19 september – hanoi
Awake at 5.00am. That is most definitely not going to happen.
But true sleep never returns, and instead, it’s just of the dozing variety.
I just feel wrecked and my neck hurts. Both those things are probably a result of last night. First, the late night, which I really need to be better at, by perhaps not avoiding, but more curtailing. And two, the neck issue is from spending a fair chunk of my time with my head twisted towards the left, while chatting to the Indian woman. My Osteo will not be happy with me….
And then there’s the dreams I’m having. Stupid dreams, mainly regarding the holiday. Dreaming that we’re either already home, or that it’s nearly done, and we’re heading home in a day or two.
We’re not even two weeks in, and while it is starting to go quick, we still have plenty of time left. I just need to stop overthinking the whole thing, but that’s easier said than done with a brain that struggles to switch off.
Finally give up on the bed thing about 8.00am, and we’re downstairs by 8.30am. Lisa has a gurgly stomach, again, whereas apart from a rather flat and tired feeling, I’m fine.
Outside, and the first aim is a caphe sua da. Down towards Hang Hanh, still attempting directional teachings for the directionally challenged, and just for old time’s sake, we decide to stroll down our old street for a bit of a look. It’s kind of the same, but also a little different. The Artisan Lakeview is still there, and looks much the same, apart from the new Chinese characters on their sign. The café over the road is also there, but there’s no one sitting up on the balcony, as there normally would be at this time. The convenience store I used to frequent from last time, has also gone.
So yeah, same, same, but different, and while it’s still a great street, I have no regrets about having now moved on.
Around the corner, and at the end of Bao Khanh, I drop into the travel agent that is next door to our banh mi lady. XE.com says the rate for Australian dollars to VND is currently around 15 900, so I ask the question. 15 000 Dong to one Aussie dollar is quoted, which actually doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Three years ago they offered me a low ball figure, which was promptly declined, and today the same thing is done.
Up to our old café around the corner, and yep, it’s gone. As too are all the other shops that shared the bottom of that building.
Seeing as we’re yet to see it, and seeing as we love the lanes near it, we take the opportunity to have our first look at St Joseph’s Cathedral.
And yep, as soon as it comes into sight, I have this uncontrollable urge to photograph it. Again, no other church has this impact on me.
But it does look a little different, like it’s maybe been cleaned? Or possibly painted? Not sure, and regardless, it’s still an impressive building.
So great to see it again. But have they done something to it?
How it looked in 2019
Into the nearby lanes, still searching for that caphe sua da. A girl rides past on her bicycle, and as it’s a little crowded, and as she obviously doesn’t have a bell on her bike, she warns us she’s coming with a ‘beep’ ’beep’.
I’ve not had that done to us before, and I laughed, which in turn caused her to laugh.
Around the lanes, and we find a small café being run by a father and his daughter. The question is asked, and the response is, ‘caphe sua da?, Yes!’
A little bit of faith restored in our Vietnamese pronunciation, with a belief that it perhaps isn’t always our fault.
Coffees, along with tra da (25 000 each), quickly turn up, and while it’s good, it is a perhaps a little too strong, with Lisa struggling to finish hers.
That’s alright, as is the usual practice, I deal with that little predicament by finishing hers as well, while also making friends with the cute little resident fluffy dog.
Coffees done, our walking, as well as the educating, continues. We end up on Hang Gai, and I try my luck at another travel agent who advertises currency exchange.
Rate question on Australian dollars is asked, which is responded to with ‘How much?’
Two to three hundred, is my response, to which she offers 15 400.
“Hmmm, okay, what about $500?”, I come back with.
She needs to make a phone call, and while she’s waiting for whoever it is on the other end, she asks me if I’m from Australia.
I confirm her suspicions by answering yes, but do wonder why she felt the need to ask, seeing as we’ve just been talking about converting Australian dollars.
Then again, maybe she’s just much better than me when it comes to making, or perhaps not making, assumptions.
She eventually gets her answer from the person at other end of the line, and the new rate is 15 600.
We’re getting closer to what I’ll be happy with, but still not quite there, so tell her I’ll think about it. And anyway, with not much else in the way of plans today, I’m sort of enjoying the challenge of the chase.
Down to Underwear Lane, then through it, and just around the corner is another travel agent. Question asked, with answer received of 15 800.
“Okay, what about for $500?”, I push my luck with.
It’s still 15 800, and with that being pretty close to what XE.com is telling me, I’m happy to do the deal.
My ten crisp new $50 notes are handed over, and they are replaced with fifteen 500 000 Dong notes, as well as two 200 000 Dong notes, to make up the 7 900 000 Dong that, right at this moment, is the equivalent of $500 AUD.
