Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 12

18 september – hanoi

Up just before 8.00am, and having turned the air conditioner off, the room is pretty warm.  But the feel of it, on the other hand, is still rather frosty.

Oh well…..

Out around 8.30am, and my goal is to find breakfast; hopefully a banh mi opla, or similar.

Not for me, I’m not hungry, but for the Intrepid one, as that’s what is usually required.

Turn down the lane near the Emerald, and yep, the market I first saw five years ago, as I left with Toan on the Far North trip, is still going on.  It’s a great little lane.

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The market in the lane, near the Emerald hotel.

We reach the end, and turn right, probably only because I’m right handed, and we spot a couple of cafés.  Some are a bit upmarket looking, so I pick a smaller looking one.

The caphe sua da question is asked, and the, what has now become usual, blank look is returned.

It eventually registers, but then I receive the answer of ‘No’.

Really?

He then points us in the direction of one of the upmarket cafés, but yeah, I know what I want, and that ain’t it.

We head off, passing one or two more, but my confidence is now shattered, and I can’t bring myself to ask the question again.

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The things you see…..

We reach the road that runs next to the railway line, and decide to walk that.  We have two, well three, if you count turning around and walking back from whence we came, choices; left or right.

Seeing as right didn’t work last time, we turn left, and up ahead, we spot a small family run café.

Putting my big boy pants on, I decide to have another go.  We head over, and as we do, a guy sitting out the front jumps up to make room for us.  It was a little bit embarrassing at first, but then we realised he was the owner.

Caphe sua da question asked, and with absolutely no confusion or hesitation, acknowledgement received.

Ahhh, relief sweeps over me, and all of a sudden, the world seems just that little bit better.

Our coffees quickly arrive, and while not the greatest we’ve had, they’re certainly good enough, and we’re back to doing the world watching thing.

I’ve said it before, I just never find Vietnam street life boring.  There’s always something to look at, and there’s always something happening.

Like the guy over the road, where the cars are parked next to the raised railway line, who appears to be in charge of parking.

A car pulls up, said man motions to car driver to park in a certain space, and a small fee is handed over for the privilege.  Even though he didn’t really do anything, and even though he won’t really do anything.

He may not even hang around the whole day, ‘protecting’ his parked cars, but seeing as he is wearing a shirt with a badge on it, he must be official.

While parking guy was doing his thing, it was something else that caught my attention.  And it was something that, unless you really take a bit more time to take it in, you may not ordinarily notice.

It’s the recycling ladies.  And yes, they are predominately ladies.  They work tirelessly, and with virtually no recognition – well, it’s probably just simply no recognition, at all.

I think I’ve always noticed them, probably more so over the last few trips, working around the streets of most places, but maybe a little more up here in Hanoi.  And right now, with my caphe sua da in front of me, it’s the recycling ladies I’m noticing most.

While I wouldn’t call it a steady stream, there are a number who are pushing their bicycles, fully laden with paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, cans, and any other potentially recyclable material, up to this road, and then across it, to the train line above.

The job then is to carry whatever it is they have, up a ladder, and then throw it over the small fence of the train line.  Someone from a house on the train line will come out to assist, or merely take it from them, and store it wherever it needs to be stored.

While most of this stuff isn’t terribly heavy, a lot of it is in really bulky and awkward to handle bags.  And these ladies, being Vietnamese, are certainly not large in stature.

But they are incredibly hard workers, and far stronger than they appear.

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The recycling finder woman at the bottom, and the recycling receiver at the top. 

Caphe sua da done (30 000 Dong each), we head off, continuing along the road beside the train line.  While the coffee has helped, the Intrepid one is still a little fragile.  I feign sympathy and care, but not very well, and offer to take her back to Noi Bai airport (Hanoi airport), specifically the international terminal.

That, perhaps not unsurprisingly, didn’t really help, and may not have been my smartest comment of the trip thus far.

We find Bat Dan Street, which reminds me of beer, then food street, lighting street, and even vacuum sealer street.  I love the way that Hanoi is set up, and I love the way it constantly changes as you walk.  It’s just never boring.

Still on the look out for some breakfast, mainly because I’ve just been reminded, and we turn down a road that will lead us in the direction of Hoan Kiem Lake.

At least I believe it will.

And there, up ahead, a woman doing banh mi’s.  The question is asked without actually saying anything, and yes, she’ll be happy with a banh mi.  As I knew she would.

