Monday 26 September – Hanoi
Awake at 7.00am.
Nup, not happening.
Doze for an hour listening to the usual noises of Vietnam; cars and bikes, and their horns, as well as voices.
Eventually make the effort to become vertical, and we’re downstairs around 8.30am where we meet up with Kerstin again.
She doesn’t really have anything that she desperately wants to do on her final day, so it looks like it’ll be a day of wandering the Old Quarter. And there’s certainly nothing at all wrong with that.
But, first off, the girls need breakfast, and with the preference being a banh mi, we head off in the direction of St Joseph’s, knowing that there’s at least one banh mi vendor in the area.
And sure enough, just before St Joseph’s, is Banh Mi Mama, who we visited back in 2019.
The banh mi’s look good, but I’m just not interested. I feel okay, but not great; I’ll blame the assorted animal organs dish from last night; and I’m just not hungry.
There’s a few already lined up, so I leave the girls to wait patiently, while I go off to see my church.
As I reach it, and as I look up at it, that usual uncontrollable urge to photograph it, sweeps over me.
I love seeing it, but again, just like a week ago, it looks different. Not bad different, but I’m still not convinced it’s better different.
Oh well, it is what it is, and I’m sure it will soon become all ‘normal’ again.
There’s a travel agent just across the road, so out of interest, I head in to ask the rate for Australian dollars.
XE.com tells me it’s 15 400, while the helpful guy behind the desk offers me 15 000 Dong. Not bad, but not really being in a desperate need to acquire more VND, it was more just a research question.
I head back to Banh Mi Mama, and the girls are only just getting their banh mi’s (25 000 Dong each).
They decide to sit in the narrow alleyway, that Banh Mi Mama is actually in, to eat them, and part way through their breakfast, Banh Mi Mama checks to see if they’re happy.
Sights from Banh Mi Mama’s lane.
There are no complaints, and then with the help of Google translate, and a little finger motioning, she gets her point across that she would appreciate a review being written.
No problem, and she then asks if I’d write one too.
“I didn’t have one”, is my slightly confused reply, to which she laughs.
Banh mi’s done, we head off towards St Joseph’s again, this time in search of my preferred breakfast, which is a caphe sua da.
Down the street that runs beside the church, and the café that we sat at in 2019, the one where we watched the young couple having wedding photos done, is still there.
We manage to get a seat on the street, and three caphe sua da’s (30 000 Dong) are promptly ordered.
They arrive a few minutes later, and even though they’re in plastic cups, they’re still good.
We sit, savour, chat, and just generally watch the world go by. It’s a quiet little street, but there’s still plenty going on, with a couple of street food vendors nearby, doing their thing.
A blue and white Mercedes pulls up, and as the driver attempts to park, two of the female vendors quickly make him aware, in no uncertain terms, that he can’t park there, as that is where some of their belongings are set up.
It doesn’t take long for him to get the message, and he sets off to find another place for his car.
It was probably a good idea anyway, as one of the male vendors then emptied the water from a 70 litre stainless steel pot, that had what looked to be about dozen chickens soaking in it, right near where his car would have been.
A lot of the water actually made it into the drain, but a fair amount also ended up on the road, as well as all over his open toed sandal wearing feet.
It was funny, but also had an element of uneasiness, when I thought about what else was in that water.
Coffees finished, and as we’re about to head off, our café lady comes to make sure we’re happy. We are, and then she starts pointing at the sign out the front. My first assumption is that she wants a review, but no, she just wants me to take a photo so we don’t forget where she is.
She was nice, and so were her coffees, and she need not worry about us forgetting where she is.
We make our way towards the lake, but not before stopping in front of St Joseph’s, to once again take a photo, or ten. Yep, I really do find it difficult to just walk past it.
With Kerstin, in front of my church.
Down to the lake, making a slight detour through Hang Hanh street, and again, even though it looks and feels a little different, I still like the street. Although I still have no regrets about moving on.
Interestingly, one of those differences is the La Paix hotel, which used to be the Artisan Boutique – our Hanoi home on the first three trips, and it looks like it may be undergoing yet another change.
We eventually reach the lake, and as is the usual way of walking it, we do it in an anti-clockwise direction.
