Tuesday 27 September – Hanoi
7.00am, eyes open.
Yeah, not a chance that that is happening.
Lay there, doze, lay there, before making an effort just after 8.00am.
I feel okay, but at the same time, there is an element of tiredness, and a general feeling of flatness. It didn’t feel like we did a lot yesterday, although Lisa might disagree with that. But when you consider the walking we did, which according to Lisa’s step counter thingy, was just over 7 kms in the morning, as well as the 5 and a bit kilometres, which really was the straw that did the damage, in the afternoon, well, it was a fair bit of walking.
And then when you throw in having to deal with losing our German friend, well that probably contributes to the flat feeling.
Oh well, might just be a bit of a nothing kind of day ahead of us, which is more than okay, although there is one thing we have planned, and that is to finally catch up with Cammy, who used to work at Green Village near Can Tho.
It’s been three long years, and it will be great to finally see her again.
Eventually organised, even though we don’t really have much to be organised for, and we’re downstairs just after 9.00am. Jenny is at the front desk, so we stop for a chat. She tells us that the power is going to be turned off at midnight tonight, while they work on a nearby substation, and won’t be back on till around 7.00am tomorrow morning.
No problem at all, seeing as if everything works at it should, I’ll be asleep for the entire duration of their works.
Although, not everything always works exactly as it should, including both my sleep, as well as Vietnamese promises of something being ‘done’ in time.
Regardless, we won’t have any problems dealing with this little ‘inconvenience’.
We head off in the direction of Dong Xuan market, and already, it’s both very warm, as well as very busy on the streets.
Down stainless steel street, which becomes door handle street, then door lock and hinge street, and then padlocks and chain street. A couple of turns, and up ahead, the market is found.
While I had a rough idea where it was, the nailing of it without even looking at a map, was more luck than anything. But I don’t admit that to the Intrepid one.
We head in for a bit of a look, but I have no intention, and even less desire, to buy anything today. We’ll no doubt have to part with a certain amount of money at some point, but I’ll put that off for as long as I can.
Not Lisa’s favourite part of Dong Xuan market.
Outside we find the pet section, which isn’t really a pet section, and then head off down dried squid street, which has the as expected smell that Lisa loves so much.
We find the little nearby market, which is always good for a look, and I’m reminded that due to the local’s tendency to be of a slightly smaller stature than I, they tend to not erect their awnings covering their food, terribly high.
Head bumped, female vendor given her entertainment for the day, and we both have a bit of a laugh about it.
Never tire of local markets.
We walk on and find the Old Quarter Gate, and seeing as it’s now well past caphe sua da time, we check out the café opposite. They’re a bit busy, so we walk the block in the hope that when we return, someone will have made room for us.
Down packaging street, then packing tape street, and eventually past Nam Bittet; saving a local just up from the restaurant, whose bike topples over as he was loading it with more stuff than I could fit in my car; and then back to the Old Gate and the café.
This time we’re in luck, and we manage to get a couple of seats outside, which is always the preference when there’s so much to see.
Two caphe sua da’s ordered (25 000 Dong each), and we’re soon doing the sipping, savouring and watching thing.
The coffees are good, and while Lisa thinks yesterday’s were better, I’m more than happy with either café.
The Old Quarter Gate
While sitting there I notice that my phone has lost its ability to provide me with any form of internet, and my suspicion, after wasting time re-starting my phone, is that my sim card with the ‘unlimited’ internet access, that is capped at 4GB a day, is to blame.
Coffees done, and still internet-less, we head off to hopefully find Cammy up at Beer Corner.
With my brain otherwise preoccupied with trying to solve my internet issue, and having now turned a couple of corners, I come to the realisation that I have absolutely no idea where we are, as well as having no idea in which direction we are walking.
Admittedly, that’s not a terribly rare occurrence, but that no internet problem is now a much bigger problem.
We eventually work it out, with the ‘we’ bit really meaning me, and we manage to get to Beer Corner just before 11.00am.
Cammy is not there yet, and with a slight concern that she may have been trying to contact my data-less phone, I walk the block in the hope that I may pick up free wi-fi. But not before giving Lisa strict instructions to not move from the spot we are currently standing at.
I head off, and as luck would have it, I have no luck in getting my phone to do what I’d really like it to do.
Defeated, I make my way back to Beer Corner, only to find Lisa is not where I left her.
Aaaargh, here we go again…..
Fortunately, crisis is averted, as looking around the corner, she’s found sitting in the shade. But even better is the fact that Cammy is also there. It’s great to see her again, and as Lisa has already told her about my sim issue, she’s going to help us deal with that.