Banh mi opla is the preferred, and that is duly ordered.  But only one, as food to me is just not a requirement at the moment.  It ends up coming with a few pickled vegies, but definitely no paté, all for a more than reasonable 15 000 Dong.

Apparently it’s good, but not the best she’s ever had, which bothers me not one little bit, because as far as I’m concerned, my job has now been completed.

On we walk, still reasonably confident we’ll eventually reach the lake, and we come across a hospital.  No problem, ordinarily, but they have a Covid testing site out the front, with quite a few locals standing by.

Unconsciously, I sense my steps quicken, while also realising I’m holding my breath longer than is comfortable.  While Covid no longer bothers me, the last thing I want is to get caught up in a potential quarantining / isolation thing, while we’re away.

We eventually reach the southern end of the lake around 10.00am, and with it being a Sunday, there’s the familiar weekend sights.

First, it’s the little kids driving the remote control cars, along with the usual big numbers of people just out and about enjoying the area around the lake.

But today it is a little different, with those numbers significantly higher than for a typical Sunday.  There’s some kind of festival going on, and it has a real buzz about it.

We cross the road, and begin our usual anti-clockwise walk of the lake.  But barely more than a minute in, we’re approached by two young boys.

I knew it was likely to happen, but I just didn’t expect it so quick.  Yep, we’re going to practice English.

I love it, and they were great kids.  Turns out they’re brothers, and we end up meeting their father, who was sitting quietly nearby watching his kids do their thing.  He also was a lovely guy, and we chatted to him for a few minutes, before happily doing some photos at their request.

English lesson over, we head off to complete our lap.

Well, we tried, as no more than five steps later, we’re once again approached, or perhaps more accurately, swarmed, by six or seven young kids.

It was actually quite funny, as they’d obviously been waiting patiently for our first ‘class’ to finish.

The second lesson begins, and we’re bombarded with questions; What’s your name?  Where are you from?  What is your favourite food?  And on it goes.

It’s a lot of fun, but with so many, and so much noise around us, along with their newfound English, it can be a little difficult to pick everything up at times.

And with the main kid who was doing most of the talking, wearing a mask, well that just added to the difficulties.

Eventually the questions run out, and we once again move on, but not before another photo shoot.  They were a great bunch of kids, and so energetic and keen to interact with us.

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Our students.

We make the other side of the lake, and the English lessons begin again.  The mother, who has very little English, trying to push her painfully shy son to speak to us.

He just couldn’t bring himself to say anything, and I felt so sorry for him.  Perhaps because I was / still am, that kid.

You could see he wanted to do it, but his shyness just wasn’t going to let it happen, so instead of just walking away, we tried to take control of the ‘lesson’.

We did end up getting a few words out of him, but in the end it was all just a bit too hard for him.

The walk continued, a couple more ‘lessons’ had, and then, not far from the Red bridge, we get stopped again.  But this time, the student is a little older, being a girl of around 14 years of age.

Her English is excellent, to the point that it is quite possibly better than mine, and it was lovely to talk to her and hear a bit about her life.  Her father is a tour guide, mainly around the Sapa area, and for obvious reasons, was greatly impacted over the last three years.

She also asks us questions, and is interested in our relationship, and how we met.  She thought, when she first saw us walking along, that we were a ‘mixed’ relationship.

I guess we kind of are, with me being from the more fancied, and cultured, State of Victoria, and Lisa being from South Australia, which is, well, neither of those things.

That’ll go down well…..

But no, it turns out she thought that Lisa was Asian, with her brown eyes.

Anyway, it was rather funny, but also just great being able to spend a little time with someone so friendly and outgoing.

More of a chat, than a lesson, complete, we head off again.  It’s now taken us almost an hour and 30 minutes to walk halfway around the lake, and we’ve probably spoken to something like 25 people.  While it’s been a whole lot of fun, I’m now all talked out.

I need a break, as well as a cold drink, so we escape the lake and head up in the direction of Beer Corner in search of something that is not beer.

Up hat street, then shoe street, then another street, of which we’d noticed a few of, with a small market in it.  It’s interesting, as they always are, but it’s the number of them that we’re finding that is really standing out to me.

I don’t remember this many of them, with the ones that I do remember, being more of an earlier morning thing.