Down to the bottom, and instead of continuing our lap, we make our way towards the Opera House.
Past a VIB bank ATM, and remembering our success with a VIB ATM in Hue, where we were able to withdraw 10 million Dong without incurring a fee, I decide to see if it was a one off, or whether the Hanoi version will be just as kind.
And yep, same brand, same result, with 10 million Dong finding a temporary home in my wallet, and I now have a new favourite bank.
We reach the Opera House, and already possessing photos in front of one landmark, we decide to add a second one.
Nice building, but can’t compete with the church.
Down the side street, and then past the Metropole to see how the other half live, with not one ounce of jealousy in my body, and then back to the lake to complete the lap.
So far we’ve, essentially, done nothing, but at the same time, we’ve also done a bit. But we’re in need of a plan, so the decision is made to find the murals that are up on the railway viaduct, in a walk that will no doubt be one that is nowhere near being the most direct, nor efficient, one.
Into Underwear Lane, and we take the opportunity to use its toilets.
Always a good idea, as they’re often hard to find when you really need them.
The guy out the front, who is in charge of collecting the fee for usage of said toilets, is asleep, so we quietly place our 5000 Dong each, into his cash holding box.
Up to Beer Corner, and then across to Nam Bittet, before turning right. Past Nam Bittet, and then up a bit further, and whaddya know!
That toilet that used to be here on previous trips, but apparently wasn’t on that fateful Saturday night a little over a week ago, is actually still here.
“Oh, I didn’t realise it was this far up”, is the Intrepid one’s excuse.
We get to Dong Xuan market, walking through, and having a bit of a look, around the market that is outside, before then reaching the train line at the start of ceramic bowl street.
We follow the line, which we can’t actually see, seeing as it’s on the viaduct above us, but it doesn’t matter, as there is enough interest in this little narrow street to keep you entertained.
Reaching the next intersection, which just happens to be a rather busy one, and while we wait for a small break in the traffic to take the leap of faith, I notice a huge tomato on the road. Well, it’s actually just half a tomato, but even cut in half, it is still of a significant size.
A break appears, and we step out. But Lisa doesn’t get far, as she somehow hasn’t noticed the giant piece of red fruit on the ground in front of her.
Well, she did, but only after stepping on it.
Yep, there’s nothing quite like having tomato puree all over your shoes….
We eventually reach mural street, and with it not being closed off like it was when we found it in 2019, it doesn’t quite have the same feel as back then. It’s still good, and interesting to see, but it all looks a little old and a bit let go.
Getting to the end, the thịt chó signs come into view, but there’s no sign of the actual product out on display.
Changing it up a little, and rather than just pushing back down into the Old Quarter, we walk under the railway line to check out the other side. Turning down a side street, we come across a building in the process of being demolished. Always interesting to see here, so we stop to watch some of the work.
There’s not a great deal left, but the little bit that still remains has a guy standing on top of it, giving directions and instructions to the bloke in the excavator.
But it seems it’s now lunchtime, and the guy on the remaining bit needs to get down.
There’s no ladder, but that’s no problem, as the excavator bloke merely lifts the excavator’s arm and claw, and the guy jumps aboard and is lowered to the ground.
Yep, I just love Vietnam!
Instructions from the business end of the excavator.
A lift down in time for lunch.
Demolishing work put on hold, we realise we’re standing outside a café. That little discovery results in three juices being ordered, and we sit out on the street to enjoy them, while doing that world watching thing I love so much.
A Western tourist, looking a little lost, walks past, and then returns. And yep, she is lost.
She’s trying to find her way across to the other side of the train tracks, and is struggling with her drawn map, which yep, I’ve been there before, too.
Anyway, it turns out her accommodation is actually on this side of the train line, and I can’t help but wonder why, as a first time visitor to Hanoi, she chose to stay over here.
Regardless of her reasons, which I suspect is just a case of not fully understanding Hanoi, we point her in the right direction, and set her on her way.
Good deed, and juices, done, we too head off to try and do exactly what our Western tourist friend was trying to achieve.
We reach a road where the train line no longer needs the viaduct to cross it, which is also where ‘train street’, which is the ridiculous name it became known as, even though it’s not a street, begins.