But before we get too involved in all things phones, it’s decided we should have an early lunch.
The pressure is then put on me to come up with a place where we can do this early lunch, but that is somewhat of a problem for me.
Apart from Nam Bittet, which isn’t open for lunch anyway, we really don’t ever eat in this area anymore, as we prefer to be a bit further away from all the other tourists.
We head off up Dinh Liet street, and then into the narrow lane, but there’s not too much in the way of options. Well, ones that appeal. Around the corner, and then down to where all the street market vendors are, and we find a couple of bun cha places. Both look alright, but we decide on the one where we’ll be able to eat inside, partly because it will hopefully be a bit cooler, but mainly because it will make chatting and catching up, far easier.
The bun cha is good, but the company we have is better, and it’s just fantastic to see her again, and hear a little about what she’s been up to.
Lunch done, it’s time to deal with my sim issue, and Google says there’s a Viettel store at the Northern end of the lake, on the east side.
With my attention slightly elsewhere, Cammy pays for lunch before I even have a chance to object. I’m annoyed, but only at myself, and that won’t be allowed to happen again.
We head off, find the lake with ease, and then make our way across to the east side, and up Lo Su street.
I know we’re in the right area, but at the moment, I can see no Viettel signs. Seeing as Cammy is the only one with working internet, I ask her to check if it’s this street, or the next one up.
Cammy looks, and then says it’s here, but strangely, and worryingly, I still can’t see it.
Well, I couldn’t, until I turned around and noticed the big bright red building across the road, with ‘Viettel’ plastered all over it.
We head in, and with there being a few in there already, we sit and wait for a while. Eventually someone is free and Cammy takes on the role of phone repairing translator.
Initially there are confused looks, and then one salesperson becomes two, followed by more confused looks.
Questions are asked, but apart from having handed over 290 000 Dong to a guy in a phone store in Saigon a couple of weeks ago, I can’t really offer much in the way of answers.
A little more investigating, and eventually we have an answer as to why it no longer works.
It seems it’s a recycled number, and one that is still registered to someone else, and despite me having paid for a month’s worth data and 50 minutes of calls, my month is up less than three weeks in.
The answer to my problem is another sim card, and of course, that will be at my expense to a total of around 400 000 Dong.
Before I have a chance to push for alternatives, Cammy mentions that she has a spare sim card that I can have.
I don’t understand why she has a spare sim card, and regardless of that, I just don’t feel right in taking it from her.
But Cammy is a very insistent girl, and she is adamant that she doesn’t need it, and that she really wants me to have it.
First it was lunch, and now it’s this, and while I feel really bad, I end up relenting.
The sim card is soon in my phone, strangely, with the help of the Viettel staff who have now been done out of a sale, and I now have data, along with a new phone number.
It’s a relief to have it sorted, and while I’m annoyed I didn’t get what I paid for, I can’t say a bad thing about the Viettel staff here in Hanoi. And as far as Cammy goes, well, I owe her heaps.
Phone restored, we head outside and walk around the Northern end of the lake, before reaching a café that we have walked past many times, and actually know a little about, but have never been inside.
It’s The Note Coffee café, and it’s known for all the post-it notes that adorn its walls and anything else that post-it notes can stick to, after people have written, you guessed it, notes on.
We head inside, and apart from all the notes stuck around the place, the other thing that is instantly noticeable, is the incredibly friendly staff.
Drinks; pineapple juice and iced tea; are ordered, and we make our way up to the third floor to take in the view, as well as just continue catching up.
Cammy calls her mum, Hanh, who is still living down near Can Tho, and we end up having a video call. It’s great to see her again, as well as her husband Thieu, and she’s a bit disappointed that we didn’t call in when we were down there staying at Green Village.
We would have absolutely done that had we known where they lived, and it seems we may not have been too far away from their place when we went on one of our bike rides.
A promise is made that we will try and rectify that, the next time we are down at Green Village.
We sit and chat some more, before finally having to make a move as Cammy is about to start work. Once again, the time has flown, as we ended up being in Note Coffee for almost two hours.
With Cammy at The Note Coffee cafe.
So as to prolong our catch up a little longer, we walk with Cammy back towards Beer Corner, which is near to where she works.
Goodbye is done, but it’s an easy one, as we will get the opportunity to see her again before we leave Hanoi next week.
We head back in the direction of the Emerald hotel, and finding a nuoc mia da cart just around the corner, and seeing as we haven’t had one today, two are promptly ordered. And at 10 000 Dong, essentially in the middle of Hanoi, you really can’t go wrong.