Transaction complete, smile given, and smile received, we head back outside.
We had tentative arrangements to catch up with Cammy today, who used to work at Green Village Mekong, but who now lives in Hanoi, but she’s messaged Lisa saying she’s not feeling well.
Seeing as she has a cough, as well as a fever, and seeing as that means far more to me now than it would have three years ago, we decide that it’s probably best to put our catch up off until we return from our trip with Toan.
Around into Ma May Street, and seeing our nuoc mia da guy up ahead, we decide it’s probably time we did something about this heat. Again, not as hot as Hue was, but still significantly warmer, and more humid, than I think we’ve ever been, at this time of year in Hanoi. It doesn’t stop you doing things, but it does slow you down. And it’s just so draining.
The sugarcane becoming sugarcane juice.
Our sugarcane juice guy.
Two ordered, 12 000 Dong each, and we head off down to the lake to find some shade, as well as, hopefully, somewhere to sit.
Past the big roundabout, that huge stage now removed, and fortuitously, a bench seat is found in the shade, not far from the restaurant beside the lake.
We sit, savour, and just generally try to cool down, while watching the world do its thing. There’s no English lessons today, as the kids are back at school, but we do get approached by a woman who appears to be collecting recyclables.
It takes me a minute to work out that no, she’s not interested in collecting our plastic cups, but that she is actually begging for money.
Before I have a chance to do anything one way or the other, a guy sitting on a bench opposite begins talking quite forcibly to her. It’s clear that he is telling her off, and to leave us alone.
She reluctantly moves away, and then he intimates to us not to oblige their request, and therefore not encourage them. I felt sorry for her, but as is the way when walking around my own city, I never know how genuine some of the ones that we come across, are.
I’m not sure who the guy was, but he was wearing some sort of uniform. He wasn’t a police officer, but he did look like he could have been some sort of security guard, so he’s perhaps more likely to know more about circumstances than we do.
Rest done, we head off to complete the lap of the lake we were unable to complete yesterday. Down to the bottom, and then back up the other side.
Another landmark we tend to photograph often.
I glance over and see hat street, which reminds me that I still haven’t done anything about a replacement cap, and decide that now is as good as any time.
I’d actually bought one from here back in 2016, but that cap has now well and truly seen better days. So much so, that I was too embarrassed to bring it back for one last hurrah.
We head over and start looking. But I have a problem, in that I have no idea what a sports type cap is worth, and I can’t remember what I paid last time. I know those tourist ones aren’t worth a lot, but the type I’m looking for, I have no clue.
I find something that looks alright, so I ask.
250 000 is the answer.
“Oh, okay, I’ll think about it”, more than just a little surprised at the amount.
He quickly comes back with 220 000 Dong, to which I respond the same way again.
The third offer is 200 000 Dong, which has me more interested than what I have been. I like the style of the cap, and seeing as we’re already some way down the path of negotiations, I’d rather just get it over and done with.
I pose the question of how much for two, thinking that if he says 350 000 Dong, I’ll just bite the bullet and do the deal.
Kind of annoyingly, but also somewhat funnily, he responds with 350 000.
Damn, I think, I’ll just have to do it now.
He eventually finds a second cap, that is not black like the one I’m about to purchase, nor white which just won’t work with me, or bright blue, which works less than the white option, and I now have a black and a grey cap.
350 000 handed over, and he seems really appreciative of the sale, which could be because I’ve paid well over the odds.
But I don’t care, as I’m happy with my purchase, and he was a nice guy.
Enough walking done, the heat becoming a thing again, we head back to the Emerald to cool down, and hopefully have a short nap.
The cooling down bit works, but the nap doesn’t, and we’re back outside in search of lunch around 12.45pm.
Down the lane near the Emerald, but there’s not too many options there. Get to the end, then walk over towards, and then past, Hang Da market.
We find a small place that appears to be doing something like bun cha. Not being a huge fan of the dish, I’m not overly excited at that prospect, but I’ve reached a stage where we just need something to eat, and a stage where I really don’t want to walk much further in this heat.
They see us showing a slight interest, and the next thing we know, we’re seated in what can only be described as a very small triangular shaped room. There’s room for us, just, as well as one of the women who is looking after some of the food preparation, and one who is cleaning dishes.
Outside there is another woman, along with an older man who is quietly looking after the meat over a coal fired BBQ.
Seeing as they only do one dish, the ordering is about as easy as it gets.
We sit, and end up having to wait a little while, which is fine, as I’m quite enjoying watching them go about their thing. But they do keep apologising for the delay.
