30 October – Hanoi
Alarm goes off at 6.30am. Perhaps should have made it a little earlier, but that might have been pushing my luck, somewhat.
I probably shouldn’t complain, 6.00am was just a bit too painful for me to comprehend last night.
We get down to the lake by 6.50am, and there’s heaps of people out and about.
There’s also plenty of cars and motorbikes out on the now unblocked streets. Already kind of miss the ‘traffic-less’ roads of a Hanoi weekend.
We begin our lap of the lake, and we’re quickly approached by a local girl who introduces herself as Huyen.
She’s in her third year of studying law at university, and has just one year to go.
We just chat about everyday things as we walk, while taking in the sights of the locals doing their early morning exercises.
Jogging, walking, stretching, tai chi, dancing, even badminton. They’re very energetic and they put me to shame.
Especially on a Monday morning.
We end up doing two laps of the lake with Huyen, and it was really lovely just getting to know a bit about her and her life.
I think Lisa really enjoyed it too, as it gave her an opportunity to talk to another female, seeing as she’d been stuck with me for the last three weeks.
Second lap completed, we stopped to say our goodbyes. But not before Lisa and Huyen became Facebook friends.
I would have too, but I’m not on Facebook. You should never say never, but Facebook really doesn’t need me.
While we were standing there, I noticed a guy asleep on one of the park benches, which sort of stood out a little.
A few minutes later he woke up and I realised who he was. It was Steve, my beer corner mate.
Pretty much confirmed my thoughts that his life was perhaps ‘complicated’.
We head back to the hotel about 8.30am, and a decision needs to be made. I have this morning, as well as tomorrow morning to do what I’ve wanted to do for the last three years.
Breakfast downstairs on the street.
And now, seeing as I’m actually down on the street, and there’s a vacant seat, today is going to be the day!
“Going to join me?”, I ask Lisa, pretty much knowing the answer, but hoping that some tiny little molecule of adventurous spirit will kick in.
It doesn’t, of course, and she heads upstairs to the balcony.
That’s alright, she can sit up there and take a couple of photos.
I head over to my ‘pho’ ladies, who I’ve now spent something like a total of two weeks over three years watching, while they go about their business.
Hmmm, that sounds a bit stalker-ish….
Anyway, while I felt that I knew them pretty well, it would be fair to say that they were rather surprised to see me.
With the aid of fingers and pointing, I order my pho. Which is actually bun ngan.
I still don’t really know what the difference is, but that doesn’t matter.
There’s no free chairs right at their alleyway, but there is some a few metres away where ‘Grandma’ sets up her little convenience stall.
I take a seat and wait, and while doing that, I can hear someone calling my name.
It’s Sophia, the hotel receptionist, up on the balcony.
“You can have it up here”, she yells out.
“No, I want to have it here”, I yell back.
She tries again, but I’m not giving in.
I think she’s worried about me.
A few minutes later she’s down on the street with me.
She tries again with having it upstairs, but I tell her that this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
I’m not sure she really understands, but she gives up, before going on to explain that there are two types.
“That’s alright, I’ve already ordered. I just don’t know what it is that I’ve ordered”, I tell her.
She heads off, slightly perplexed, I suspect.
A few minutes later my bun ngan arrives. Turns out it’s chicken with really fine noodles.
It’s nice. Not the best noodle soupy thing I’ve ever had, but nice.
Then again, it’s not actually about what I’m eating. It’s about the experience of where I’m actually eating it.
And I’m very happy about that.
I look up to see if I can find Lisa, but she’s partially hidden by a pillar on the balcony.
That’s alright, she’ll eventually work out where I am so she can take a couple of photos.
Halfway through my breakfast and she still hasn’t seen me. Geez, where does she think I am!? Didn’t think it would be that difficult to work it out.
How many times have we sat on that balcony and watched the world go by? Including where people sit and have their bun ngan?
I eventually finish eating, and apart from a couple of photos that I took, there is no photographic evidence from above.
I head up to the balcony and receive a “Where were you?”
“Over there”, I say, pointing in the direction.
“Oh, I didn’t think to look there. I thought you must have been inside”, she says.
“Aaaargh…..”, I say, but really wanting to say, “Well no, I wouldn’t be inside, seeing as the ‘inside’ part is actually the other newer place, that wasn’t even there last time”, but then think, what’s the point….
How many times have we sat on this balcony….???
Back to our room for a quick nap (well, we were up at 6.30am, and we did do two laps of the lake), before heading up to Dong Xuan market.
We get into the clothing area and apparently we’re not really sure what we’re looking for. Shirts or t-shirts of some description. Great, that narrows it down….
It’s then mentioned that most of the stuff is long sleeved.
Perhaps that has to do with the fact that Hanoi is coming into it’s winter?
“Ohhh, of course……”.
The shopping for the kids expedition goes exactly how I feared it would, and we walk outside empty handed.