It has me thinking about things, particularly after the last three years.  Is this something that happened when Vietnam, like most countries, closed themselves off to the rest of the world?

That with no tourists, and people therefore needing to find another income stream, a lot turned to selling everyday food, of mainly, fruits, vegetables, and meats?

I can only surmise, which is a word that feels a bit too intelligent for me to use, but it kind of makes sense.  Well, at least to me, it does.

We eventually end up on Ma May Street, and there, up ahead, is an old guy with a nuoc mia da cart.  Perfect!, as that was the preferred option, and almost as good as that, is the fact he has a couple of chairs in the shade.

Two nuoc mia da’s ordered, and we’re soon doing our thing while the world does its.

It’s nice to have a rest after our lessons down the lake, as well as a break from the heat.  While it’s not quite as hot as Hue, it’s still very warm, and feels more so than on previous trips to Hanoi at this time of year.

Another positive, and perhaps the time spent during our lessons had a hand in it, but the whole matrimonial happiness thing seems to be on the rise.  She seems happier, which is good for both of us.

While sitting there, I send Toan a message confirming everything is still good to go for our trip to, amongst other places, Mu Cang Chai, starting the day after tomorrow.

He promptly replies, and yep, we’ll see him Tuesday morning outside our hotel.

Suitably refreshed, we head off, to nowhere in particular, with a bit of that aimless walking thing I love so much in Hanoi.

But, there is an element of ulterior motive, with it being an exercise in education on all things directional.

We end up on Ta Hien street, where it all turned to that brown matter last night, and then down to Underwear Lane, which was the ultimate goal that only one of us reached.

A glance is given to see if there’s any lightbulb moment, and a reply is received along the lines of yes, it’s all clear now.

Several other streets are walked, again for educational reasons, but I’m not convinced all the teachings are sticking.

Perhaps we can blame the teacher.

We end up back at the hotel for a quick stop, before heading out again to do something about lunch.

The two bun cha places at the end of the street are packed.  One of them is the ‘famous’ one, which was the original.  Back then a lot food tours took their customers there, and just for something a bit different, we ate there back in 2017.  We haven’t been back, not because of any issue with the food, but just because I don’t really ‘get’ bun cha.

Again, don’t worry, it’s likely just me.

The one opposite, which could perhaps be described as the ‘copycat’, is a little larger, and also now appears far busier.

Seems the ‘famous’ badge may have changed hands.

Regardless, I have no desire to frequent either.

Around a couple more corners, and we end up back near the start of Hang Manh.  There’s a place that is absolutely packed with people sitting on the footpath, with most of them being locals.  It looks promising, and it doesn’t take much for the restaurant touts out the front to convince us.

I can’t see any spare chairs, but as is the way here, they find room for us.

Menu perused, and I decide on what seems to be some sort of peppered beef dish, which Lisa also orders.  The hard sell on side dishes, like rice and vegetables, is politely declined.

While ordering, a German guy ends up sitting next to us, and he decides to go with some kind of egg dish.

He’s a really nice guy, and we end up chatting while waiting for our food, which takes a good 15 minutes to arrive.

And when it does arrive, it’s somewhat of a surprise, as the peppered beef looks far more like peppered duck.  And not only is it duck meat, but it actually looks like a whole duck.

And that’s a whole one each!

Expletive is uttered, not because I have any issue with duck, but because it’s just not going to be possible to eat all this.

More expletives follow, when some kind of chilli vegetable / greens thing arrives, along with a plate of noodles, and a soupy thing with more vegetables in it.

The German gets his, and his food pile too, is large, but he doesn’t have the extra bits that we managed to somehow end up with.

We are just never going to finish all this, so the German guy is offered anything that takes his fancy, which fortunately, he obliges.

The impossible task begins, and pretty early on it’s confirmed we are not going to get close.  But, we give it a crack anyway.

Eventually my stomach tells me it’s had enough, and the pin is pulled.  I hate leaving food, but I have no choice.  The German too, gives up, after getting through a bit more of his dish than we did.

Around the time of failure being achieved, the two tra da’s we ordered when our food arrived, finally appear.  Better late than never, I suppose….

Our German mate asks for the bill, and when that arrives, that faint alarm bell that had been ringing in my head since the ducks were placed in front of us, begins to ring significantly louder.

