17 september – hue – hanoi
Eyes open, time checked. It’s 5.45am.
Good, plenty more time to sleep.
Five minutes later, it’s 8.00am.
Obviously needed it.
Into the upright position, and make a start on that packing thing, which, because we’d had laundry done yesterday, was quicker and easier than it usually is.
Downstairs, and out in search of that elusive Hue caphe sua da.
Out onto the street that Eva’s is on, and next door to the café from the other day, there’s another café.
But better than that, there’s a guy out the front with a caphe sua da in front of him.
Seems we’re about to achieve our goal, so we head in.
“Caphe sua da, please”, which is met with a blank look.
I try again.
Another blank look.
I give up, and point to what I’m after on the menu on the bench.
Moment of understanding is achieved, and two minutes later we have our coffees.
But they don’t look like caphe sua da’s, with them looking more like short blacks, and they look nothing like the caphe sua da the guy sitting nearby, is drinking.
“Where’s the sua?”, I say to Lisa.
She points to the very thin white layer of condensed milk, on the bottom of the really small, strawless, glass.
Ice is added, coffee vigorously stirred to awaken the condensed milk, and at least now it’s kind of the right colour.
All of a sudden the smallest, and perhaps also the cutest, little jug appears on the table. And in it is some more condensed milk.
It helps, and while it’s not the greatest caphe sua da we’ve had, it’s still pretty good. And better than that, we’ve finally managed to tick a box, that proved far harder than it should have been.
We finally got there! And how good is our tiny jug!?
We sit, and savour, while also dealing with the motorbike / self proclaimed tour guide tout, who is really keen for us to read his book with all the glowing recommendations written in it, that he’s forced previous customers to write.
But he gives up quickly when we mention we’re catching a plane in just over three hours.
Coffees, and complimentary tra da’s, done, I go and fix up the bill, which is a mere 24 000 Dong.
Yep, 24 000, when we paid 56 000 next door, just two days ago.
We head off back to Eva’s to finish the last of the packing up, and then we’re back downstairs to deal with the goodbye.
And yep, it wasn’t easy, as I knew it wouldn’t be, and it was very much a ‘hẹn gặp lại’ (see you again), as opposed to the more final sounding ‘goodbye’.
Eva had not only ‘saved us’ during our time in need, but she had also helped to save our time in Hue. Had she not been there at that moment, it could have all ended very differently, indeed.
With our saviour, and now friend, Eva.
All too soon our car arrives, and we’re on our way by 10.00am.
Thirty minutes later we pull up at the airport; 180 000 Dong fare rounded up; and we head inside.
Like Can Tho, I’d decided that arriving an hour and a half prior to our flight time, rather than our usual two hours, would be more than sufficient, as Hue airport, while busier than Can Tho, isn’t an overly busy airport.
Well, the number of people now in front of us, is making me doubt my decision.
One Vietjet check-in counter open, and we’re far closer to the airport doors, than the person who will, eventually, hand us our boarding passes.
They manage to open a second counter, which helps, but it’s all still really slow going. Even the queue over at security is packed, and I’m starting to wonder if we’re going to make it to Hanoi today.
We wait patiently, but it’s hard yards. It’s hot, the mask we’re required to wear is not helping, and Lisa is starting to annoy me, as she’s annoyed at a local who has very little concept of personal space.
We finally make it to where we need to be, and the guy helping the girl who is doing all the work, asks if we’d like to sit up near the pointy end. For a fee, of course.
I decline, as I don’t really care which part of the plane I sit in.
He gives us row 30, which ends up being 10 from the back, but he does give us A and B, which means I’ll get a window.
Off to security, which surprisingly, is now very quiet, and we get dizzy walking up and down the corralled walkway, while a couple of locals behind us simply duck under the segregating straps.
We reach the happy guy at security, mask dropped, shoes and hat removed, belt off, and I’m soon waiting for my backpack to reappear, along with everything else I’ve had to take off.
Lisa, this time, manages to remember to remove her watch, but still manages to set off the metal detector alarm, with my suspicion being the culprit was her knee.
Formalities complete, we head upstairs to begin the waiting thing.