We walk around the outside of the market, and it’s absolute madness out there. There are people everywhere, along with piles and piles of assorted products, and it just seems ridiculously busier than it normally does. Perhaps because it’s the start of another week???
At one point we had to wait while a truck tried to perform something like a 37 point U turn. He did eventually manage it, but really, in the space he had, I’m still not sure how he did it.
We head back into the market to have a quick look at the souvenir type stuff, and because I feel like we have to at least achieve something while we’re up here, I get into a haggling match with one of the female vendors.
Some of those Tin Tin boards, which she manages to convince me I needed more of than I actually did, along with some bamboo bowls, bottle openers and fridge magnets.
It all ended up costing a bit over 700 000 Dong, which was cheaper than it would have been outside, but it also knocked off most of that particular shopping in one hit.
And that, I love. As well as the fact that we had a bit of fun with the vendor, who was lovely, in the process.
Job done, or part of it anyway, we head back outside in search of a caphe sua da fix.
We end up round at the Old Gate, knowing that there’s a café there, but it’s too busy. We keep walking, and around the corner we stumble across a small local wet market.
Geez I love finding things by accident here!
We head in and have a look around, and yep, as per usual, it’s fascinating. Are they ever not?
Certainly not large; you could probably describe it as rather intimate; but oh so interesting and authentic.
Remember, it’s all about the ‘sights’, in Hanoi.
Well, it is for me.
We walk around the block and again end up at the Old Gate. The café is still too busy, so we walk back towards the hotel, eventually ending up at ‘our’ café.
The actual sitting is as good as the sipping and watching thing, and I’m not really sure why, but I’m absolutely stuffed.
The not overly early start, perhaps? Or maybe yesterday’s walk has caught up with me?
Or perhaps I’m just getting old….???
Coffee done, we head back to the room for a recovery session. We have to wait all of ten minutes, as they’re servicing the air conditioner, so we sit in the lobby and read the paper.
All good, we have our short nap before heading back outside about 1.30pm.
Down to the southern end of the lake, and past all the high end shops in the shopping centre there. Yep, all the big brands, along with the matching prices.
For obvious reasons, we don’t bother darkening their doorways.
A bit further on, towards the Opera House, and we find an abundance of book stores. Along with a couple of ice cream shops. Hmmm, an interesting, and possibly messy, combination….
While the book stores are of no consequence to me, I could be convinced to go an ice cream. Lisa on the other hand, is very happy with both possibilities.
Dodging the books, I eventually get my point across to the two young girls serving the ice cream. Two people less interested in performing their job, you’d be hard pressed to find. Fortunately, the cone and coconut ice cream is good enough to allow us to quickly forget the woeful service.
The price of 24 000 Dong was alright, too.
Because we haven’t done enough walking today, we set off to add to the tally. And there’s no plan; well, apart from trying to find streets and lanes that we’ve never walked down before.
Yep, that aimless type walking that I love so much.
We soon find Hoa Lo Prison, and then the big fish tanks that are embedded in the wall of a building, that I actually stumbled across back in 2016. I still don’t know why they’re there.
As we walk, and after the ice cream becomes a distant memory, we realise that we’ve missed lunch. Which is not the first time we’ve done that in Hanoi.
And now, being after 2.00pm, it’s slightly problematic when it comes to choices.
Walking down some street, somewhere in the Old Quarter, an old lady selling those crispy rice cake things, like the one we bought when we were in HCMC, walks past. Bánh Tráng Mè, I believe.
Ahhh, that’ll do, I think, and even better, it will keep Lisa happy, too.
I run back after her, and because of where we are, as in not in a non-touristy area like we were in HCMC, I ask her the price beforehand.
20 000 Dong, apparently.
Really? I’m sure we only paid half that earlier in the month.
Hmmm, the price you pay in the tourist areas…..
Transaction completed and cam on given, we continue our aimless walking.
Down some narrow lanes, past quite a few backpacker hostels, and then even a hospital, which are always rather interesting when you see the goings on outside them.
We turn a corner, and there, up ahead, is St Joseph’s cathedral.
I’ve said it before, I’m not really a church person; religiously or architecturally; but this church just does something for me.
I don’t know if it’s its shape, or size, or maybe its colour, but it just draws my attention to it in a way that other churches don’t.
It has heaps of character, and it just seems to have a presence.
I love it. And that really surprises me.
We begin heading back to the hotel, and just around the corner, we walk past our café.
“Oh, is this where we are?”, the map and direction orientation challenged, asks.
“I had no idea it was so close to our hotel”, she continues.
“Yes, it’s not far at all.”, I say, trying to sound all intelligent, but at the same time not wanting to admit that, even though we had now seen it several times, it was only recently that I had figured out exactly where it was in relation to the hotel.
We turn back into our street around 3.30pm, and my phone rings. It’s the boy, back in Melbourne.