I try to get my point across that it’s no problem, because not only am I having fun, we also don’t have anywhere else we need to be.
While trying to work out who’s who, and who does what, there’s something just a little weird / different about the whole scene in front of me, but I just can’t work out what it is.
There’s lots of noise and lots of hand waving coming from the women, and they all, at different times, look angry and frustrated with each other. But it’s all incredibly entertaining to watch.
But then finally, the penny drops, when I realise that they’re all deaf, hence all the hand and arm waving.
A bowl of noodles, as well as a bowl of greens and herbs, arrives, and they’re both more than we can both eat. We try and get our point across that that one serving will be enough, as if we get a second lot noodles and greens, most of it will end up being wasted.
We’re kind of successful, but they also think we only want one serve of the actual bun cha between us, as only one turns up. We quickly manage to rectify that little problem.
The bun cha that changed my opinion. And came with a complimentary, and brilliant, experience.
And the food?
Well, it changed my opinion of bun cha.
Like I’ve said, I’ve never really understood the whole cut up fried spring rolls in bun cha, and if that can be replaced with the BBQ’d pork mince and BBQ’d bacon, that came with this bun cha, then I could well and truly be a convert. The whole thing was good, but the meat was absolutely beautiful.
Food done, we go to fix up the bill, which ends up being 40 000 Dong each.
Yep, 80 000 for food that could not be faulted, as well as entertainment that you’d pay alone for, just made yesterday’s lunch debacle that much worse.
So two days, and two lunches, we now have one place that we would definitely return to, and one that I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy.
Amazing the difference 24 hours can make.
We head off, and because we haven’t already done enough walking today, we decide to do a little more.
The houses that sit beside the train line.
Lisa’s banh mi place from yesterday is accidentally found, and noticing they also do juices, we make use of their other service.
We’re welcomed in quickly to take a seat; I think they remembered us from yesterday; and we cool off while watching the girl make our requested pineapple drinks. (25 000 Dong each)
Back out into the streets, and the heat, more aimless walking ensues, while enjoying our juices. We find motorbike repair seat street, which makes complete sense when you see the number of bikes, before eventually finding our way back to the hotel.
On the way up, we finally get the chance to ‘meet’ one of the receptionists, Jenny. The other one we’ve seen is Kate, who is the one that I had been emailing when we first booked. Jenny is lovely, as Kate has been also, and we stop to chat for a bit. We confirm with her that it will be okay to leave some of our luggage here when we head off on our trip tomorrow, and as expected, it’s no problem at all.
We chat for a bit more, have a quick Vietnamese lesson, mainly on numbers, and like directional teachings with Lisa, not much of the Vietnamese sticks with me.
I really need to try harder….
Up to the room to begin working out what’s coming on the motorbike trip, but perhaps more importantly, what’s not, and the whole process seems to take far longer than it should have.
Chore finally complete, and it’s time. Back downstairs about 4.00pm, up to Stainless Steel Street – still thinking about brewing vessels, and what could potentially fit on an aeroplane seat – and then up Bat Dan to where I need to be.
The woman there, who is both one of the main ones, and also the one that tends to make the most noise when calling out orders and taking requests, recognises me and directs me to a seat.
Beer quickly arrives, cảm ơn given, which she giggled at, and I’m back doing my thing.
But more importantly, I just love where I am now. It’s only been two nights in our new Hanoi home, but I already feel a part of the ‘area’. I love Hang Manh, the Emerald, Stainless Steel Street, and everything else around here – apart from yesterday’s lunch spot, and now I’m starting to feel very comfortable in my beer place.
Yep, absolutely no regrets about the decision three years ago, well before anyone had heard of a thing called Covid, to move on from where we had always stayed.
The world is watched, including my beer lady, who really is a character. I don’t know what she’s saying to her customers, but she does come across a little gruff at times. But it also invariably ends up with a smile or a laugh.
I also notice she’s a little haphazard with her beer pouring at times, with some beers delivered with more froth than is ideal. But when she delivers mine, they tend to look the way a beer should.
It may just be coincidence, but I have a suspicion that she may just be looking after me.
With the completion earlier today of one of the two things we had / hoped planned for the day, which being the money exchange thing, I send a message to William, the guy I’ve never met, to confirm if he’ll be back in Hanoi tonight to catch up.
Message quickly returns, and yes, he will be. He’s been in Pleiku, but now on his way back, and as it turns out, he’s staying just around the corner from us.
I’m very pleased, as well as just a little relieved, seeing as this was mentioned as a possibility some months ago, so I can now go back to enjoying my beer and surroundings, with one less thing to think about.
