, so this’ll be the place. Coffees ordered, we then proceed to do the usual.
A French guy walks in to do what we’re doing, only his coffee choice is a short espresso.
I don’t really get it….
While he’s waiting for his coffee, a local girl, who happens to own one of the shops over the road, starts talking to him.
She’s incredibly friendly, and also seems really eager to ‘help’ him with his travel plans.
It wouldn’t ordinarily be something that I would notice, but the whole interaction stood out for some reason.
I didn’t know if she was just genuinely nice, or if she was trying to make a dollar out of him. Or perhaps she just really liked him and was trying to pick him up.
Anyway, if she was just being friendly, then it stood out because you just don’t see that happen much.
I really need to do more watching, than thinking….
Fortunately, my brain was saved by some other tourists. A group of four walked in, and one of the guys asked what we were drinking.
I explain the whole caphe sua da thing, and on my recommendation, he orders two. They arrive, and he takes a sip of one.
His eyes light up, acknowledges my help, and promptly orders a third.
Ahhh, another convert!
Caphe sua da done, we head off down towards the lake. Being the weekend, the streets are blocked off and there’s plenty of people enjoying the area.
Including lots of kids driving around in little cars at the southern end. It was funny to see, but also great to see so many out and about.
We continue on and end up in the French Quarter, which is vastly different to the Old Quarter, with lots of expensive looking shops. Which is exactly not my type of thing.
A little further up we come across the Citibank ATM, and seeing as we’re getting a little low on funds, I decide to give it a workout.
It’s also an opportunity to do a little research on what you’re able to do with a Citibank card, which we have, in their own machine.
Yep, it doesn’t happen very often in my ramblings, but here’s some helpful information for future travellers.
With our Citibank card, we were able to withdraw 8 000 000 Dong in one hit. And, there was no fee charged.
And one final piece of information; the exchange rate used.
On XE.com, the rate at the time was showing a touch over 17 400 Dong to one Australian dollar. Citibank used a rate of just under 17 400.
Yep, pretty happy with that little outcome.
But not that happy with now trying to fit 8 000 000 Dong into my wallet….
We continue our walk down towards the Opera House, now just that little bit more aware of my surroundings due to my bulging wallet.
We then headed north, which was interesting, as we hadn’t actually been over this side before.
I’ve previously talked about the contrasts of Vietnam, and this was another example of it. Large modern buildings next to older character filled ones, as well as tiny, basic houses and shops.
Just chalk and cheese.
We end up back around Ma May street and beer corner, and seeing as it’s lunchtime, that’s our next objective. Turning down a very narrow lane I think we may have found our goal. It’s filled with food places; mainly pho and bun cha; busy with locals.
Perfect! This is exactly what I like to see.
But there’s a problem, and not for the first time, that problem is Lisa.
Yep, she wants a banh mi.
Great, and we know how well that’s gone over the last couple of days….
Oh well, keep her happy……keep her happy…..
Our walk continues, and we’re now back near the hotel. We walk past a small family run pho ga (chicken) place, and seeing as we’ve been walking for a while now, I decide to try one more time.
“How about here”, I nervously ask.
“No, I really want a banh mi”, is the reply that both disappoints and annoys me.
“Fine”, is my response, said with a forced smile, but also said in a way that probably confirms my smile was somewhat forced.
Around the corner and we’re back to our coffee place. Across the road is a banh mi cart, which we actually had a banh mi at, last year.
I decide on pork, but forget to say no to the pate. Oh well, I can live with that. Not sure Lisa can, though….
We take a seat and watch them making it. Once made, they then put them in a sandwich press.
Okay, not really what I was hoping for. And I don’t think Lisa was hoping for that, either.
We head off with banh mi in hand, and while it’s alright, as in it’s edible, I’m just done with banh mi’s up here.
I don’t know whether we’re just picking the wrong places, or whether this is just the way that they’re done here.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with them at all? Perhaps it’s just that further down south they’re done differently and that’s just how I prefer them?
