30 September – Hanoi
Eyes open about 7.30am. But I don’t feel that great. It actually feels a bit like a hangover, but it’s not a hangover.
Try a bit more sleep to see if that improves things, and an hour later, it hasn’t. But, I’m no worse, and it’s not that bad that it’s going to stop me.
Downstairs and we meet Jenny at reception, who while we have never met before, I feel like I know due to several emails that were sent back and forth leading up to this trip.
We head over the road to do the breakfast thing, but for me it’s never really about the food. And the fact that it is breakfast, coupled with the way that I’m feeling, it’s going to be even less so this morning.
Upstairs, and Sophia is there, so she and Lisa finally get to catch up. And of course, it’s mostly baby talk, seeing as females will always ask the questions that males never think of, when it comes to such topics.
Anyway, she is due in December, and it’s going to be a brother for her first born son. Pregnancy formalities out of the way, breakfast selected, which for me is just fruit; Lisa always goes with the cooked stuff; and we head out to the balcony. Fortunately, and very thankfully, there are vacant seats out there.
The possibility of there not being seats, is just something that I would rather not think about.
I love it up here with a beer at the end of the day, but, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this previously, perhaps even more than once, it’s just as good in the morning.
I won’t say better, mainly because there’s no beer in front of me, so I’ll say it’s equally as good.
Or maybe, ‘same, same, but different’, as the Vietnamese say.
And it is.
The same ladies are still doing their pho (actually bun ngan, but everyone knows pho) in the narrow alley down below. The woman who had opened up next to them when we were last here, is still there. And while there are a few changes here and there, it is essentially all the same.
But it’s also always different, and never, ever boring.
I love it.
We sit and watch the world do its thing, while having our respective breakfasts. The fruit goes down okay, and it’s more than enough for me at the moment.
Eventually we decide we really need to do something, so we head back to the room to get ready. On Lisa’s insistence, I take an anti-nausea tablet. Which I’ve never done before….
Back outside, turn left, and we’re soon walking past our coffee shop. Turn right, and up ahead, my favourite church.
Yep, that church again that grabs me every time.
It’s not the biggest I’ve ever seen, nor is it the prettiest or most ornate one.
But it has a presence, a colour, and a look about it that just makes me stop and stare at it every time I walk past.
Me and churches aren’t normally a thing, but this one – St Joseph’s – just gets me.
Usual photos taken, a bit of a walk around the back of the church, which we hadn’t done before, before prising myself away from its grip to explore the streets surrounding it. While we’ve walked some of these streets before, we’ve never really explored the narrow lanes nearby.
Down the first one, and straight away, I like it. So many small hotels and food places, and so much going on. But quieter, and more relaxing, than Hanoi’s main streets.
Yep, I really like it.
Walk around a bit, get lost, and then somehow end up back beside St Joseph’s.
Fortuitously, we find a café. And seeing as it hasn’t happened yet this morning, two caphe sua da’s are promptly ordered.
We take a seat outside, which is always the preference, and we soon have our coffees.
A young couple, all dressed up, are having their photos taken in various places along the narrow road we’re sitting on. I assume it’s the usual pre-wedding photos that you often see being done, and every time I see this type of thing around Vietnam, I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.
Not because marriage means his life is about to end or anything like that, but because of all the countless hours he has to spend in front of a camera in the lead up to the big day.
Especially when it’s so often on the hot side.
Anyway, might just be a boy thing…..
The photographer keeps moving them about, and getting them to pose in different ways. It’s kind of interesting to watch; in a bit of a driving past a car accident type of thing; however there was one moment when I thought we may have been in the way.
But it quickly occurred to me that the photographer was actually trying to include us in some of the photos.
Standing so close to us at one point, looking lovingly and seductively into each other’s eyes, as the photographer did his thing, it started to feel a bit awkward.
Lisa soon fixed that by exclaiming, “Kiss!”
It proved too much for our groom, as the smile that had formed on his face on hearing the comment, quickly turned into uncontrollable giggling.
The rest of us followed suit.
It was a great little moment, and I now wish we’d grabbed a photo with them.
Caphe sua da’s done, we head off in the very rough direction of Dong Xuan market.
Past the usual sights that are the streets of Hanoi, including Hardware street, which is always a favourite, and somehow, mainly due to luck, we find the market.
Again, it’s more about the journey, anyway.
Into one of my favourite markets, and while we did well finding it from where we were, our timing could have been far better.
Being just after 12.00pm, most are having lunch and it’s a bit subdued. Not a big deal however, as trying to buy something was far from our objective, we still have a bit of a look around. We end up out in the wet area, which always looks like a pet shop to me, and then ultimately out in the fresh fruit and vegetables section.
And once again, it never disappoints.
Back out into the streets, and a bit more aimless walking. Down lolly / biscuit / snack street, and then we see a banh mi cart next to a bun cha vendor, on the right.
