9 October – Hanoi
The alarm was set for 6.45am.
However it’s 5.30am, and my eyes are open.
That’s actually good, as I can roll over and sleep for another hour.
But it doesn’t happen, and it ends up being an hour of just laying there, listening to the sounds of Hanoi waking up.
As well as dealing with all the stuff going through my head.
That final day.
And I’m struggling to believe that that’s the case.
Seriously, where did it all go?
6.30am arrives, thinking needs to stop, and doing needs to begin.
And the first thing that needs doing, is to tick a box.
And that is to see the small early morning market, that sets up each day, just around the corner from the Artisan.
We never knew it existed, until we headed off to the airport, to catch a flight for our 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur, back in 2017.
It annoyed me, that after all the time we’d spent in this particular street over the years, we didn’t know anything about it.
It did, however, give us something to come back to see.
And leaving something to come back for, is always a good thing.
Dressed, and ready to go, but Lisa is not.
Knowing that the market is only there early in the morning, and therefore not there for a long time, I know that we really need to get out there.
But it seems that checking something on Facebook is more important.
I can wait no longer, which is good, as it means the small argument remains exactly that.
Out into the, still very empty, street, and around the corner.
And sure enough, the market is there.
However, they all appear to be packing up.
Hmmm, finishes a bit earlier than I thought, and now a little more annoyed with Lisa than I was…..
There seems to be some urgency with the pack up, and it’s then that I notice the police truck further down the road. Yep, he’s moving everyone along.
A few photos taken, but it’s all a bit rushed. And all rather disappointing.
Lisa finally turns up, and she’s a bit surprised to see what little remains of the market.
All I want to say is that I hope Facebook was worth it, but fortunately, I don’t.
I do however, not say much, which perhaps said more…..
With the market done, we walk the short distance down to the lake.
It’s the same sights as every early morning stroll around the lake we’ve done; aerobics, tai chi, dancing, badminton, jogging, or just walking; and while it may feel a little painful to get up this early to do it, it’s always well worth the effort.
It’s already pretty warm, and the black Labrador wearing a metal muzzle, seems to also be feeling it, as he decides to take a dip in a rather large puddle.
Now dripping wet, but no doubt also cooler, he wanders off. Without shaking!
Do Vietnamese dogs not shake?
I don’t know, and I can’t recall ever seeing one do it. However, I also can’t recall not seeing one do it.
And damn it, with today being our last day, I’m unlikely to have it confirmed one way or the other.
Oh well, perhaps this is the thing we’ll leave so we can come back to….
We get to the top of the lake, pausing of course, to take photos of the red bridge.
I mean really, like a certain grey church, you just can’t have too many photos of that bridge.
We get back to our balcony about 7.30am. I actually feel pretty good, apart from feeling a little flat and tired.
I suppose five weeks of travel, a few health issues thrown in, along with some later than preferable nights, including just five or so hours sleep last night, will do that.
And with today now being it, well, that just adds to the feeling of flatness and inevitability of it all.
But, have to somehow make the most of it, and we’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
The usual light breakfast of fruit is had, while watching the usual down below. Broken record, but it just never gets boring.
I can sit here for hours just watching the breakfast lady’s customers having their pho. It’s fascinating, and I sort of miss wanting to actually do that. But, I’ve done it, and seeing as a steaming hot bowl of soup really isn’t my preferred breakfast, there’s probably not much point in doing it, just for the sake of doing it.
It’s funny though, I actually had pho for breakfast several times with Toan when we were up North on the last trip, and I absolutely loved that.
Not sure why it’s different when it’s just Lisa and I???
Must be her…..
We head back to the room to get ready for our day; a day of lasts; but making sure that Sophia will be here tomorrow morning.
She will be, and that is very good, as that’s one ‘last’, as well as a ‘goodbye’, that can be put off.
Belongings sorted, we head back out into the streets with not too much in the way of plans, apart from heading over to the other side of that wide and busy road.
Up Lo Su, and we hit ‘that’ road. And yep, it’s busy. And rather daunting.
I then realise that we’ve only ever crossed this road once, and that was way back on our first trip. And now, standing here five years later on our fourth trip, I can’t believe we had the courage to do it back then.
Fingers crossed, and bum clenched, we successfully make our way across. It’s a nice feeling.