Not having done anything about breakfast, and knowing we’ll be in the air over lunchtime, we need to do something about food.
There’s more options than Can Tho, but that doesn’t mean there’s lots of options here at Hue.
There is a Highlands Coffee place, and it has a sign advertising bánh mì que, and while I don’t know what the que bit is, the bánh mì bit is good enough for me. And at 19 000 Dong, it seems pretty cheap for airport food.
I send Lisa up to break one of my 200 000 Dong notes, seeing as she’s the one that needs the food more than me.
She returns a few minutes later, holding one of those beeper things that go off when your food is ready, as well as 167 000 Dong in change, instead of the 162 000 it was supposed to be.
Maybe I should get her to pay for stuff more often….
The beeper soon goes off, and we now know what the que bit means. It’s a breadstick rather than a bread roll, and as such, is much skinnier; as in not much rounder than your finger; than your usual banh mi.
This one has chicken and cheese in it, and a little surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good.
Snack complete, and now one of us wants a drink, so I head off to find a bottle of water. While the bánh mì que seemed reasonably priced, the 20 000 Dong water you can buy on the street for 6000, wasn’t.
We eventually get called up to do the boarding thing, and when I hand over my boarding pass, the girl takes particular interest in the computer screen when it’s scanned.
“You have one checked bag?”, she asks.
“Ummm, yes”, I reply, rather nervously, as I now wonder where our checked bag might be, as well as where our checked bag may be going.
Back downstairs, and as the first bus is now full, we wait for the second one, which seems to take far longer than it should have.
And honestly, with the plane being just 25 metres away, it would have been a very easy, and far quicker exercise, to just walk to it.
Finally about to happen!
We reach the plane, and being in row 30, we use the stairs at the back. Onto the plane, find our seats, and politely ask the local guy sitting in my window seat, to please vacate it.
We’re soon being pushed back, and begin making our way towards the end of the runway, which judging by how long that takes, I believe is somewhere down near Danang.
We take off on time, and apart from getting a little bumpy on descent into Hanoi, it’s all very smooth and uneventful, with nary a sickbag seen.
The plane eventually pulls up near the cargo terminal, which means we’ll have a fairly long bus ride back to the domestic terminal, and as it does, they start playing the ‘Hello Vietnam’ song.
And yep, as it aways does, it just gets me to the point where talking is not possible.
Finally into the terminal, bag retrieved, and outside by 1.30pm to find the number 86 bus. But I can’t see it, and all I can see are taxis, which is not my preferred transport option today.
It takes me a minute to get my bearings, before realising the bus will be at the other end of the terminal, so we head up towards the left.
And, sure enough, there it is.
The ‘hard to miss’ orange no. 86 bus.
We hop on, and eventually the driver comes to collect the fare of 45 000 Dong. There’s not too many with us on the bus, and we end up sitting there for a few minutes.
We’re soon on our way, and the first stop is the international terminal. Our relatively empty bus is now anything but, as bags are relocated and stacked, and people find space wherever they can.
The bus driver then collects fares from the new arrivals, which gets me thinking that a separate fare collecting person, whether on the bus, or just at the bus stop, could perhaps be a good idea.
We eventually move on from the international terminal around 2.00pm, with that half an hour we’ve now been sitting on the bus feeling much longer than that.
The rest of the trip is painless, and 45 minutes later, we’re off the bus just down from Long Bien Bridge. A quick walk down Lo Su Street, and then onto Hoan Kiem Lake. It is so good to see it again, and just so great to be back in Hanoi.
Being a Saturday, the streets around the lake are blocked off, and there’s plenty happening. There is even a massive stage set up at the Northern end of the lake, so there’s sure to be a bit going on over the weekend.
Up Optical Street, and past Hang Hanh Street, where we’ve always stayed. But not this time, as we’d made the decision on our last visit in 2019, that when we returned, we would make some new memories in a different area.
Not because we had any issue with the Artisan Lakeview; just because we felt it was time to move on and broaden our horizons, by ‘living’ in a different street.
Onto Hang Gai, which becomes Hang Bong, and then right into Hang Manh, which is going to be our new ‘different’ street.
