Thursday 29 September – Hanoi
The routine continues. Eyes open just after 7.00am, and as much as I’d like to bounce out of bed and meet the day head on, I’m just not the bouncing, morning type of person.
More sleep is attempted, but not achieved, and it’s merely light dozing.
8.30am arrives, and probably through more guilt than anything, a move is made.
Not much planned, apart from a catch up with Shinegi for coffee, who we first met back in 2017, as well as perhaps a walk up to Uncle Ho’s house, which we’ve never seen before.
I just struggle with ‘sites’, I guess.
Finally ready, we’re outside by 9.30am. Up to St Joseph’s, and being there not long after, we really haven’t planned it terribly well, as we’re not due to meet Shinegi until 10.15am.
With standing in one spot for more than half an hour, even though it would be in front of my favourite church, not being my preferred option, we go for a walk.
We head down towards Hang Hanh street, and just because it’s there, we head down it for another look.
Again, it sort of looks the same, but at the same time, it just has a different feel. Our balcony, which we sat at pretty much every morning we stayed here, as well as just about every evening, is empty, and it actually looks like the whole thing is closed and locked up.
The realisation hits that had we returned to stay where we always had, and thus expect to do what we’d always done, I suspect we would have been extremely disappointed.
We’d made up our mind back in 2019, while we were still here in Hanoi, that it was probably time we moved on to something different, and I’m now even more pleased about that decision.
It then gets me thinking about Saigon, and where we stayed in 2019, as well as where we ended up staying a couple of weeks ago. We loved our accommodation, and in particular the area, three years ago, and that was why we tried to stay in that area again this time. But then they cancelled on us last minute, as in the day before we were due to fly out of Melbourne, and we were forced to change plans.
I’m now wondering if our 2019 area has changed in the previous three years, and perhaps we actually got lucky with them cancelling?
Not sure, and while I absolutely love the area around the Le Blanc Saigon, having no pre-conceived ideas probably helps, it would be interesting to see the area again from our 2019 visit.
Might just have to have another look when we get back to Saigon next week.
Out of Hang Hanh, and over to Underwear Lane, passing a woman squatting down in the gutter on the side of the road, cutting up a rather large fish for a customer. Business gets done anywhere here, and yet again, it’s an example of my ‘sights’ thing.
Into Underwear Lane, and rather than just walking through, or using the toilet facilities, this time we’re actually going to attempt a purchase.
Boxer shorts, apparently, for the boy at home.
I stay well out of the whole process, adding my opinion only on sizing, when the ‘medium’ ones I’m shown look more ‘small’, than medium.
The ‘large’ looks more like it, and while the boy doesn’t yet know it, he will be on the receiving end of one very practical souvenir when we get home.
Well, actually, it’ll be two, seeing as Lisa is feeling generous. Oh well, couldn’t buy two pair back home for the 120 000 Dong they cost here.
Enough time killed, we begin heading back towards the Cathedral. A few minutes later, I then come to the realisation that I don’t actually know where I am, even though I had been of the belief that I knew exactly where we were.
You would think after all the time that we’ve spent in Hanoi, getting lost would be a thing of the past, but no, I still manage to completely lose my bearings at times.
Map looked at, adjustment made, and the most convoluted and inefficient walk to St Joseph’s, continues, while trying to understand why we just simply didn’t walk back the way we actually came.
Onto Stainless Steel street, which is now quite possibly my favourite street in Hanoi, and then past the Emerald, and up to the Cathedral by 10.15am.
No sign of Shinegi, so we go for a quick walk around the back of the church to have a look, which we haven’t done for a while.
Back out the front, still no sign of Shinegi, and with it starting to drizzle, we find shelter under a tree.
Lisa receives a message from 1984 Tattoo Studio, and due to a cancellation tomorrow, they’ll be able see us at 11.00am.
The offer is promptly taken up, and it seems we’re now down to not much more than 24 hours before we are permanently scarred / disfigured / enhanced for life.
It’s a slightly weird feeling…..
This change of plan alters another plan, so Quan is messaged to see if we can change our coffee date to Saturday morning, which is no problem.
The drizzle, which is so light, but also rather annoying, continues, while we watch the cyclos ply their trade on any western tourist that walks past.
A very apologetic Shinegi, although she doesn’t need to be, finally arrives around 10.30am, and it’s great to see her again. We head across to our nearby café for our usual caphe sua da’s, and catch up on what she’s been doing since we last met up.
Every day sights from the café.
An hour and a half later, which felt more like ten minutes, we make a move, but not before a few obligatory selfies in front of St Joseph’s.
With Shinegi, in front of ‘my’ church.
It’s been good to see her, and it’s something that will more than likely happen every time we find ourselves in Hanoi.
We head back to the hotel for a quick toilet stop, and to pick up the camera, before embarking on our rough plan from last night, which is to walk up in the direction of the Mausoleum, and maybe, see if we can find Uncle Ho’s house.