And yep, it’s barricaded to stop people congregating on the tracks, or in the many cafés and restaurants, that popped up at the height of its popularity.
It was initially closed in late 2019 for safety reasons, and quite rightly in my opinion, as the crowds had just gotten so far out of control it was just a matter of time before someone got hurt. But it re-opened after Vietnam welcomed back visitors following Covid, and of course, it didn’t take long for the hordes to return.
And, not long after, and not surprisingly, when someone did end up getting hurt, they closed it again.
So yep, it’s barricaded again, as well as manned by a guard / policeman keeping watch, but it still doesn’t stop a handful of tourists trying to plead their case, so they can get that much coveted Instagram shot.
Unfortunately for them, they’re unsuccessful.
Nup, not happening.
We walk on past, happily leaving the pleaders behind, and with it being lunchtime already, we decide to do something about that.
Ending up in the general area behind the Emerald, we come across our deaf bun cha ladies, and man, from the other day.
There’s only two of the women here today, plus the barbequing man, and it’s funny watching him try and get the attention of the main woman, when he sees us arrive.
A nudge with his foot gets the job done, and her look when she sees us tells me that she remembers us.
We’re quickly seated, this time at a table outside, and it’s not long before our bun cha is in front of us, while also managing to knock back the third plate of noodles, as I know there’s just no way we’ll eat it all.
The bacon and grilled pork mince is sublime, as it was the other day, and the decision to knock back the third plate of noodles is a good one, as the three of us couldn’t even finish the two we were given.
Lunch enjoyed as much as the experience, and bill of 120 000 Dong fixed up for the three of us, which is just ridiculous, and we head back to the room around 1.30pm, for some of that rest and recovery thing. We haven’t done a great deal, apart from walking, but the heat is starting to become difficult.
On the way up, we stop to chat with Jenny and one of the other girls, and they insist on sharing some of their fruit, both peach and persimmon, with us.
It was a nice little gesture, and it was fun to stop and chat for a bit.
Recovery somewhat achieved, we head back outside to try and make the most of Kerstin’s last few hours, of which I am becoming acutely aware of, and struggling more than a little with, due to my immense dislike of ‘goodbyes’.
No real plan, although with Kerstin having stumbled across book street the other day, and seeing as books are one of Lisa’s favourite things, we do now in fact have a plan.
Off in the direction of St Joseph’s, and then down past the hospital. Around another block, and yeah, like the waterfall in Long Coc, it’s proving to be elusive.
We do, however, find Hoa Lo Prison, which is always nice to see, but that heat is starting to impact the enjoyment of the walk.
Seeing as we can’t find book street based on where Kerstin thinks it is, we change tack slightly and look where we don’t think it is. And what do you know, and just as we were ready to give up; truth be told, I was ready long before that; the books are found!
There’s not too many people around, but there are plenty of books. But being of the ‘new’ variety, there’s not much that interests Lisa, as her preference is for old antique-y type ones.
But, it was interesting to see, and did result in us seeing some stuff that we ordinarily wouldn’t have.
Books seen, we head off in the general direction of the lake. Down remote control street, and as we get to the southern end of the lake, we veer off further south, at my suggestion, to see what we can find.
That heat is relentless, and I know it’s only a matter of time before a certain individual is going to really start feeling it. To try and get in before that happens, the goal now is to find a nuoc mia da (iced sugarcane juice), or at least something similar.
Down to the next intersection, and nothing. Turn left, and up to the next crossroad, and yep, still nothing.
My suggestion is coming back to bite me, and I can sense the Intrepid one, behind me, is really starting to struggle.
I don’t make eye contact.
Turn left again, and we’re eventually back near the lake, but still nuoc mia da-less.
Things are getting grim, and it’s not long before I’m informed of my worst fears.
“I know, I’m well aware, and I’m trying”, said in a way at least sounding like I had sympathy.
We reach the Northern end of the lake, and we’re soon back in the ‘market streets’ that seem to be a new thing since Covid.
At least now there’s some interesting things to look at, which will hopefully take the wilting one’s mind off her plight.
It kind of works.
Around the corner, and there, just up a bit, a nuoc mia cart comes into view.