We head down, and there, where Google maps says it is, is the Holiday Emerald Hotel, our ‘home’ for the next three nights, and then again when we return from our trip with Toan.
Check in done, and we’re escorted up to be shown our room. First impressions are good, and I’m very pleased with our choice. The area too, is also good, although I did have a bit of an idea on that from previous trips.
Bags dropped, and back out to see what’s changed in those last three very long years, including to see if our banh mi lady, who sets up about 3.00pm each day at the end of Hanh Hanh Street, is still there.
We end up on Hang Trong street, which is where our café was, and unfortunately, that’s the first thing we find that appears to be no more. Although, the other shops on either side of it all look to be shuttered up as well, so maybe it’s not solely a Covid thing.
Down towards Hang Hanh, although it’s actually called Bao Khanh Street at that end, and yes, our banh mi lady is there!
And because she is, as well as the fact that the banh mi que we had at Hue airport could never be considered a meal, we order a couple of banh mi’s from her.
BBQ’d beef skewers, with onion, and a little chilli sauce, for 25 000 Dong each, and we head down to the lake to sit and watch, while we eat them. And just like 2019, they’re still really good.
It’s so great to be back here in Hanoi, and like I have most of this trip, I’m struggling somewhat to believe that we’re actually here.
Lisa, on the other hand, doesn’t seem quite as excited.
And that annoys me.
Banh mi done, mostly with little to no conversation, and we head up to the Northern end of the lake. That huge stage now has a DJ on it, and just after we get there, he begins playing music.
The rather large stage, with DJ, at the top of the lake.
Well, that music was so loud, and with that much bass, you could feel your internal organs vibrating inside your body. You could also feel it coming from the ground up through your feet.
The fact that it was awful music, as anyone my age would say, was irrelevant, as the sheer volume it was played at made it memorable. I don’t think I have ever felt anything so loud.
It doesn’t take long before we have a desire to give our ears, as well as our organs, a break, and we head on up through Underwear Lane, towards Beer Corner, around 4.00pm. Underwear Lane looks exactly the same, while Beer Corner looks a little different, but is still essentially the same. It does however look a little quiet, although there are a few tourists around, but it is perhaps just a little early for it.
Underwear Lane – always loved it, as it always took me to Beer Corner. This visit will be different, though.
Up to Ma May Street, and right now, there’s not a bia hoi keg in sight, which is more than a little concerning.
Across to where our ‘last’ restaurant, Nam Bittet, was, and while it’s not open yet, it does look like it has survived the lockdowns, which is a huge relief.
With no visible bia hoi places, and with it very much being beer o’clock, we end up at a place I went to a couple of times on the last trip. It’s a lady who does bottled beer, and back then she had a cute, for want of a better word, little Chiwawa dog.
The Chiwawa three years ago.
Well, three years later, she’s still here, she still does bottled beer, but now she has four Chiwawas. First Hanoi beer had (30 000 Dong), and when I go inside to see about a second one, all four dogs are on a bench seat.
Two are very keen to see me, and also very keen for pats; one is reasonably happy with an interaction, but not as keen as the other two; and the fourth just snarls at me, with a look that implies he would, if he can open his mouth wide enough, bite a finger or two.
I will lose no sleep, nor waste any effort, in trying to win him over.
Second beer done, three dogs said goodbye to, and we make our way back towards the Emerald to drop the still rather quiet one, off, around 5.00pm.
Keen to find a more local beer place, I head out to see what’s around. Down the narrow lane that I originally walked in 2017, and then around the block. Lots of food options, but no beer found.
I end up finding a café on the corner of Hang Manh and Hang Bong that also sells beer, and while it’s not my preferred option, I’m running out of time.
I ask the question, and the only beer they have at the moment is Tiger Crystal, which would be a distant second choice behind the standard Tiger beer, which is always a distant second behind any Vietnam beer brand.
The sights made it better.
So yeah, not great, but with not too many other options right now, it’ll have to do.
Quickly back to doing what I love, with the whole world watching thing actually making the Tiger Crystal beer not too bad.
