5 October – Hanoi
Awake a bit after 8.00am. A small sleep in, and, as an added bonus, I feel good.
Well, I do for about 15 minutes, when the urge to use the toilet becomes a priority.
Back to feeling closer to good, we head over to the balcony around 9.00am. It’s been raining, but that has now cleared, so all is good with the world.
Playing it safe, it’s my usual preferred fruit for breakfast, and we’re soon back in our favourite spot watching the same old, same old, but never, ever boring, goings on below us.
Yep, life is good.
Well, it is, until those stomach pains return, as well as that urge to use a toilet again.
We have to go through this again?
It’s not absolutely critical, so I sit it out for a bit longer.
Breakfast done, we head back to get ready for our day.
But not before spending some more quality time on that toilet again.
It’s not something that’s been a constant this trip, but at the same time, it also hasn’t been plain sailing.
Yep, it can all part of it, I guess, but it is starting to wear on me a bit.
Back to feeling ‘better’, we head out. Dong Xuan market is the first port of call, partly because it’s always good to see, but also to try and knock off the small amount of shopping that we need to do.
The shopping thing, of course, is mainly for Lisa, but I do have one aim, and that is to buy another Tin Tin picture. For some reason, and I’d never heard of Tin Tin at the time, I bought one from the tourist night market in Hoi An on our first trip. It was a yellow one, and then on our last trip in 2017, I bought three more. All different colours.
But when we got home, I realised I needed one more to fill a space on the wall. And because of the colours I already had, a green one was my preference. It’s not a colour that I’d seen much of, but I do have a recollection of seeing one, at some point, on previous trips.
Anyway, that was my goal.
Out onto the streets, and up towards the market. While some streets are closed, most aren’t, so there’s still plenty about.
And unfortunately, it seems most of those ‘plenty’ just seem to be getting in my way. You come to expect walking Hanoi’s streets to be slow and obstacle ridden, and really, that’s all part of the fun, but today, it just seems everything is against me.
People stopping in front of me, people backing bikes back down the footpath; it seems to be never ending.
But it appears it’s probably just me, as Lisa, for once, doesn’t think it’s an issue.
Tongue being firmly bitten, we continue walking.
We finally get there and head inside, quickly finding a souvenir seller who seems keen to do business.
Yes, being a wholesale market, not all vendors will sell to you.
I ask her if she has any green Tin Tin prints, and after going through her stock, the answer is no. But she does have a white one, which I don’t have, and while it’s not ideal, I don’t have too many other options.
The question, “How much?”, is asked.
150 000 Dong, is the answer.
That annoys me somewhat, as I saw some on the street yesterday for 100 000 Dong.
The game begins, and she drops 10 000 Dong, before dropping another 10 000.
It’s not really working out how it normally does, and while I’m trying to make it fun and lighthearted, she just doesn’t seem interested.
Negotiation put on hold for the time being, Lisa starts looking at bamboo bowls.
They’re quite large, and apparently, she wants three.
Being the person who has been in charge of packing our bags over the last month, and knowing how much, or more accurately, how little, extra space we have, I ask her how she thinks getting them home is going to work?
“Oh, yeah…..”, as the penny, eventually, drops.
She settles on one, which should fit, and price for both the bowl and Tin Tin comes to 270 000 Dong. Placemats are then added; total now 370 000 Dong.
Thinking, incorrectly as it turns out, that we can surely round down to 350 000 Dong, we ‘agree’ on 360 000 Dong.
It hasn’t been the friendly, fun and enjoyable transaction that we’ve had here in the past, but I try one more time by adding a bottle opener.
Nothing changes, and it’s now back up to 410 000 Dong.
I’ve had enough, and she can sell the bottle opener to someone else.
I hand her a 500 000 Dong note for the agreed 360 000 Dong for print, bowl and placemats, and she gives me 130 000 Dong in change.
“Ummm, we said 360 000 Dong”, I tell her.
“Oh, oh, sorry, sorry”, she says, seemingly apologetic, and rectifies her error.
I give her a smile, and a cam on, and head off a little disillusioned.
I feel like we’ve paid a little over the odds, but it’s not really about the money. I get the bargaining thing, and while I’d be more than happy with fixed prices, I’m prepared to play the game.