Even though we’ve struggled to find good banh mi’s in Hanoi over previous trips, whenever I notice one, they always grab my attention.
Probably because a bread roll or sandwich is usually my preferred lunch food.
Yep, such a Western attitude…..
Feeling a bit better than I did earlier, I look at Lisa to see if she’s keen. She’s not, which surprises and annoys me, after the 2017 banh mi desire, or perhaps even obsession…..
I must have had some sort of look on my face; which is perhaps not that unusual; as she reluctantly changes her mind.
She decides on a banh mi opla, (egg) while I go with the chicken. As well as a couple of tra da’s. (iced tea)
We soon have our lunch in front of us, while sitting on the side of a fairly narrow street.
Lisa then says she recognises the woman over at the bun cha stall. “That’s the woman from Nam Bittet!, she says.
I’ll have to take her word for it, because face recognition isn’t always my strong point.
She then laughs, and exclaims, “We’re at Nam Bittet!”
And yep, sure enough, up to our right, is the Nam Bittet sign that I have photographed so often.
I’m stunned, shocked, amazed, and just a little bit embarrassed. To be fair though, Vietnamese streets do have a habit of looking completely different between night and day.
But still, of all places, Nam Bittet!?
Anyway, we sit and enjoy our lunch, now just a little more aware of our familiar surroundings.
Lunch bill of 55 000 Dong (20 000 + 25 000 + 2×5000) paid, we head back towards the hotel. Which was easy to find, now that we knew where we actually were.
Back to Hang Hanh street, into the Artisan, and then upstairs. And because we’ve had such a busy day of walking around a church, a market, along with two sessions of sitting and drinking by the sides of roads, it’s time for a recovery session.
Yep, at least one of us is getting old….
Suitably refreshed, we head back out around 3.00pm to complete some chores. And after Lisa did some Facebooking, or whatever it’s called, we now also have a dinner date with Shinegi, who we met two years ago, and a friend of hers tonight. Will be good to catch up with her again.
First chore is arranging dirty clothes to be made clean, so we head out around the corner to a tour agent we used last time.
30 000 Dong per kilo? No problem. 3.5 kilos? If you say so.
Chore one complete. Sort of.
Chore two is a sim card. And it’s something I’ve never had to do in Vietnam. But following a change to my phone since the last trip, it’s something that needs to be done.
Some would say it should have been done earlier in the trip. And perhaps some would be right about that. Oh well, better late than never…..
Back up towards St Joseph’s, and then into the maze of narrow streets. Lots of sim card signs plastered on walls and windows of tour agent places, and using our vast array of knowledge on everything telecommunications, we pick one based solely on which one is closest.
‘Plan’ is chosen, and the helpful young girl begins setting it up. But there’s a problem, so the helpful young guy who also works there, comes over to help.
That only results in two people now being confused as to why it won’t work. Along with two people who don’t understand why this has all of a sudden become much more difficult than it should be.
Eventually common sense prevails, and all four of us give up.
Fifteen minutes of my life I’ll never get back, we head back outside and find another sim card offerer a few doors down. Now suspecting that the second closest place, and not indeed the closest, is in fact the best place to get a sim card.
We try again, and the supposed logical plan to choose seems to be the one for 250 000 Dong. It gives you 5GB of data over a month, 30 texts, plus something like 20 minutes of calls.
Doesn’t really sound that great to me, but I’ve reached the stage where I don’t really care. I really only need it to contact two people; Toan in Ninh Binh, and Michael, who I’ve met through Trip Advisor, and who we’re hoping to catch up with later in the week. And seeing as we only have something like 10 days left, I’m sure it will be fine.
And as an added bonus, the girl helping us this time gets it to work.
Chores done, and with it now being after 4.00pm, we head off in the direction of beer corner. Yes, we. Lisa is coming with me…..
We get up to Ma May, and my beer guy with the glass glasses from yesterday, doesn’t appear to have a keg.
However, our woman from last night does, and as we walk towards her, she spots us. Decision made for us, this will be today’s bia hoi place.
Quickly on the footpath, beer in hand, and my only issue now is what to talk about with Lisa. It’s been a while since this has happened during daylight hours.
Yesterday’s, or maybe today’s, wedding seems to have been done, and the only thing left to do over there is to clean up the mess. And with the main mess being thousands of plastic confetti things, it’s going to be a rather lengthy and arduous task.
We sit, drink, and watch, and try and think of things to talk about, which is more difficult than picking up the confetti.
Lots of tourists walking past, with a fair few glancing in our direction to see what we’re doing. Some seem interested, while some wonder why we’re sitting on the street when we could be sitting in a bar just like the ones we have at home.
I set myself a challenge to see how many I can convince, purely with just a smile and a nod, to partake in the bia hoi experience. I’m mildly successful at getting our beer lady some more business, but probably more successful at getting people to walk a little quicker as they walk past.
Oh well, their loss.