It’s just so great seeing my Hanoi again, and the sights that go with it. Like the guy on the motorbike coming up to the intersection at Hang Bong, entering it, while talking on his phone, and then doing a U-turn and returning from whence he came. Did it perfectly, I might add, but that probably had more to do with all the other road users accommodating his manouvre.
Was funny, though.
Not really wanting a second Crystal, but also not quite ready to give up the world watching, nor no great desire to head ‘home’ to see if someone is happier than when I last saw her, I bite the bullet and have another.
This one is warm, which most certainly doesn’t make it better, but is quickly fixed with a glass containing ice.
The world continues to unfold in front of me, when, as I’m gazing off into the distance down Hang Manh, but really Lý Quốc Sư Street, as it becomes when it crosses Hang Bong, I notice a ‘pho’ sign.
It looks familiar, mainly its colour, and I believe I know where it is. But if I’m right, it doesn’t really make sense to me.
I check maps.me, and then the revelation hits. Well, it’s actually two revelations.
One, Lý Quốc Sư Street is the street that St Joseph’s Cathedral is on. The very church, and probably the only church anywhere, that makes me stop, look, and photograph it, pretty much every time I walk past it.
And the second revelation is that I’m an idiot for not knowing that Hang Manh was an extension of said street, and therefore didn’t know exactly where we’re staying in relation to it.
Yep, even though I had spent more time than I’d care to admit, looking at Google maps while trying to sort accommodation.
Time to go, 60 000 Dong paid for the beers, and it’s back to the Emerald via a small family run convenience store, for supplies.
Six beers, one Coke, a one litre bottle of water, and a packet of chips, all for 180 000, and then it’s back to get a feel for the mood of a certain someone.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t changed, which means it’s likely to be a quiet night.
Quick shower, and then out in search of dinner. Although we don’t really need to search, as we know exactly where we’re going, and that is Nam Bittet.
I mean really, first night back, where else would we go?
We eventually get there, which took a bit longer than it used to, with coming from a new location, and therefore requiring the occasional glance at a map to actually work it out.
And the good news is they are indeed open. They’re busy, but not packed, and a table is quickly found, which just happens to be near where the, slightly grumpy, female owner is sitting. It’s good to see her again, and Lisa actually uses Google translate to tell her we’re very pleased that they’re still open after everything the world has been through.
Beef and noodles, and vegetables and noodles, ordered, along with the staple here of Hanoi beer in 450ml bottles, and yep, it’s just great to be back.
Good to finally be back, but yeah, the smile is a little forced….
Meet a young local couple sitting next to us, and while they don’t have much English, he’s keen to ‘cheers’ me, every so often while he has his beer.
Again, love the interactions, and it’s nice to be thought of and included.
Food, and beers, done (270 000 Dong), we head off done Ma May to see if, or how, it’s changed since 2019.
Well, yep, the short answer is that it has definitely changed.
Crowd wise, it’s probably 10 percent of 2019, and as such, has a very different feel. Not a bad feel, but just somewhat lacking.
I can only see one bia hoi place, which is pretty much opposite the old backpacker place, which looks to be currently undergoing a renovation into a far more upmarket hotel, so decide to give it a go.
It too is more upmarket, with thicker plastic mugs with handles, having replaced the standard flimsy disposable plastic cups of 2019.
Things have certainly changed in three years.
And at 10 000 Dong each, it’s a far cry from the 3000 Dong three years ago.
A couple of beers, while Lisa also has a passionfruit smoothie (35 000) from the girl with the cart next to us, and we decide to see what else is happening further up Ma May. Again, it’s not a bad feeling or anything like that, but the whole ambience thing, with so few people about, is just a little flat.
Perhaps also not helped by Lisa’s mood.
We come across some women doing bottled beer, and with a little more going on in this area, we give it a go. It’s Hanoi beer, at 20 000 Dong, but they’re the small 330ml bottles. Doesn’t matter.
Lisa then decides she needs a toilet, and with our beer ladies not able to offer any type of convenience, we think back to the nearest public toilet.
It’s either the one in Underwear Lane, or the one up past Nam Bittet, which will be a little closer, as well as perhaps easier to find for the Intrepid one.
Toilet fee money given, she heads off, while I remain and do my thing.