Beers done, still 13 000 Dong each, and I give my beer lady a hen gặp lại. Mainly to let her know that she will see me again, but also partly to try and impress her in the hope she’ll continue to pour me good looking beers.
Back to the room around 5.45pm, for a shower and to get organised for dinner, and then back outside to actually find that dinner.
No real plans, other than to see what we may be able to find up around St Joseph’s, which, after eating there a couple of times on the last trip, I’m reasonably confident about.
We walk the lanes, and then out onto the slightly busier roads where we were successful last time, and yep, there’s a couple of possibilities.
Some interest is shown, but not from them, and we are completely ignored.
Well, I never considered this possibility….
The thought of pushing ahead and just walking in, crosses my mind, but then I sort of crack it. If they can’t be bothered, then neither can I.
“Come on, lets go”, I more order, than request.
“What’s the plan?”, is the response.
“We’re going elsewhere”, while also contemplating using words to the effect of ‘Don’t worry, I’ll look after it all, as I usually do’.
Perhaps fortunately, I decide not to, and we walk back in the general direction of where we just came from.
I come up with a plan, but choose not to communicate it, and we get back to Stainless Steel Street. Up the end, and pretty much on the corner, is the pho ga place we ate at last time.
The look of “Okay?”, is given, without using words.
I know it’s never her first choice, even though at home she would choose chicken over beef nine times out of ten; see how hard my life is?; but she sensibly agrees that pho ga is actually a good choice tonight.
We take a seat by the road, and we quickly have our pho, along with a couple of beers. And, while it’s not her preferred, nor mine for that matter, the combination of food, beer, and location, makes it all pretty hard to fault.
William messages me while we’re there, and he’s back in Hanoi. The catch up is going to happen, and arrangements are made to meet up at my beer place in Bat Dan.
Bill is fixed up – 2 x pho, 3 x bia = 160 000 Dong – and we head up in the direction of the train line.
Beer place arrived at, beer lady gives, and receives, a smile, seat taken, and beers are promptly delivered.
Ten minutes later, a guy who looks nothing like a local, walks around the corner. With us also looking nothing like locals, we have no problem in making the connection.
Yep, it’s William, who is probably better known on the Vietnam Trip Advisor forum, as Manatdollar.
It’s great to finally put a face to the name, and another chair is dragged across, and a third beer quickly ordered.
We’re soon chatting about everything we’ve both been doing, with William’s story far more interesting than ours. He really gets the travelling thing, and does it in a way that the vast majority would never consider.
His encounters, experiences and interactions, not just with the local people, but also their way of life, just blows me away. While I highly doubt I could do what he does, it does make me want to do more than we already do.
Which may, or may not, please Lisa.
The time just flies by, and I’m not sure there was a moment of silence the whole time we sat there. I don’t get to meet too many people who are as obsessed with Vietnam as me, and I’m not sure William has met anyone as obsessed as he is, so we perhaps are a good match when it comes to chatting about our favourite place.
Unfortunately the time arrives where all good things must come to an end. But not before a photo, or two, with some help from our beer guys.
Was great to finally meet!
Beer tab fixed up, we head off back down Bat Dan, eventually reaching the end of Hang Manh, where the goodbye is done.
It’s been so great catching up, and one that I could never have imagined happening when the flights were booked way back in June. Hopefully, at some point in the future, the stars will once again align, and we can do it all again.
Back to the room a bit before 11.00pm for the usual, which of course includes a beer, or beers, I probably don’t need, along with a fair bit of contemplation.
Another day of not a great deal, which is far from a complaint, and then finishing up with a night like we’ve just had.
I said before I don’t normally get to chat with many people who are as obsessed with Vietnam as I am, so tonight was a bit of a rarity.
And while I can’t remember everything we talked about, there was one comment that William made, that not only struck me at the time, but still resonates with me now.
He mentioned a conversation he’d had with someone, and this particular person had made a comment along the lines of, when are you going to go somewhere else?
William’s reply was something like, why would I want to go somewhere else? I’m not yet done with Vietnam.
It was, and this will probably sound weird, kind of comforting, for want of perhaps a better word, because that is exactly how I feel. ‘Comforting’, because when I tell a friend, or family member, that we’re going back to Vietnam, I invariably receive a look that says, ‘why?’
I know they don’t get it, and I’m not totally sure I do either, but it’s nice to know that there is at least one other person in this world that thinks the same way I do.
It’s a nice feeling, because at the moment, I can’t ever imagine a time when I wouldn’t be wanting to return to Vietnam.