I don’t know.
And while she hasn’t said anything yet, I suspect Lisa is just as disappointed.
It’s not long before I have it confirmed, though.
“Okay, you’re right”, she says, kind of reluctantly.
“Yes. Yes I am”, I say, feeling rather vindicated.
“Don’t you get sick of being right all the time?”, she comes back with.
“No, but I’m getting sick of you being wrong all the time”, which may not have been the ideal response….
Our walk, which is now a touch quieter than it was, comes to an end back at the hotel. Lisa tries sleeping, while I take a few notes and reminisce about banh mi’s from places further south.
Rest and recovery session soon done, and now feeling a little better for it, we head out to continue our ‘nothing’ day.
Which, incidentally, I think we’ve been extremely successful at. I feel like we’ve done and achieved absolutely nothing today, but I’m actually okay with that.
Which is more than I can say for the banh mi I had at lunch.
We end up walking up to Dong Xuan market for a bit of a look. It’s now 3.00pm, and while things seem to be winding down, there’s still plenty around.
We haven’t done any of my least favourite thing; shopping; yet, and this visit is just for a ‘look’.
Seeing as we’ve left the kids at home on their own, we apparently have to buy them stuff.
Not sure if that’s for the kids’ benefit, or just to make someone who is possibly feeling a little guilty, feel better.
Anyway, apart from once again getting a good look at a Vietnamese market, albeit a very large one, I’m not really sure what we achieved.
I suppose the good news is that the souvenir vendors are still keen to sell, so we’ll definitely make use of that over the next few days.
The clothing vendors, however, don’t seem as keen, so I’ll no doubt get to spend some quality time outside doing the looking, then looking some more, followed by yet more looking, thing.
The end result of that will either be an argument, followed by me walking off, or, my wallet being made considerably lighter.
Or perhaps both.
Either way, I can’t wait till I get the opportunity to experience it….
We walk back down to the hotel, and seeing as it’s just after 4.00pm, I leave Lisa there and head up to beer corner.
Didn’t even do any shopping, but feel like I really deserve a beer.
Feeling adventurous; not really sure why; I actually walk a slightly different way this time. Down the end of the street past Hai, my book seller, who we haven’t seen as much of this year; think he’s concentrating more on his optics business than his book one; and around the corner to the big roundabout near the lake.
Roads are obviously still blocked off, and there’s street performers out doing their thing. It has such a different feel, and I’m still really enjoying the atmosphere.
Up at beer corner, and once again, Steve is there. Along with Lee.
The end result of that is more of what the previous beer corner catch ups have involved. Beer, people watching, telling stories, laughing, and beer.
Not surprisingly, I’m pretty happy with all that.
Eventually the time arrives to be happy elsewhere, so I head back to fetch Lisa for the balcony thing. And once again, they have their ‘happy hour’ on, and yes, once again, we end up having three beers between us.
Really need to work on that….
But it’s all good, as it always is, and we get chatting with a couple from Sydney. A nice couple, and it’s always interesting to compare experiences.
Lisa heads back to get cleaned up for dinner, while I continue chatting, before then reluctantly heading back, as well.
Seeing as it’s 7.00pm, and seeing as that’s when we were promised it would be ready, Lisa goes out to retrieve our laundry.
Kind of a little bit surprisingly, all goes well with that. She doesn’t get lost, and she doesn’t hand over too much money. In fact, the charge was apparently 105 000 Dong, but the girl actually rounded it down to 100 000 Dong.
Which was nice, but still didn’t make any sense when we had 4.2 kilos of clothes, and it was supposedly 30 000 Dong per kilo.
Oh well, it’s not too often that something ends up costing less than you think it’s going to be.
We head out in search of dinner somewhere, with the BBQ place Xuan Xuan, being the fallback if we can’t find something that appeals.