Apparently he’s having problems with his knee after going back to work following his operation. It’s blown up and is pretty sore, which is impacting his work.
Great…..just love getting dragged back into parenting stuff….
We chat for a while, and to be honest, but don’t tell him, it was nice to do so. It was just unfortunate that it wasn’t terribly good news.
I finished off the phone call telling him that I’d see him at the end of the week, which then confirmed something that I’d been trying to ignore.
Geez, the adventure is almost over…..
Parenting done, I head inside and end up chatting to Sophia for a few minutes. She’s lovely, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing her again after first meeting her way back in 2014. She still remembers the kids from that trip; while I still try and forget about the kids from that trip; and she’s interested to see what they look like now.
Being the good parent that I am, I’m able to show her two photos on my phone of the boy, and none of the girl.
I tell her that Lisa will rectify the photo issue later, seeing as she’s a mother, and as such, a much better parent.
I head upstairs, before the call of beer corner once again becomes too strong.
Back out into the street, a wry smile from Hai up at the corner; he knows where I’m going; through underwear lane, and then up to my usual place.
Hey, two nights to go, not changing now.
Steve and Lee are there, as well as another guy, Mick, who I’ve not seen before, and I’m quickly seated and back doing my favourite thing.
There’s quite a few around, and there’s a bit of a buzz about the place. Halloween, being tomorrow, is perhaps adding to that somewhat, with quite a few shops, restaurants and bars with decorations hanging up.
Seems it’s a little popular here, as it is in Australia, which I don’t really understand.
We sit, chat, watch, and kind of shake our heads at the various tour groups walking past. The Chinese group taking photos of the European girl wearing the non-la, was particularly engrossed in the moment.
Well, I suppose at least part of that picture was authentic Vietnamese….
Steve suggests it might be time for him to move on tomorrow, to which I quickly object, telling him it’s my last night and we really need to do all this one final time.
He agrees, which I’m very happy about, and it seems Halloween Hanoi style, is something he’d like to experience, anyway.
Excellent, we have a plan!
Too soon, the balcony thing beckons, so I go back and grab Lisa to head up. Verity and Adam, from last night, are up there, while Errol is back in his hotel room doing work stuff. Poor bloke….
So we sit and chat for a bit until Errol returns. He then suggests that we head out to dinner; apparently he’s heard really good things about Aubergine restaurant.
Hmmm, a restaurant. An actual restaurant like you’d find back home….
“Sounds good!”, is sort of, but not really, what I want to say.
So instead, and mainly because I know I can’t win, seeing as even though I’m not looking at her, I know Lisa’s eyes have lit up, I agree.
Geez, a real restaurant.
Lucky it’s not our last night…..
Back for a quick shower, and then head back up to meet on the balcony, stopping down in reception along the way so that Lisa can rectify the photos of the kids thing, with Sophia.
We then walk up to Aubergine, which is in Hang Be street, and yep, it’s one of those real restaurants. You know, one with a front door and windows.
I really don’t know about this, but I keep telling myself, just go with the flow. Go with the flow….
It’s hard though, and the fact that Lisa has a big smile on her face, well, that’s annoying me a little, too.
We decide to just share a few meals, and we end up with a couple of chicken dishes, a couple of squid, a duck one, and some pork ribs.
As well as a few beers. Although poor Adam isn’t looking the best, after picking up a bug or a stomach issue a couple of days ago. I sympathise with him, after what happened to me in 2016.
So, the food? And Aubergine restaurant, as a whole?
Well, the staff were brilliant. Seriously, right up there with the most friendly and efficient service that I’ve come across. Almost worth a visit on its own.
And the food, well, that was just beautiful. Perhaps, even sublime. Again, right up there with just about anything I’ve had; in Vietnam or anywhere.
Even if the place did have a front door and windows….
And then there was the company; three incredibly friendly and very easy to talk to people, who just helped top off a great night.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end; even the really good things; and it was time to say our goodbyes.
We headed back to the hotel, and on the way dropped into a Circle K for beer and soft drink supplies. While there, I decided to take another chance on a Vietnamese snack, (hey, we’d walked 14 kilometres today!) this time going with some kind of corn chips.
Back up in the room we do the usual relaxing on the bed thing with the beers, as well as have a go at the corn chips.
As usual, the beers were good. The corn chips, however, were not. Such a disappointment….
But, they weren’t done yet. Not long after offering up their pretty average flavour, I started to feel a little flushed in the face.
Taking a look in the mirror, and yep, I was covered in a rash. Which is a little unusual for me, as I tend to not be allergic to too much. If anything.
I’m not sure what it was, but the packet did say the chips had MSG in them, so perhaps it was that.
Whatever it was, I was able to wash it away with beer.
Perhaps proof again, that there is nothing beer cannot do.
So, second last day done and dusted, and that, unfortunately, means there’s only one full day left.
Damn it, I hate last days…..