His bill has come to 250 000 Dong, for what was essentially an egg dish.  This now has me wondering how much more we’re going to pay, for the couple of animals that used to be capable of producing his eggs, that we’ve just had.

The German, who, quite rightly, looks a little surprised at the size of the bill, fixes it up, and heads off.  He’d told us he’d only been here a day or two, and even though we’d come across this place separately, I kind of feel guilty as I suspect he may have followed our lead when we first sat down.

I look at Lisa, and she has similar thoughts on what our bill may be, so we decide to find out.

Bill requested, which quickly arrives, and yep, it’s far bigger than what I thought we’d be paying for lunch when we first sat down.

But it’s also not as big as I thought it might be, when the German guy got his.

510 000 Dong, which will be 2 x 250 000, plus 10 000 for the tra da.

The bill is painfully paid, and we head off back to the hotel for that rest and recovery thing.

So, the restaurant?

Ripped off?

Scammed, which is a word that so many like to use when discussing Vietnam on various internet forums?

No, I don’t consider either.

But misled?

Yes.

There were a couple of things that got us, which was mainly due to us making some incorrect assumptions.

The first was that the restaurant, with it not being right in the middle of Old Quarter tourist central, would be more financially friendly than one found in that tourist area.

And the second was the sheer number of people frequenting the place, with so many of them being locals.

And with there being no prices on the menu, which hasn’t bothered us for quite a while now, due to the areas where we now generally eat in, there’s perhaps been an element of complacency that’s crept in.

If there’d been a little more information forthcoming, either on the menu or from the ‘waiter’ at time of ordering, as to the size of the meals, then we would have probably been quite happy to order a single dish at 250 000 Dong.  Which, food wise, would have been more than enough.

So yeah, not ripped off or scammed, but more just a little misled.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, and I’m probably more annoyed at the amount of food that’s been wasted.

Regardless, lesson has been learnt, or perhaps re-learnt, and I will never again take a seat on the yellow chairs of that particular restaurant.

Rest and recovery done, which was more needed for food digestion than anything else, and I head out at 4.00pm to do my thing.

But today, with the Beer Corner / Ma May Street area now being a little disappointing in that it no longer seems to provide what I covet, it’s time to try and make new memories elsewhere.

Down the end of the street, around the corner and past the restaurant we’ll never sit at again, and then into Stainless Steel Street.

I love this street, with its vibrancy and all its shiny bling.  There’s so much here that I could utilise in my hobby of beer brewing, and I spend some time wondering if one of those big pots would fit in an aeroplane seat, should I somehow be able to get rid of Lisa.

Get to the end of Stainless Street, before it becomes Hardware Street, and turn left into Bat Dan.  Up Bat Dan, and just before the train line is the option of two bia hoi places.

I’d had a couple of beers here way back in 2017, after I’d returned from the far North with Toan, and while it was more than fine, I still preferred the Beer Corner area.  The other issue with Bat Dan was the fact that it was quite a walk from where we were staying at the time, but with Hang Manh being significantly closer to here, it’s time to see if I can find a little more love for the place.

With a choice of two, the decision is made to go with the one on the right, mainly because that is the one that I sat at five years ago.

I’m soon seated out on the footpath, with a beer in front of me, as well as a small clipboard which will have my running beer tally noted on it.

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In my happy place.

The beer is good, the vessel it comes in is really good, seeing as it is of the actual glass variety, and the usual sights and scenes in front of me, complete the trifecta of all things good.

World watched, beers had, and my ‘new’ bia hoi place more than passing the test, I fix up the bill.  Those 3000 Dong beers of yesteryear are now a distant memory, with the going rate after last night, and now here in Bat Dan, being North of 10 000 Dong.  With them today coming in at 13 000 each.

Yep, a lot has changed.

Back down Bat Dan Street, and into Stainless Steel Street, stopping at a small convenience store along the way.  Couple of Hanoi beers, in cans, purchased for 13 000 Dong each, which makes me wonder why I don’t just buy them and sit in the room and drink them, before quickly realising that the beer drinking thing is only one half of the whole process, and looking out through a window will never match a footpath.

Back to the room, quick shower, and then out to do something about dinner that won’t be coming from our lunch place.

The aim, or desire, is phở bò, which always annoys me.  Not the dish, which I actually really like, but the actual having an aim, or goal, of finding a particular dish.