Time to head back to start getting ready for our dinner appointment, and seeing as our room only has one shower, and seeing as there is a balcony over the road where you can sit and drink beer on, I be the gentleman that I am, and allow Lisa first use of the shower.
Back in my happy place, I get talking to a couple of tourists; Zoe from Australia, and Wayne from Canada. They both flew in today, and they met at the airport because they had something in common; neither had visas.
There’s a couple of things that are surprising about that. One, that they were able to actually board their flight in the first place, and two, that they were able to get it sorted once here. Admittedly at a much greater expense than had they sorted it at home, but better, and cheaper, than being sent back on the first available flight.
Yep, a bit of research is never a bad thing.
Anyway, they were really friendly and very easy to talk to, and judging by Lisa’s reaction from our room’s balcony across the street, time had somehow gotten away from me. Yep, not very happy.
Oh well, been here before…..
She ends up coming over, and after a quick introduction to Zoe and Wayne, I head back for an even quicker shower.
If I can keep her at annoyed, as opposed to progressing to angry, it will be better for all concerned….
Quickest shower in history had, I head back over the road. Shinegi still hasn’t arrived, which is good, so I order another beer and continue chatting.
Lisa seems happier with me now, which is either due to my charm, or the fact that she’s had a beer.
My suspicion is that it’s the beer. And perhaps also because she’s had a chance to talk to another Aussie that isn’t me. Of which, there haven’t been too many others over the last three and a half weeks….
Shinegi then arrives, and we now have quite the party going on up here. However with the restaurant booked, we need to make a move. But not before Shinegi takes a ridiculous number of photos.
And you know it’s a ridiculous number, when your facial muscles begin to ache from all the forced smiling.
Finally she’s happy, and we bid farewell to our new friends. Back downstairs, and we’re soon in the Grab car that Shinegi has ordered.
No idea of where we’re going, but I do know that we’re heading up towards the mausoleum. We then continue on, and then not long after recognising an intersection that we walked two years ago when we were looking for the B52 lake, we pull up at a rather empty looking restaurant.
Turns out it’s an Indonesian restaurant, which wasn’t really what I was expecting, and we head inside where her friend Jack, is waiting.
He’s from the UK, but studying teaching here in Hanoi, and he’s enjoying it so much that he has plans to actually live here.
Food is ordered, and I soon have my first Indonesian meal in front of me. However the beer that I also wanted, was a little more problematic. Due to religious reasons, alcohol is not served here.
So, while the food was nice enough, it’s not really something that I would go out of my way to try again.
And certainly not here in Vietnam. I mean really, who comes to Vietnam to eat Indonesian food?
And before you ask, no, my disappointment was not associated with my inability to get a beer.
Well, okay, maybe just a bit….
Dinner done, and once Shinegi has taken more photos; muscles are going to be really sore tomorrow….; Jack gets a Grab home, while we, including Shinegi, walk back towards the Old Quarter. It’s obviously dark, but it’s also very pleasant. Not least of all because the streets are much quieter.
Back past all the various country’s Embassies, and then not too far from the mausoleum, we find a small convenience store where we pick up a couple of take away drinks.
The owner is a little surprised to see me, and I’m a little surprised to see Shinegi next to me while I pay for the drinks. Just looking after me, I guess….
Our walk continues, and we eventually reach the train line.
The very train line that, as a tourist attraction, has changed somewhat over the years.
In 2014, no one, apart from the locals who lived there, walked or spent time on the tracks. In 2016, we walked a section of it, and stopped to take a few photos.
In 2017, it was hard to take a photo of the tracks without capturing another tourist in the frame.
But in the last two years, having read from various sources, the number of tourists seeking that Instabook shot, or whatever it’s called, had skyrocketed.
Along with all the cafés and food places associated with this apparent phenomenon.
And now, at this particular train line, our first glimpse of the change.
But not a good wow.
Lit up like a Christmas tree, and people everywhere. Incredible, and very thankful that we saw it before it was ‘discovered’.
Turning away from the track, we make our way towards the hotel, just as a train goes past. While I would have liked over the last few years to have been able to get a photo, there’s absolutely no desire to return and contribute to the madness.
Back at the hotel, we say goodnight to Shinegi as she heads off to find her Grab car. Lisa heads up to the room, while I go in search of supplies. And because I don’t feel like I’ve walked enough, and partly because I want to see it at night, I head up to St Joseph’s cathedral.
More photos, because, well, you just can’t have too many, and then into a convenience store for some more beers and a packet of chips.
I’m soon back on the bed doing the usual, along with some contemplative thoughts of our day and night.
The day, while not doing anything overly exciting, was good. And it was fun. However, the night, while all rather pleasant and enjoyable, just didn’t quite excite me as I thought it might.
While it was a new experience, as in another cuisine, it’s not one that I want to repeat.
Especially not in Vietnam.
It’s not why we come here.