And my rule is always that it must be fun and friendly for both parties.
I didn’t feel that this time.
We find an older woman further down, and she has some little purse bags that Lisa is interested in.
“How much?”, Lisa asks.
“30 000 Dong”, is the reply.
“How much for five?”, is Lisa’s response.
“150 000 Dong”, the old lady says.
Great, here we go again, I think…..
Lisa, contemplating the answer, then comes back with, “100 000 Dong?”
Wow!, she’s never been this assertive before!
I stand there and watch the show unfold, as the two go back and forth a little.
They eventually agree on 120 000 Dong for the five, and as they do, I notice she has the same bottle opener I tried to buy from the previous vendor.
“How much?”, I ask.
“40 000 Dong”, is the reply.
I buy it, not because I need it, nor even really want it, but just because I have an urge to go and show the other vendor I bought one elsewhere.
Bill is paid, and urge, quite rightfully, is suppressed.
Shopping, thankfully, complete, we head back outside.
We find a local market a couple of streets away, which we actually found last time. And like last time, and like most markets, it’s good, with the added bonus of not another tourist in sight.
A bit of a look around, and then we head back to the hotel to drop off our newly acquired purchases.
While there’s no longer any desire for the toilet, I just feel a bit flat and a bit washed out. Nothing major, but just not completely right.
Hoping that a caphe sua da might help with that, we head back out to find one. Having not been there yet this trip, we make our way towards our café from last time.
The same girl is there, and we order a couple of caphe sua da’s at 25 000 Dong each. Unfortunately there are no seats out on the footpath, so we sit inside and watch the world through the window. While also taking advantage of the free wifi.
While there, I get a message from Mike, with the good news he is indeed now in Hanoi. We make plans to meet up at beer corner later this afternoon, and all of a sudden, my day feels like it’s improved.
Coffees done, we head up towards St Joseph’s cathedral to see if we can find someone to do something about the length of my hair.
Into the narrow lanes, and we see a barber sitting in his barber’s chair, in an alley, having lunch.
We’d actually seen him there the other day, and Lisa suggests he might be a good option.
I think he could well be, but there are two concerns that I have. One, he’s bald, and that makes me wonder if that’s the only hair style he’s good at. I want my hair shorter, but not that short.
And two, he’s still eating his lunch. I really don’t want to interrupt and upset a guy who is then going to wave sharp scissors, or worse, around my ears and face.
Now feeling far more nervous than I was a few minutes ago while sitting in the café, I suggest we go for a bit of a walk so as to allow him to finish his lunch.
Doing that, we do some more exploring of the lanes around the cathedral. Round the corner, and up ahead walking towards us, it’s none other than grumpy guy and his Vietnamese wife from the Ninh Binh train. That’s three days in a row, and we all have a bit of a laugh as we say hello to each other.
He actually seemed happier today, so perhaps it’s trains, or train travel, that annoys him….
We walk a bit more, and then head back to see if our barber has finished his lunch.
He has, but he’s still sitting in his chair looking at his phone.
I hesitate, before nervously moving towards him. He continues looking at his phone, while I eventually manage to get my mouth to offer a rather meek and insipid ‘hello’.
Without turning his head away from his phone, he replies with a quiet, but also fairly gruff sounding, “What you want?”
What I want to say is that I want a haircut, but I think he’s expecting, or wanting, a more specific answer.
With little more than the Soup Nazi episode from Seinfeld going through my mind, I eventually pluck up the courage to stammer out, “Just a bit shorter than what it is now, please”.
He gets out of the chair, motions me to sit down, and then gets Lisa a stool so she too can sit. I find a photo of me on my phone from a month ago, and show him, to which he replies, “Oh, okay!”
He seems happier now, and that has put me a little more at ease.
Although I still have fears that I may end up looking like him….
He begins setting me up by putting a gown over me, before then raising the chair so it’s level with the mirror stuck on the wall.
Getting his implements ready, he then returns to begin the job.
“You’re too tall”, he says, “You’ll have to sit lower”, as I try to bum scoot down in the chair, while really not understanding why he can’t just lower the chair that he obviously raised too high in the first place…..