The earlier drizzle is no more, and while it’s far from clear skies and sunshine, the guesstimation on what this afternoon’s weather will be, is that it won’t rain again.
Which was really more a hope, or a wish, than anything based on weather forecasting.
Ponchos left behind, we’re quickly back outside, and heading up towards Hang Bong. Onto Hang Bong, and yep, it starts to rain.
We find shelter under a shop awning to wait it out, while watching a much smarter European couple than us, struggle with their ponchos.
The rain is not helping, and the breeze is making it harder, but they eventually get there. But by the time they do, the rain has eased enough that the ponchos really aren’t required.
They, as well as us, see the funny side.
Up to the train line, and then over it, and I’m really starting to question whether this walk is a good idea.
Not only does it look like we may get wet again, although I’m still not regretting not bringing the ponchos, the wet pavers we’re walking on is a problem for one of us.
Lisa’s shoes are offering no grip at all, and she ends up walking on the actual road, while I have no issues at all.
While she was annoyed the pavers were so slippery, she’ll be even more annoyed I used this photo.
Along Dien Bien Phu, past the Military Museum and the Lenin statue, as well as a few of the Embassies. Nearing the Mausoleum, a police car, with lights and siren going, drives past. But not quickly, which seems strange.
It then becomes apparent why, as a convoy of 20 to 30 cars, both police and black upmarket ones, along with a heap of white uniformed motorbike police, follow.
It was an impressive sight, and one I desperately wanted to photograph, but the fear of what might happen to me, far outweighed the desire for a photo.
I have no idea who it was all for, but it must have been someone reasonably important, as even one of the Mausoleum guards saluted as they drove past.
Across the front of the Mausoleum, which is a fair walk in itself, stopping halfway to try and do that arty perfectly centred photo.
Pretty close to centred!
Past a few more security guys, and Lisa decides to be friendly by giving them each a xin chào (Hello).
You don’t normally get a lot from the security guys, probably because most don’t speak English, but every one of them, except one, actually smiled and acknowledged her, which was nice.
But taking more notice of them than we usually do, made me realise that we’re getting old. Gee they seem to be younger!
The obligatory selfie in front of the Mausoleum. A tradition dating back to 2014.
Round to the side of the Mausoleum, and a western tourist decides to take a short cut towards the front of the building.
Whistles are blown, and rather loudly too, and he is now well aware of the correct procedure for entering the grounds, which is through the security checkpoint.
Decision is made to abort Uncle Ho’s house, so we continue on towards West Lake. It’s now close to 1.00pm, and I know I’m in trouble, as I stupidly promised lunch along the way, even though I kind of knew that we wouldn’t come across a lot of options up round here.
The Intrepid one is behind me, and as is my usual way, I avoid eye contact, as I’m well aware that the wilting process has well and truly begun.
We turn right at the lake, and walk a road that I don’t believe we’ve walked before, that takes you around the shores of Truc Bach Lake. The usual swan boats are out there, and the lake itself actually looks a little cleaner than when we last saw it.
Food wise, there’s a few options here, but with them being ‘real’ restaurants, I have very little desire to try them out.
Onto Ngu Xa island, and we walk the perimeter road in a clockwise direction. Past the café that we’ve sat outside a couple of times, and then up towards the Northern end. There’s a few guys attempting the fishing thing, as well as a guy actually swimming in the lake. While it does look cleaner than on previous visits, I’m highly unlikely to be ever tempted to both swim in it, or eat anything from it.
Nah, I’ll pass.
With lunch still to be found, things are starting to get a little desperate. Around the Northern end, and there off to the right down a side street, we see a local looking restaurant with both seating inside and out.
Along with a number of locals already partaking.
I don’t know what they do, and I don’t care; I’ve been saved, and in turn, so too has the Intrepid one.
We head over, and yep, it looks good.
Seat taken outside, just as the drizzle starts again, but there’s enough cover, just, to deal with that.
We end up with two minute noodles, which come with beef and greens, as well as a tra da (iced tea).
A simple dish, but it’s good, and very much needed. Including the opportunity to sit and rest for a while.
It’s a nice area, but it does have that contrasts of Vietnam thing going on. The houses over the road from this small family-run restaurant, are new, and rather large, and a couple of the cars that we saw parked in the garages underneath, were of the higher end variety.
There’s certainly some money up this neck of the woods.
Suitably refreshed, the Intrepid one in a much happier place, we sit for a while to pluck up a little more energy for the walk back.
While sitting there, the topic of conversation returns to our appointment with the ink people tomorrow.
I’m having second thoughts.
But not of the tattoo itself.
More on its position on my body.
If it goes on my shoulder blade, I won’t be able to see it. And if I’m doing this – and I am, well, I want to see it.
What about upper arm?
Yeah, maybe. But I’m not sure I’m an upper arm tattoo type of person. Whatever an upper arm tattoo person actually is….
Forearm? Like Lisa is doing.