Thank ‘insert whichever expletive you’re comfortable with’!, crisis averted, and three nuoc mia da’s are quickly ordered from the lovely man in charge of the cart, while we take a seat on the footpath.
Fortunately we’re now in the shade, but the walking in the heat, and often in the sun, we’re all more than just a little sticky.
Our drinks arrive (15 000 Dong each), and yep, they were much needed and much enjoyed.
Our nuoc mia da man.
Suitably refreshed and somewhat cooler, we head back in the direction of the Emerald.
Kerstin has one more thing she wants to buy before she leaves, and that is a couple of coffee phins.
Not too far from the big roundabout at the Northern end of the lake, we call into a souvenir type shop, where I’d seen some coloured ones being sold before our Mu Cang Chai trip.
100 000 Dong apparently, which is far more than what we paid on our second or third trip, but then again, ours were just your boring run of the mill stainless steel colour.
I suggest to Kerstin we can do better than that, if them being coloured isn’t important, and she’s more than happy with the plain and boring stainless steel option.
Passing on the ‘pretty’ phins, we head back towards the Emerald, with me now hoping that the phin suggestion ends up being better than my earlier one, of making that detour in search of cold drinks.
Yeah, pressure much?
We drop the Intrepid one at the hotel, and begin the search for the cheaper phins. With our laundry due today, we head off in the direction of that, in the hope of perhaps being able to bring those two birds and one stone thing, together.
Not too far before we reach St Joseph’s, we see a place selling coffee. Making an assumption that because they have coffee, they could well also have phins, we head in.
And for once, an assumption of mine is correct!
They have small aluminium ones for 35 000 Dong, or the larger stainless steel ones for 60 000 Dong.
With larger always being better, Kerstin goes with the stainless option, and she hands over her 120 000 Dong, while I stand and watch, and just generally feel pretty impressed with myself at saving her 80 000 Dong.
I’m just not sure Kerstin was as impressed as me, though….
Round the corner to my laundry place, and there’s a guy sitting on his bike ahead of us, waiting for the staff to locate his now, hopefully, washed clothes.
It ends up taking so long, that he gets off his bike to help them look.
It brought back memories of last time we were here, when it took so long find our stuff, that I honestly thought we would be going home with far less stuff than we arrived with.
In the end, and just like in 2019, it all ended well for the guy, and once he was out of the way, our bag of clothes were quickly found.
Back to the hotel again, this time to drop off the laundry, as well as Kerstin’s bargain phins; yep, I’m still pretty pleased myself, even if Kerstin isn’t; and then, seeing as it’s 4.00pm, it’s up to Bat Dan with Kerstin to do the beer thing.
We’re now well and truly into those ‘lasts’ that I struggle so much with, but I try not to think too much about that, and just enjoy the moment for what it is.
Soon back sitting on the footpath, beers in front of us, as too the world, as it goes about its business. My beer lady seems to be more up and about today, and seems to be showing more interest in me than she has, which has me a little confused. I’m not sure what’s going on, other than to think she has me confused with someone else?
Maybe she’s impressed, or otherwise, that I’m sitting there with another female who is not my wife???
The time comes where we need to make a move, and it’s just confirmation of how quickly the hours are beginning to fly.
Back to the hotel, but stopping briefly at my convenience store to do something I’ve only ever done a couple times here in Vietnam. And that is to buy a slab, or carton, of beers.
Having another seven nights before we leave for Saigon, means I can afford to buy beer in bulk, rather than a few at a time, and I noticed the other day that this particular store actually sells them exactly like that.
Slab, carton, whatever you know them as, is retrieved from the back of the store, and carried to the girl at the front.
Using her calculator, she works out the equation of 24 x 13 000 Dong, which is the exact same unit price as if I was buying them one at a time.
Ok, that’s not really how I thought it would work out, but I take solace in the fact that I’ve helped save the world by not requiring those extra plastic bags had I dropped in each day.
Yeah, I know, just trying to be glass half full, here…..
We get back to the hotel, and Anh, who is the night duty person, and a lovely guy at that, laughs as he notices my box of beer.
“Yes, I know, Anh”, I say with a smile, before adding that I also know I could really do with a bigger fridge.