Knowing he has sharp tools, I decide not to say anything, as I shuffle down lower.
He begins the job, and he’s very thorough, and it turns out his English is very good. It’s just a little hard to understand him though, as he’s a bit of a low talker.
Gee, two Seinfeld references in the one report…..
We have a good chat, and after his earlier abrasiveness, he seems like a really nice guy.
I then realise I have no idea how much this is going to cost; I was too scared to ask, after his initial reaction to my presence.
Job complete, I get up and remove my wallet while looking to him for an answer to a question I’ve not yet asked.
“40 000 Dong”, he says, which is easily the cheapest haircut I have ever had.
I hand him a 50 000 Dong note, and tell him, “Close enough”.
He seems appreciative, and I’m rapt with the job he’s done, as well as the fact that my head now feels both lighter, and cooler.
Several cam on’s, and we head off with another box ticked. We eventually find ourselves in the lane where I stayed before Lisa arrived in 2017, and it dawns on me, mainly because of the aroma, that all the vendors in that lane seem to have fried chips as their thing. Really not sure why I didn’t notice that last time….
Around the corner, and while it’s mostly been packed up, there is still the remnants of a small local market there. It’s a great little lane, and area, and one that I think I could be very happy staying in.
Noticing a keg, along with glass glasses and a sign stating 5000 Dong, that feeling is confirmed just that little bit more.
Our walk to nowhere in particular continues, making sure that we venture down any lane or alley we come across. We actually end up finding one that we discovered last time, and while there’s really not much down there, it’s the narrowness and darkness of it that makes it interesting.
It’s also one that we would never have walked on our first trip. Or second one, for that matter.
Rain begins to fall, and while it doesn’t look too threatening, the amount of thunder makes me think otherwise. Playing it safe, we head back to the Artisan in the hope that if it does really come down, we can watch it all from the balcony.
Back a bit after 1.00pm, and apart from one final big clap of thunder, the whole rain thing is a nonevent.
Nonetheless, we sit on our balcony and watch the world go by from the opposite side of the street that we normally do.
It makes me realise that making use of our balcony is something that I rarely do, which is strange, as my preference is always to have a room that has a balcony.
Might be an opportunity to save some money…..
Out again about 2.30pm, our banh mi lady is only just starting to set up, so we head down towards the lake. A quick stop at the café at southern end for a pineapple juice (39 000 Dong) and passionfruit juice, (30 000 Dong) and then over the road to watch the kids driving their little cars and trucks.
Up towards the Opera House; confirming that the Citibank ATM that used to be in the area, is no longer; and to keep a certain person happy, we buy a coconut ice cream for 12 000 Dong.
One of us now much happier, we eventually get to the Opera House where we have to stop and watch some poor bloke with his wife / future wife, have wedding photos done in the now, incredibly hot sun.
I seriously don’t know how they do it….
Up past the Metropole, and then to the other side of the square where they do tai chi in the morning. We try to cut through to get back to the lake, but we can’t as they’ve blocked it all off for some sort of event.
This seems to have annoyed a fellow tourist, who is arguing the point with a security guy standing nearby.
Lisa too, seems annoyed, which in turn, annoys me.
“What, we never have areas back home that occasionally get blocked off for certain activities?”, I ask, more to inflame the subject, than to actually receive an answer.
It works, so I finish with advice to stop fighting stuff, and to just go with the flow.
But neglecting to say anything about how annoyed I was when we were walking up to Dong Xuan market this morning…..
We get back to the lake the long way, which added a whole extra four minutes to our trip, and then over to our banh mi lady, who, once again, seems happy to see us.
While we wait for our banh mi’s to be ready, we watch a handful of police officers packing up and removing, all the products the ‘Made in Vietnam’ store over the road, had displayed on the footpath out the front of their shop.
Yep, it’s a haphazardly enforced no-no, and this particular shop has now lost a significant amount of stock.
Late lunch had, we bump into Sophia on the way back to the hotel. She asks us if we’d like to have lunch tomorrow with her and her family, and seeing as we have no plans, the answer, without hesitation, is a very appreciative, yes.