Sitting on the footpath, enjoying the incredibly refreshing sugarcane juice that it is, and watching the world go by, including the two guys across the road, trying to work out how best to transport a couple of large sheets of aluminium, on a motorbike.
It took them a few minutes, but as this is Vietnam, they worked it out.
While enjoying watching the scene unfold, I receive a WhatsApp message from someone I’ve never met. I do, however, know of him, as he is a friend of Khoi’s, from Water Buffalo Tours.
Quan is a Hanoi local, and when Khoi found out we were returning to Hanoi, he was keen for us to meet him.
Arrangements are made to meet up tomorrow afternoon, and as luck would have it, it will involve a few beers.
Drinks done, we head off around the corner and back to the hotel. Jenny, and one of the other girls, is at the front desk, and as we walk in, she makes mention of my ‘box of beer’ in our room.
They both think it’s funny, so to deflect my unhealthy love of beer issue, I blame Lisa, while also talking up my environmental contribution, with how many plastic bags I’ve saved.
It was a fun little interaction, and confirmation again of how lovely they all are. Particularly Jenny, who I’ve really enjoyed chatting to each time I’ve seen her, as I’ve been either coming or going.
Upstairs to cool down a bit, and then back out around 4.00pm to do my thing.
Changing it up a little, I decide to have another look at where I used to spend my late afternoons, as well as evenings, on previous trips, by taking another look at the Ma May Street area.
Across in the general direction of Beer Corner, and with the feeling like there’s no real direct route there, it seems to take far longer than it should. Eventually onto Ma May, and yep, it just has a completely different look and feel to 2019.
I can’t see anyone selling kegged beer, but I do see my beer lady from 2019, in the same spot she used to sell it.
Unfortunately though, it appears she is no longer a beer lady.
I head up one of the side streets, in the hope that the beer place that I sat at with Mike three years ago, is still in operation. It is, which I’m very pleased about, and I’m quickly seated doing my favourite thing on the footpath.
It’s good to be back, and it just has a bit of a different feel to Bat Dan. Not better, and not worse, but just different. It’s mainly locals, with very few tourists, but that may be partly because of Covid, and the fact that tourist numbers are still well down.
I catch up on a few WhatsApp messages, as the sky begins to look threatening, and then get chatting to a couple of local guys. Or more to the point, they get chatting with me.
The older guy, who, now that I’m older, isn’t that much older than me, has really good English, and he tells me his daughter is married to an American, and they currently live in Florida.
The younger guy, whose English isn’t quite as good, is really keen for the interaction, but both his English, as well as my Vietnamese, is making things a little difficult.
Not for the first time though, it doesn’t matter, and I’ve said before that you don’t always have to be talking to be able to communicate.
A few minutes later I have an extra beer in front of me, which I didn’t order, and looking over at the younger guy, he has a wry smile on his face.
I smile, and give him a heartfelt cảm ơn.
Extra beer had, and with time for one more, I take the opportunity to reciprocate my mate’s beer generosity by buying him one back.
He’s appreciative, but really wasn’t expecting it, and I suspect he would have preferred to remain one up on me.
Bit more chatting, including receiving an offer of doing something with him on our next trip, which ends up petering out due to language issues, along with not really knowing when we’ll be back anyway.
Not wanting to regret a ‘no photo’ situation, I ask if we can do a selfie, which, as suspected, was no issue.
My bia hoi mates.
Beer almost finished, and really needing to make a return to married life, I turn to find yet another beer in front of me.
He has that smile on his face again, and I think he was pretty pleased with himself that he managed to get that one up on me.
Beer finally finished, and as much as I don’t want to go, I really have to. It’s been a great afternoon, and I’ve absolutely loved the interaction, as well as the area. While Ma May seems to be no more, there’s still an option just a short block away, and one that is far more authentic than Ta Hien street and Beer Corner.
I bid my new mates farewell, and go and fix up the tab.
Three years ago the beers here were 10 000 Dong, which was significantly more expensive than other places, but you did get more beer, and like today, it came in a glass, rather than a plastic cup.
With the world having now changed, I’m not sure what to expect, and in the end, I’m still not sure.
Well, there was a slight discrepancy between how many I thought I’d had, and what my beer guy thought I’d had.
In the end, it didn’t matter, and I just paid what he told me I owed, which worked out at the same price as last time, being 10 000 Dong each.
But please don’t quote me on that, nor take it as gospel.
The walk back to the hotel begins, and like the walk from the hotel, it feels like it takes so long. It just seems like such a convoluted journey, and it never feels like I’m walking the most direct route.
It’s not a big deal, but with where we’re staying, Bat Dan is far easier.