Down the same little road that we walked last time, and straight away, I love it. It’s all so local and authentic, and I can’t see anyone else here that looks like us.
And it all looks so familiar, including all the bricks that are stacked up on the side of the road. I noticed them last time, and I assumed that they were in the process of building. But it turns out I was wrong, as it seems they’re actually brick sellers.
It’s nice to be corrected occasionally, and I really don’t understand why Lisa always seems to have such a problem with that…..
We get to the end of the road, before then heading down a very narrow lane. We did the exact same thing five years ago, and looking back now, I’m actually quite surprised we were prepared to do it, at the time.
It seems we were far more adventurous than I thought we were….
Down several more lanes, before somehow ending up back on a another fairly main road. And, as luck would have it, we just happen to be standing outside a phone repair place.
This is indeed fortuitous, as I’d noticed not long after our trip began, that the camera lens in the front of my phone, looked to have either condensation or dust, in it, and thus tended to make some photos look rather cloudy, or foggy.
I tell Lisa I’m going to see if they can help me.
“They probably won’t speak English”, is her response.
“I’d be amazed if they did, and anyway, it’ll just add to the fun”, I reply.
I head in to see if I can get my point across to the young guy, and not unexpectedly, it has to be done with finger pointing and photo samples.
A little surprisingly, he quickly realises my problem. Next question is how much, which is answered when he pulls a 100 000 Dong note from his pocket.
Sounds alright, as I’m pretty sure it would cost me more than $6 back home.
Final question is how long will it take, which he answers by producing two stools for us, so we can sit and wait.
The overwhelming feeling of smugness, at what I was able to achieve, is tempered slightly, knowing that he’s about to pull my less than one year old phone apart.
And it’s not helped when I hear something drop on the floor during the process.
But the concern was short lived, as 15 minutes later, my phone is returned in one piece, and now, once again, with the ability to take non-foggy photos.
I’m rapt, and along with several ‘cam ons’, I shake his hand, which I think surprised him a little.
We head off down the main road to explore some more, with a loose plan to set about trying to find a caphe sua da.
Under the bridge we drove across the other day to Sophia’s, and finding a coffee is proving harder than I thought it would be.
While cafés are in short supply, there are, for some reason, no shortage of pharmacies.
We try a few more lanes, and while we’re not having much luck with our coffee desire, the sights around us more than make up for it.
Just so different to the Old Quarter, with so many friendly locals acknowledging us with a smile and a hello.
We even manage to stumble across a small street market, before somehow then finding our way behind the houses that overlook the Red River.
We continue on up towards Long Bien Bridge, before making our way back into the streets and lanes. We eventually find our way onto the road that the phone repair shop was on, and begin our walk back to where we started.
Almost at the first bridge we walked under earlier, but not quite as close as I would have liked, as the sky opens up.
We wait it out under the bridge, now rather wet, along with feet that are now a similar colour to that of my black thongs.
Lisa’s shoes, however, are worse.
The rain finally eases, so we head down towards the wide busy road. Crossing the first section is all pretty easy, however there’s just no let up in the traffic on the second part. Not prepared to take the leap of faith, we wait it out for a bit.
Lisa then looks at the traffic light pole and, rather surprisingly for me, finds a pedestrian crossing button.
Button is pushed, and sure enough, we soon get the all clear to cross.
Hmmm, sometimes it is worth dragging her along for the ride…..
Back into Lo Su, and we find another souvenir shop we haven’t yet looked in. And again, no luck on a green Tin Tin.
Dejected, but not yet beaten, we head down to the lake, and then up to our café to do something about our inability to find a caphe sua da.
That quickly achieved, we sit, savour, and watch.
It’s been a good morning, but it really is flying along, and it’s hard not to think about what happens tomorrow.
Live the moment and stop thinking!
Coffees done, we head down the road to the HSBC ATM. With less than 24 hours left, we don’t actually need any more money; I’ve managed to end up with an excess, which is always my plan, as it means we have an excuse to come back to spend it.
This withdrawal will be for Lisa’s parents, who are actually making their first trip to Vietnam in about a month’s time. The added advantage of doing it here for them, is that they’ll get a much better rate than the crappy one they’d receive at home.
Two million withdrawn, at a fee of 50 000 Dong, and we now have four 500 000 Dong notes.
Not ideal, so we head into the bank to change three of them to a mix of 50 000, 100 000, and 200 000 notes.