She returns a few minutes later, and I’m informed that the toilet, apparently, is no longer where it used to be. Which surprises me, somewhat.
Option two of Underwear Lane is discussed, but she’s unsure if she knows the way. This also surprises me, as we have walked past, and used, that toilet, more times than I could count. And we’ve done it from this exact street.
I explain that she merely needs to turn left at the next street, which is Ta Hien, and the street that is always filled with the restaurant touts, and that she then needs to walk down a bit, before she’ll see Underwear Lane off to the right.
She has a concerned look on her face, and for the life of me, I just don’t understand why. Again, she has done this walk countless times.
Off she goes, minus her phone, while I sit and wait.
Five minutes, ten minutes, then fifteen. She’s nowhere to be seen, and I’m now in a position where I also need a toilet.
That need quickly becomes rather urgent, so grabbing her phone, I head off, hoping to cut her off on her way back.
Down Ta Hien, and oh wow!, I have never seen so many people in one place. It is absolutely jam packed, and actually very difficult, and slow, to move along it.
I head down, keeping an eye out for her along the way, while also trying to be aware of both the phones I’m carrying, as well as my wallet, but I just can’t see her. I now have a very bad feeling about this, but I really need that toilet.
I finally get there, still no sign of Lisa, and race in, motioning to the guy at the entrance that I’ll pay on the way out, as I now have very little time left.
Relief achieved, toilet fee of 5000 Dong paid, and I head back off up Ta Hien towards Ma May. It hasn’t changed, and it’s still madness.
Lisa is still nowhere to be seen, and I’m trying to imagine where she might have ended up.
And with me holding her phone, well, that just adds to the whole mess.
Eventually reach Ma May, and turn right to go back to where we were last sitting, in the hope that she’s somehow made it back. But not at all confident that she has.
And there, up ahead, she is.
I’m relieved, as she is too, but she’s also angry that I left.
I explain why I had to, but it doesn’t seem to help.
“So you found the toilet?”, I ask.
No, is the answer, as the salty liquid begins to discharge from her eyes.
I’m stunned, and now also rather pissed off. I just knew it was going to end like this when she set off, and I’m annoyed that first of all she was incapable of finding the toilet on her own, but I’m probably more annoyed at myself, that I let her go off, when it was clear that she was going to struggle.
The proposal is made that we’ll go off down there together, but no, she just wants to go back to the hotel.
We head off, in silence, and begin making our way back, avoiding the madness that Ta Hien currently is.
While Ma May Street is relatively quiet, the same can’t be said of some of the others we walk along. But it’s not just pedestrians, like in Ta Hien, it’s now also bikes, with the sheer volume reaching a point where it was no longer possible to actually move.
It was clear that there was some sort of city celebration going on, and being a weekend, with a few streets blocked off, well, that just seemed to funnel all the traffic into a much smaller area.
Stuck in the middle of a road at one point, completely surrounded by bikes and people and now no longer able to move in any direction, I actually wondered if I’d reached the stage where the only way out was to actually crawl over the top of people, a la that scene in the subway station, in one of the Crocodile Dundee movies.
Plenty out, but it got far busier than this!
It seriously was bedlam, the likes of which I’ve never seen or experienced, and it was both frustrating and annoying, but at the same time, it was all rather funny.
But perhaps not as funny as it could have been, given the earlier circumstances.
We eventually make it back to the Emerald just before 10.00pm, and while it’s still warm in Hanoi at around 30°C, the same can’t be said for the feeling in the room.
She’s still upset. And she’s still angry with me.
That’s alright, I’ll cop that, as I’m annoyed with me too.
I shouldn’t have let her go off on her own, but at the same time, how long have we spent in Hanoi?
How many times have we walked down Underwear Lane, past that particular toilet?
Yep, heaps, and you would think that she would have a far better idea about where things are, by now.
Then again, maybe most of it is my fault, seeing as I’m the one who usually takes control with directions when we’re out walking, with Lisa just following behind.
Don’t know, and right now, I don’t really care. She’s been difficult to be around for most of the day, and what happened tonight has just finished off what ended up being a pretty ordinary day.
And with a return to our favourite city in Vietnam, it should never have been that way.