Finally back to the room, Lisa where I left her, and it’s a quick shower to get organised for dinner.
The plan is that we don’t really have a plan, and it’s more about what we can find just by walking the streets, with the only desire being not phở gà, but only because we had it last night.
Back downstairs and out, across to, and up, stainless steel street, and then turn left in the direction of my beer place.
There’s a couple of options, but the one that really appeals is a phở bò woman on the right, who has small plastic stools on the footpath, that are currently being used by people who don’t look like us.
Perfect! And even better, Lisa is happy.
Room is made, and we quickly have two bowls of phở, as well as a couple of beers, in front of us.
The phở is good, as of course is the beer, and I’m more than happy with the location and the surroundings.
Dinner done (150 000 Dong, so probably 50 000 each for the phở, and 25 000 each for the beer), we head up to my, or it’s probably now ‘our’, beer place.
From one small footpath stool to another, and we’re back doing our usual nightly thing.
Beers quickly arrive, world back to being watched again, and for some reason the topic of tattoos comes up.
Neither of us have one, and while I’m not averse to getting one, I’ve just never been able to come up with a design or idea of what I’d like.
Lisa then mentions that she wants to get one, which, while she had talked once or twice of that desire, it’s certainly not something that she’s mentioned often, nor recently.
Well, maybe she has, but I just didn’t ‘hear’ her.
The difference with her however, is that she knows exactly what she wants, and that is a drawing that she did several months ago.
I’m pleased that she knows, but annoyed that I don’t, so I return to my beer.
But my brain won’t let the tattoo dilemma go away, and while I don’t come up with a definitive answer, I do have somewhat of a lightbulb moment.
And that is, if, and it is a big if, I go ahead with this, then I’d like it to be Vietnam related.
It’s a starting point, but I still don’t have an answer, so I give up and go back to thinking about nothing in particular, which is far easier.
Shortly after, four guys arrive and take a seat at the table next to us. They’re all wearing black shirts, with those shirts being adorned with printing, as in advertising something.
Initially, I don’t take that much interest, but when I do, I realise the printing is advertising a tattoo place, and they obviously all work together.
I’m blown away, and I can’t help but think it’s some kind of serendipitous moment; yes, I know, far too big a word for me; or perhaps even a sign from above.
Although, to be fair, it’s probably not the second option, as I don’t really have someone ‘above’ that I follow.
Anyway, whatever it is, it just feels like I’m being told something, but it still doesn’t solve my issue of what design I would have.
I decide a move has to be made, so knowing, or more assuming, that a conversation in English is likely to be problematic, I try my luck with Google translate.
Something like, and yeah, I know, it’s pretty lame, “I’ve always wanted to get a tattoo, but I just don’t know what?” is punched in.
I show the young guy with the tattoo shirt sitting closest to me, he smiles, and then takes my phone and uses Google translate in the opposite way.
It comes back with something like, “Come and see us, we have consultants”.
He then gives me his cigarette lighter, which is a promotional one, with all the business details I’ll need to find them.
But Lisa is already on to it, piggy backing off my data to find out a little about them.
My tattoo mate goes back to his beer, as I do too, but now with a feeling of, well, not really excitement, but perhaps more one of relief, that this might actually be happening.
And it feels right, as in it’s a really good idea, but at the same time, I do know that I’ve had lots of really good ideas after a few beers, that ultimately ended up not being really good ideas, the next day.
But, we’ll worry about that later, as I need to get back to my one major problem, and that is what will this tattoo be?
I know that it’s to be Vietnam related, but that’s all I’ve got at the moment.
So, what things do I love about Vietnam, that could make sense as a tattoo?
Like a keg?
Or a beer glass?
Even sitting here drinking beer out of a glass, that was in a keg just a few minutes ago, I can’t imagine it. It just seems tacky.
Sadly, as a tattoo, I don’t think beer is going to work.
I go back to my beer, as well as the world watching, which helps me with not thinking about my dilemma, before heading back to the Emerald a bit after 9.30pm.
Onto the bed for the usual Trip Advisor, note taking, one last beer, and packet of chips, interspersed with tattoo design talk, while preparing for the power to be turned off.
Our nothing day has essentially come to an end, but it was far from a nothing day.
The catch up with Cammy, the interaction with the two guys at Mike and I’s 2019 beer hoi place, and then the ‘serendipitous’ moment with the tattoo guys.
Yep, was a good day.
So, 11.00pm, time to call it.
And while there’s still no idea on a design, it does still feel like a really good idea.
Be interesting to see if it feels the same way in the morning…..