Which actually means – We will be going to Xuan Xuan, if I can’t convince Lisa to step out of that comfort zone bubble that she occasionally seems so attached to.
We end up in the lane that we walked through at lunch time with all the pho and bun cha places. It now looks completely different with only a couple of places doing dinner.
But, apparently, they’re not suitable, so we keep walking.
Somewhere north of the lake we find a few more pho restaurants, including a pho ga (chicken) one.
“Well?”, I ask, probably more with facial expressions, than words.
Whatever the look; and it may have been that it was more a pleading look; it actually worked.
The bubble popped, but no doubt repaired again tomorrow, we sit and enjoy our pho.
And it was good, very good in fact, but she did complain that we didn’t get any weeds to put in it.
Which is kind of ironic, seeing as that’s one of the things that first time travellers to Vietnam often worry about – Is it safe to eat fresh herbs?
Oh well, at least she’s not like that…
Pho done, we head off in search of beer corner. We soon get our bearings and we end up at the same place as last night.
Again, there’s a band playing, and while they’re not quite as good as yesterday, they’re alright.
But really, it’s just all about the atmosphere and the moment. There’s so many around, and seriously, I could sit here for hours just watching.
Although, there are occasions when you see things that make you shake your head and wonder what is going on.
Like the Vietnamese girl with the blonde peroxided hair, who seemed more than a little interested in most, if not all, male tourists who looked her way.
Or even just walked nearby her.
She was rather forthright in her advances, and on several occasions I’ve never seen a guy move so quickly in the opposite direction.
Yes, the obvious answer would be that she was a sex worker, but I’m not totally convinced that that was the case.
Maybe she was just trying to practice her English….
Slightly hurt that she didn’t have a crack at me, we decide to call it a night around 10.00pm and start heading back towards the hotel.
The night market is still going and there’s heaps around. The place is really buzzing.
Fortunately, I manage to pass the market without having to remove my wallet.
Although, I did keep my hand firmly on it as we walked through. Pick pockets are not unheard of around here.
We call in to Circle K for supplies; beer for me, soap for us, and ice cream for Lisa, as a little reward for sitting on the street and eating pho tonight.
I might be starting to push my luck with this….
Dropped our purchases, as well as Lisa, up in the room, and then I headed back downstairs to see if I could find out the differences between what the two breakfast places out the front, sold.
I’ve described them as ‘pho restaurants’, partly for ease, and partly due to lazy ignorance, but their signs say otherwise.
The original serves Bun Ngan, while the new place does Bun Moc.
I ask the receptionist on duty what the difference is, and while she may have done a very good job at explaining it to me, I just couldn’t work it out.
I could blame the number of beers that I’d had, but it’s more likely to be an intelligence issue. Perhaps coupled with the fact that it was about food, and well, you know, it’s not terribly high up on my list of important stuff.
In the end, it was all as clear as mud, and it reminded me of all those teachers at school that tried, and ultimately failed, to teach me algebra.
But while I was down there I got talking to another Aussie guy from Melbourne, who like most Aussies, seemed like a really nice bloke.
While chatting to him, another guy and his girlfriend walked in. This guy then also joined our conversation, when he realised that me and my new mate were speaking Australian.
Yep, he was an Aussie, too.
Now, the Artisan Boutique is not a big hotel; probably no more than 20 rooms?; and right now there were three groups of Australians staying there, which I find just a little surprising.
But that wasn’t the most interesting thing about this interaction.
It turns out the second guy grew up in the same suburb that I did, and his Mum still lives there. And, I just happen to have friends that still live in that very same street as his mother.
And while I don’t know this guy, he does know people that I went to school with.
With my food description problems now a distant memory, I head upstairs to bore Lisa silly with my chance encounter.
Lisa’s eyes now glazed over, I finish off my day in the usual way with beers, Trip Advisor, and a little note taking.
And thus concluded our ‘nothing’ day, which as it turned out, actually included a bit more than just nothing.
Hey, we got the laundry done, didn’t we?