What a thoughtful and caring son-in-law I am……
Good deed done, we head up towards the cathedral area for a little of that aimless walking. Finding a few more souvenir shops, we try our luck.
We have none, and in the interests of not being totally consumed by what appears to be an impossible challenge, I accept defeat and decide to not waste any more time.
It seems it just ain’t going to happen.
Now 12.00pm, and close enough to lunchtime, we decide to do something about that. I’m not really that hungry, but now feeling a bit less than ideal, perhaps some food will help with that.
We head back down to Lisa’s banh mi girl from the other day, and seeing the ‘pork, salad, pate’ option on her menu, we point to that, but requesting ‘no pate’.
She then, with a smile on her face, points to the ‘pork, salad’ option just below it.
Idiots, and I can’t even blame Lisa…..
It ends up being of the toasted and flattened variety, which isn’t my preferred, but it’s actually pretty good.
We make our way back to the Artisan for a short recovery session, as well as to do something about the colour of my feet.
Short nap had; which I’m not sure had too much napping involved; we head back outside a bit after 2.00pm, stopping downstairs to get the hotel accommodation bill out of the way.
And it’s at this point I do something that I’ve never done before, which is to pay for something in Vietnam with US dollars.
I still had a $50 note left over from Cambodia, and rather than changing it again, or taking home, it was just easier to get rid of it this way, and use the credit card for the rest of it.
Yep, never done it before, and it goes against my strong recommendation of only ever using Vietnam’s official currency when you’re here, if you’re paying with cash.
Down to optical street, and we bump into Hai. We haven’t seen him much this trip, so it’s good to get the opportunity to say goodbye. Not that I really enjoyed doing so….
We’re meeting Shinegi and Jack up near beer corner for a coffee at 3.00pm, so it’s time for a bit of aimless walking to just take in the sights of the Old Quarter, for pretty much the last time.
Up in the general direction of the train line, and as we do, Lisa steps on a loose paver. Dirty water splashes up from underneath, and not for the first time today, her feet are once again wet.
Somehow she manages to do it another two times, and she’s both annoyed and surprised, as it’s never happened to her before.
I think it’s all rather funny, and I’m actually surprised that it hasn’t happened to her before, as it happens to me all the time.
She soon realises that there are far worse things to step on, as a guy walking in front of us, paying far too much attention to his phone, steps on a discarded bag of what looked to be cooked rice and some kind of chilli sauce.
His reaction, as well as the look on his face, was priceless. As well as incredibly funny.
We continue walking, and then turn off to the right. We now seem to be in Halloween street, which then turns into packaging street. I love it, and it’s something I’m going to miss.
Past our little local street market, down to the Old Quarter gate, and then out onto the wide and busy road.
And right there, as I knew they were, but having not really been thinking about it, are all the number plate / house number places.
We’ve walked past them many times, including back on our final day on our first trip, and it was on that trip that I almost bought one.
Not sure why, but it just seemed like it might be a cool little memento of Hanoi.
In the end I didn’t, mainly because I couldn’t work out what number I wanted, and it’s something that I’ve always regretted a little.
But now, once again on the last day of this particular trip, I find myself in the same position as five years earlier.
It all seems to be telling me something, and that is to actually do something about that long held regret.
But still, the same problem exists; what number?
We pick a place that appears to be a mum a pop type set up, and they’re a little surprised when they see we’re interested.
We settle on the number ‘3’, and I then ask the guy how much.
100 000 Dong is the answer, and I find that rather funny, as that is the exact same price I was told back in 2014.
Purchase is made, regret dealt with, and it all feels far better than it probably should.
It’s a strange, but really good, feeling.
Back into the Old Quarter, and we make our way to Ta Hien street to find this café. Well, I do, as Lisa is still directionally challenged.
We eventually find the café, and while waiting out the front for Shinegi and Jack, a familiar looking girl walks past in yellow bike shorts.
I’m not sure, but she looks a lot like the girl we saw two years ago, trying to pick up guys over in Ma May street.
Surely not, I think.
But then wonder why I actually remember that….
Shinegi and Jack soon turn up, and we head upstairs. It’s a bit of an upmarket place, and it seems nice, but perhaps just a bit too much like a café we’d find at home.
Oh well, gotta try different things, I suppose.
If for no other reason than to be reminded of why you visit the places you normally do…..