I drop Lisa off at the hotel, and then head up to beer corner to meet up with Mike. Up through underwear lane again, and then onto Ma May street. Scouring the area for someone who looks American, while also trying to remember what he looked like from a photo I saw on his blog.
I pass one guy, but I’m not sure, so I walk down the street a little further. No luck, so I head back towards my first guess, and as I do, we pretty much recognise each other at the same time.
It’s great to finally meet the person behind the computer screen, and we spend the next couple of hours chatting, mainly about travel related stuff, while having a few beers. He’s a great guy, and is very easy to talk to, and I’m blown away by some of the stuff that he’s seen and done over the years while travelling South East Asia.
Through our email correspondence prior to the trip, he mentioned that he was going to organise some rice wine for our catch up. And sure enough, he has. A whopping 1.5 litres of the stuff!
He hands it over for me to look after, which he’s more than happy to do, as he’s sick of lugging it about.
That’s okay, I’m more than happy to look after it, as well as incredibly appreciative of his generosity. I’m looking forward to sharing it with him, and we end up deciding to do that tonight over dinner.
I’m given the job of deciding where, and perhaps not surprisingly, Nam Bittet is my suggestion.
A few more beers, lots more chatting, including a suggestion from Mike about possibly visiting an incense village next week, before heading back for a quick beer on the balcony.
But this time making a much needed stop on the way, in underwear lane.
Quite possibly the best 3000 Dong I’ve ever spent….
Quick beer had, followed by even quicker shower, and we head back up towards beer corner around 7.30pm, with rice wine in hand.
While it had been busy last night, tonight is on another level; it is packed!
Included in the crowd are several Saigon beer promoters, along with a spinning wheel that may win you free beer.
One of the guys, holding a stubby, says, “Free beer”, while motioning towards the wheel.
“Okay, thanks”, is my reply, as I take the beer from him.
He’s a bit surprised, as I was really supposed to spin his wheel first.
Laughing, I try to give it back to him, but he smiles and says to keep it.
We eventually get to Ma May street, somehow find Mike, and then walk down to Nam Bittet.
It too, is busy, but as is always the case, they find us a table. But this time, we’re inside.
Crispy noodles with vegetables and beef, a sweet and sour pork thing, more green vegetables, some rice, and a beer each. Great food and great company, all for 260 000 Dong.
I put the rice wine on the table, and within seconds, we have three plastic cups given to us.
The rice wine is good, and unlike some that I’ve had that would strip the ubiquitous paint from a wall, it’s very easy to drink.
Perhaps too easy….
A few shots had, with the usual mot, hai, ba, yo-ing, before heading over to use the restaurant’s toilet that I didn’t know they had.
It’s actually pretty good, although the fact that it’s under some stairs, and as such, has a sloping ‘ceiling’, means you need to be careful you don’t bump your head.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as careful as I hoped I would be….
Lisa then uses it, and while her head remained bump free, she didn’t think too much of the appearance or cleanliness of it all.
Having seen and used our beer lady’s toilet, I would happily eat dinner in Nam Bittet’s one.
Dinner done, we head back to Ma May to introduce Mike to our beer lady.
Again, it’s packed, but as usual, she’s always able to find us a spot.
We end up sitting next to a guy from Hawaii, who says jokingly, that we can sit there, but we’ll have to also do Vodka shots with him and his mates.
In the Crocodile Dundee vein of ‘That’s not a knife, this is a knife’, I hold up the rice wine bottle and tell him that he can put his Vodka away.
He laughs, and meekly gives in.
Lots more beers had, along with, what I tried to make, responsible timings of rice wine shots.
I’m successful in that I managed to not fall off my stool, but not successful enough to remain completely sensible.
It did, however, mean that I was less concerned when my right foot again met the water on the floor in the toilet.
Still holding out hope that I’ll eventually get that right…..
Mike heads off about 10.00pm, while we hang around for another hour.
Eventually the rice wine catches up with me, so we make our way back to the hotel.
Having one final beer seems like a good idea, so we adjourn to the bed for the usual Trip Advisor and note taking thing.
But the note taking is quickly put on hold, as the rice wine seems to have impacted my ability to control a pen.
Be interesting to see how the morning is, and judging by how Lisa looks, I may not be the only one in some sort of discomfort…..