He laughs again.
Upstairs, shower had, after fitting as many beers in the fridge as I could, and then back downstairs with the Intrepid one to meet up with Kirsten again, for another one of those lasts.
Aaaargh, I need to stop thinking about it!
Decision now needs to be made, and seeing as it’s someone’s last night, it’s Kerstin’s choice.
Phở gà, is the choice, which works out well, as we’ve got our phở gà girl just around the corner, where we ate before the Mu Cang Chai trip.
Back down Hang Manh, into Stainless Steel street, and then up to the end, and room is quickly found on the footpath when she sees us.
A beer each, and of course our phở, which as it has been in the past, is really good. But as too is the company, as well as the location, and I’m struggling to think of a place I’d rather be.
The only down side is the inevitable ending, that is coming up far quicker than I’d like.
Dinner done, we head up Bat Dan as a group of three one last time, and we’re soon back on the footpath doing what needs to be done.
As it was always going to, the time flies, and all too quickly, we need to make a move. But not before one last photo, so we ask the young beer guy to help us out.
He obliges, and then it really is time. Back down Bat Dan, and into Stainless Steel street, before turning into Hang Manh, and then reaching the Emerald.
It’s 9.00pm, and even though Kerstin’s car isn’t booked to arrive for another 45 minutes, Lisa starts with the goodbye.
“No, no, no, we’re not doing this now, we’ll do it at 9.30pm”, I say, still trying to prolong the whole thing.
Kerstin heads off to get organised, and we return to our room for a few minutes.
I then head back outside, telling Lisa I’ll meet her out the front at 9.30pm.
I have a plan, not one that could be described as brilliant, seeing as it involves a convenience store, but it’s a plan nonetheless.
Up Hang Manh to one of the two stores there, and then back to the hotel. Anh, along with three others, are sitting out the front drinking water and having a smoke. I take a seat on the steps, and wait.
Lisa arrives on time, smiling, but also rolling her eyes, when she sees what’s sitting between my feet on the steps.
A photo is taken, and then sent to Kerstin with words, ‘Hurry up!’
The last one.
A few minutes later she appears, and as she walks outside, Anh jumps up to introduce the driver to her.
The penny then drops as to who, well, one of them anyway, Anh is outside talking to.
Kerstin then explains to Anh what I have planned, which is one last beer before she heads off.
Not sure why it had to be a beer, well, okay, it was probably never going to be any other drink, but in the end, in my eyes at least, we just couldn’t walk down here, do a hurried goodbye, then wave her off as the car drove away.
The final beer is enjoyed, but not really enjoyed, as we stand out the front and chat for a bit, until the time arrives.
And yep, I just hate goodbyes.
Seven or eight weeks ago, on a cold, wet, and dark, Melbourne night, we did the exact same thing. That was hard enough, but knowing that we had the Hanoi meet up to look forward to, it made it a little easier to deal with.
But now, on a darkened Hanoi street, which is far from being cold and wet, it’s not only arrived, but it’s been done.
Yep, I just hate goodbyes.
The car disappears, and with beer in the fridge to help me deal with it, but no Coke or chips, I head back up to the convenience store.
And as I do, a guy approaches me.
I don’t know what it is that he’s about to offer me, but I do know that I’m not going to want whatever it is.
“Lady massage?”, he says, while reaching for his phone.
Instantly it takes me back to the final night we spent in Hang Hanh street in 2019, but this time I don’t bother looking at the photo he wants to show me.
Invitation politely declined, I make my purchases and head back for the usual on the bed, of beers, chips, and Trip Advisoring, but this time combined with a certain amount of just generally feeling sorry for myself.
I wasn’t looking forward to this day, and I don’t think Lisa was either, as she’s now lost that female connection that she seems to enjoy so much, after spending a couple of weeks almost exclusively with me.
And then there’s Kerstin, who I really feel for, as her incredible six month adventure is all but over. I have trouble finishing four weeks, I can’t imagine what returning to ‘real life’ after six months must be like.
So, another little ‘milestone’, is reached. And it fills me with no happiness.
One more beer, and now the wrong side of 11.30pm.
Again, I’m really not doing this right.