At least we get a seat out on the balcony, which gives me the opportunity to see beer corner from above, for the first time.
But being a bit after 3.00pm, there’s not much going on anyway.
We have iced coconut coffee, and while it’s initially nice, it just becomes too sweet.
We sit and chat for a while, still with that contented feeling that you can only get after dealing with a five year regret, before the lure of final afternoon bia hoi’s, becomes too much.
Lisa has other plans, which is wanting to get her hair washed; not sure why she can’t just do it herself – we have a perfectly good shower back in the hotel room; so we bid Shinegi and Jack farewell.
It’s been nice to catch up again, but there’s still a whole heap of ‘finals’ that, sadly, need to be taken care of.
Back downstairs, and while Lisa heads off in the direction of the Artisan; I’m sure she’ll find her way back….; I head up to Ma May street.
Fortunately, my beer lady is there, as the thought that she might not be is just too much to bear thinking about.
I’m quickly back in my spot doing my thing, and while it’s a little difficult knowing that this is it, I’m determined to live the moment.
I get talking to a German girl who is also coming to the end of her trip, and it’s nice to hear of her adventures. She’s loved the whole thing, which is always good to hear, and I suspect she may be back again at some stage.
More beers, more chatting, and more watching, while also noticing the girl in the yellow bike shorts walk past.
Yep, I’m pretty sure it’s her.
Eventually the time comes for the next ‘final’ thing, and I head back down towards underwear lane. Getting to beer corner, and a bit surprisingly, it all looks very quiet.
I then realise why, as I see a group of police sitting at the bottom of Ta Hien, and because of that, all the vendors in the vicinity have removed their tables and chairs off the street.
I get it, but don’t really understand it, as while by law they aren’t allowed to encroach onto the street, it really is one of the great attractions of Hanoi.
And it’s just a ridiculous and pointless exercise, anyway, because as soon as the police move on, the tables and chairs will be back.
And everyone knows that that’s how it works, here in Vietnam.
Through underwear lane, down to Hang Hanh street, and then up the stairs to begin the final beers on the balcony.
Lisa comes across, her hair all clean now, without her having to do anything other than hand over 100 000 Dong, and we soak in the sights of the darkening street below.
And as always, I just love it. But the realisation that it’s almost done and dusted, is never too far away. I not sure I’m ready for the whole thing to be over just yet, but at the same time, maybe, just maybe, it is time to go home.
Then again, perhaps that’s just me trying to make myself feel better…..
Unfortunately, the time all too quickly arrives to make a move, so we head back to the room to get ready.
That done, a decision needs to be made on where that final dinner will be. Although, I suspect that decision was made, or known, a couple of weeks ago. If not before that.
I mean really, could it be anywhere other than Nam Bittet?
The restaurant, that subsequently became known as ‘our last’ restaurant, after we kept returning to it on all our final nights in Hanoi, over the journey, after ‘finding’ it on our last night in 2014.
And that particular night in 2014, happens to be just six days short of being exactly five years ago.
Yep, it was always going to be Nam Bittet.
Remaining rice wine grabbed, and we head out.
Up to underwear lane, and perhaps not surprisingly, my thoughts from a week and half ago return.
Yep, walking through here, on the way to beer corner for the first time, is a far happier occasion than doing it for the last time.
Up Ta Hien, and with the police having moved on, it’s all back to ‘normal’.
A young restaurant tout tries to persuade me to eat at his restaurant, and rather than giving up when I politely decline, he starts singing to me.
I can do nothing else but laugh, and he gives me a huge smile. Yeah, they’re a bit full on, but they’re also pretty harmless. As well as a bit of fun.
We eventually get to Nam Bittet, and a young guy tries to get us to take a seat. About to follow him, the older guy that is always there, starts yelling, ‘No, No!’
It’s then that I realise that’s there’s actually two restaurants using this space, and as the older guy recognised us, he knew where we wanted to be.
I didn’t know about this second restaurant, and I have no idea when it actually came about, but I’m just incredibly thankful that our guy ‘saved’ us.
It really wouldn’t have been a good way to finish our last day.
We’re quickly found a seat, and along with a couple of beers, we’re enjoying spring rolls, a crispy noodles with beef dish, and a stir fried vegetable dish.
The food, as always, is good, and again, the location and atmosphere never disappoints.