Unless you know a specific restaurant or street food place, trying to find a certain dish at a certain time, often ends in disappointment.

Down Stainless Steel, and as I already knew, seeing as I just walked it an hour ago, there’s nothing there.  Round the corner, and no, apparently phở gà is not an option.  We walk the block, and as more than half expected, the desired meal is yet to be found.

We end up just down from where we exited Hang Manh a few minutes ago, and what do you know, there’s a phở bò sign on the footpath, over to the right.

There’s not a lot there, but stuff it, we’re taking a chance.

They’re a little surprised to see us, but we’re quickly seated and awaiting our noodle soup with beef.  The question of beer is asked, and we have a choice; Hanoi or Saigon?

We’re in Hanoi now, so the question is automatically answered, and we soon have two Hanoi Beers, along with two glasses full of da (ice).

Happy days!

The pho then arrives, a little chilli is added, and, not really surprisingly, it’s really good.  Lisa is happy too, although does somewhat regret putting a little more chilli in than was ideal.

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Dinner!

Food and three beers shared, and the bill of 145 000 Dong is paid, which would likely be 50 000 for the pho, and 15 000 for each beer.

Still far too early to even consider calling it a night, we head up to Bat Dan to hopefully find a couple of chairs on the footpath.

Fortunately we’re successful, and we soon have two beers in front of us, as well as some acknowledging looks from one or two of the beer serving guys, after they recognise me.

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Lisa, more interested in her phone, than the beer.

A guy on a bike turns up with a box attached to the back, and on it is a sign saying bo bia.

A few people head over to him to order whatever it is.  Lisa is intrigued, but also confused.

“No, it’s not beef, and it’s also not beer”, is my reply to a question that wasn’t really asked.

I explain that it’s something that I have seen before, and while I have tried to look it up, I haven’t had a great deal of success in finding out exactly what it is.

About the only thing I believe I know, is that it is a dessert, or sweet, type thing.

I tell her to go over and have a look, which she eventually does.

She returns, and apparently it’s some kind of rice paper roll that has coconut and toffee in it.

“So, are you having one?”, I ask.

Ummm……

The guy glances over at me, I smile, and hold up one finger, now making the decision for the Intrepid one.

With motioning fingers, the question of how much, is asked, and he holds up two fingers.  Assumption is made that it’s 20 000 Dong, so a 20 000 Dong note is handed to Lisa to help her complete the transaction.

Not only is it nice, although not really my thing, we’re now both slightly smarter than we were just two minutes ago, which doesn’t happen anywhere near as much as I would like.

An Indian woman, with a rather lost and confused look on her face, then turns up near us.  And yes, she is both of those things.

She’s looking for a particular vegetarian restaurant that is supposedly in Bat Dan Street, but she can’t find it.  Being a non-meat place, I’m not going to be able to help, but a local guy overhears her mention the name of it.  He doesn’t really have any English, but he motions to her that it will be closed now, seeing as it’s after 9.00pm.

Seeing the look on her face, and with it now being as late as it is, my objective is to now try and help her achieve her goal.  We end up with a menu, and while it is very much not a vegetarian restaurant / beer place, she is able to get rice and morning glory.

Good deed done, we sit and chat for a while.  While she is Indian, she actually lives in England, and has only just arrived in Vietnam.  She has four weeks ahead of her, and at the moment, she has no real plan on where she is going, and what she intends to see.

Chatting and beers done, we bid farewell and head back to the Emerald the wrong side of 10.30pm, stopping for supplies along the way.

The usual bed routine of a beer I probably don’t need, along with a little Trip Advisor stuff, before pulling the pin just before midnight.

Yep, too late, again.

It’s been a good day, but another one of those days where we did very little.  But at the same time, we had a lot of fun doing that very little.  And thankfully, 24 hours after last night’s little hiccup, we are back to being in a far better place.

So, one more full day in Hanoi, before our trip away with Toan, and again, like today, nothing much planned for tomorrow.

Well, apart from changing Australian money into the Vietnamese variety, as well as, hopefully, meeting up with a guy I have never met, but have known for a number of years through Trip Advisor.

And that’s something that I am really looking forward to.

Cheers,

Scott

4 thoughts on “Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 12

    1. Thank you, but it was actually a woman. It was one of those moments where you had to look twice to work out what you were actually seeing.
      We just got lucky, with right time, right place, but very glad we did.

      Like

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