Another ‘last’ soon comes to an end, and we get up to pay the bill of 180 000 Dong, to our guy.
I give him a ‘hen gap lai’, (see you later) and try and explain that we leave tomorrow. I think he understood.
We head back down to our beer lady on Ma May, and she’s busy. Real busy.
But as always, she finds us a seat, which this time for me, happens to be on the edge of the road.
She returns with a couple of beers, and as she does, she motions to me to quickly move, before changing her mind and saying it’s okay.
Seems the police had just gone past, and she was worried about losing her tables and chairs. But as is the way with footpath and road clearing enforcement here, it all depends on how they feel.
We chat for a while with a couple from Liverpool, who have just arrived, and I’m a little envious that they’re at the beginning of their trip.
It was, however, interesting to hear of their plans, and it was obvious that they’d done a fair bit of research into the whole thing, which is always good to hear.
My Siberian guy from the other night then turns up, and again, just like a couple of nights ago, he makes a point of coming over to say hello, before going over to sit with some friends.
He really is a nice bloke, and he probably doesn’t realise how much I appreciate him going out of his way to interact with us. I’ve said before, that sort of thing can certainly be hit and miss.
We sit and chat, as well as doing what gets done when 5000 Dong beers are on offer, while watching the last of night time Hanoi, that we’re going to see for a while.
Yellow bike pants girl walks past several times, and yep, it’s definitely her.
But probably not more so than me remembering her….
With it starting to get a little late, and with no one else seemingly too interested in chatting with us, I have a problem.
And that problem is the remaining rice wine I’ve been carrying around.
With no real options of someone to share it with, we decide to have one each. Raising a toast to Mike, as we do.
I have a second, before finally, and reluctantly, having my final bia hoi for 2019.
It’s now time to go, but my problem remains. While there’s only a couple of shots left, I’ve had enough. But, due to my religion, I can’t tip it out.
I also don’t want to leave it in the hotel room when we leave.
Looking over to my Siberian mate, I notice his friends have left.
I head over to say goodbye, and then tell him what the rice wine is, where it came from, and how it came to be that I ended up with it.
Apologising that there’s not much left, I then tell him he’s welcome to the rest of it, if he’d like it.
His reaction is better than I’d hoped for, and accepting the rice wine, he jumps up saying we need to take a photo.
While it was probably just a small thing, it was a moment that meant a lot to me, and it really made my night.
Photos done, I head over to deal with another ‘goodbye’. This time, my beer lady.
Bar tab paid, I give her a ‘hen gap lai’, along with several heartfelt cam on’s, while also trying to explain that we leave tomorrow.
Like the guy at Nam Bittet, I think she understood.
Final goodbyes done, we begin the walk back to the Artisan.
A walk that seemed so far away when we arrived in Hanoi ten days ago.
Back down to Ta Hien, and then into underwear lane, which, as I knew it would be, is another difficult and painful ‘last’.
But perhaps fortuitously, I get to spend a few extra minutes here, as Lisa needs the toilet.
I stand, and wait, while watching the goings on, until I realise, seeing as Lisa has taken so long, that I too need to make use of the facilities.
She’s always costing me money…..
A more desirable level of comfort achieved, we head out of underwear lane for the last time. With Lisa making her way to Circle K for a packet of chips, I head to the optical street convenience store for beer supplies and a Fanta.
While there, I realise we still haven’t really bought the kids anything, and seeing as they sell spirits here, it seems my problem is solved.
A bottle of Vodka (300ml) for the girl, at 50 000 Dong, and a bottle of Rum (175ml) for 48 000 Dong for the boy.
I’m such a good parent.
And a rather cheap one, at that…..
But it will fit in the bag, and they’ll prefer it over an ill-fitting t-shirt!
Back down optical street, and into Hang Hanh, and unfortunately, there’s no offers of drugs or sex, tonight.
Upstairs, and onto the bed, for the final session of the usual Trip Advisor, beers, and note taking.
It’s been a good day; a really good day, in fact.
But it’s now all done, with just that final morning full of inevitability remaining, along with the slow and tiring trip home.
And, I’m really not looking forward to either of those things.
But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.
Including my final beer.
Another ‘last’, in a day full of ‘lasts’, complete…..
12.30am; it’s time. Even though I don’t want it to be, and even though I don’t actually feel tired.
This could take a while…..