But then I’ll see it all the time. Do I want to see it ALL the time?
I think so, but I’m not sure.
Aaaargh, decisions! And confusion. And overthinking…..
Lunch done, brain now struggling, the bill of 100 000 Dong for both food and drinks, which is less than I thought it would be, considering where we are, is fixed up.
Back off the island, and back down in the general direction of the Old Quarter. The hope is that we find that little local market that we’ve found on the two previous trips up this way.
We actually do, but come in from the other side of it.
It’s a little quiet, now being early afternoon, but still vibrant, colourful, and no less interesting.
Past all the fruits and vegetables, and then into the meat section, which is probably quieter than the rest.
Well, apart from the guy with the rather large, half butchered, pig, he’s trying to balance and hold on to, while transporting it on his motorbike.
He finally got there, but I suspect that it was going to be a slow trip to wherever the pig needed to be.
Over in the far corner we find our frog guy and his wife from last time. Again, it’s lunchtime, so they’re taking a break, but there is still evidence on display of both frogs, and what the frogs used to be wearing.
I don’t know; frogs, or maybe just the processing of them, is something that has fascinated me since I first saw a girl doing it on the footpath, somewhere up near the Military Museum, way back in 2014.
Back outside, and the walk ‘home’ continues. The drizzle has started again, which is more an annoyance than anything, so we make use of the shelter provided by the trees as we walk.
Down pot plant street, but just minus the plants themselves, and then we finally reach the train line, and the Old Quarter on the other side.
Past a bia hoi place under the railway line itself, and a sign advertises that their bia hoi is just 7 000 Dong.
Hmmm, is the extra walk worth it???
We find Bat Dan street, and with the rain now heavier than drizzle, we stop occasionally under any awnings we can find. Eventually reach Stainless Steel street, and then we’re soon back into Hang Manh, before reaching the hotel a bit before 3.00pm.
I’m knackered, as well as rather wet. The walk, according to Lisa’s walk tracker thing, was 10.7 kms, which is much harder, and more significant, than it sounds, when it’s done in Hanoi.
Much needed rest and recovery session is had, before heading out to do my thing just after 4.00pm.
The initial plan was to head up to the area around Ma May, but that rain is still a thing, so the quicker, and therefore less wet, option of Bat Dan, is decided upon.
I get there, first beer is ordered from my beer lady, and my timing, as well as my decision making, is impeccable, as the clouds open up and it buckets down.
Just made it!
An older local guy, who I have seen pretty much every day I’ve been here, arrives a few minutes later. He always stands out to me, but not because of the way he looks or anything. It’s his mannerisms, and demeanour, as he comes across as arrogant with the way he treats the young guys, first when he pulls up out the front on his scooter, and then when he demands a particular table.
It annoys me.
My other beer lady, not the loud and noisy one, is really looking after me. It’s not much, just a pleasant smile each time, as well a beer glass that has exactly the right beer to head ratio.
So too is the young guy I interacted with last night.
He’s come around, and he’s now giving me much more than he had been. He hands me another beer, and I give him a cảm ơn. He says something in Vietnamese, and while I have no idea what he actually said, my assumption is that he was asking if I spoke the language.
I smile, shake my head, and say no.
He returns the smile, but does it in a way that makes me feel he is genuine.
A couple more beers had, the world, as always, watched, as well as a fair bit of thought on where this tattoo is going to go.
I just can’t make up my mind.
The rain finally stops, and after letting my sister back home in Melbourne know I’m still alive, I head back to the Emerald to get ready for dinner, feeling very contented and happy with my day.
Well, apart from the nagging tattoo site decision.
Shower had, a quick room tidy of various clothes that aren’t where they should be, and then we’re back outside by 7.00pm to do something about food.
The thinking is phở bò, and seeing as we were more than happy with it the other night, the one up Bat Dan is the likely venue. As an added bonus, it’ll also mean we’re not far from our bia hoi place when we’re finished.
Win – win!, especially for Lisa, after our more than 10km walk today.
Yep, I can’t help it, it’s just my caring nature.
Down Hang Manh, and there’s a laundry, that I hadn’t really noticed before, over to the right. But I do notice it this time, as there’s noise coming from it.
A European guy is arguing with someone who works there, obviously unhappy at some perceived problem he has come across, clearly laundry related, and now believes yelling at this poor laundry guy will solve all his issues.
His girlfriend, meanwhile, sits on one of the chairs inside, looking more embarrassed than I think I’ve ever seen someone look.
I hate these ‘altercations’, especially when I’m here, and I always feel like I should perhaps ‘help out’, but then worry that I’ll just make it worse.
Bit like yesterday, with the hotel guest blaming Jenny for not turning the power back on, when she ‘promised’ she would.
I don’t know; these types of things, especially when there’s a tourist involved, just makes me feel uncomfortable.
We walk on, a little reluctantly, reaching Stainless Steel street, and then turning left into Bat Dan. And yep, just up a bit, our phở bò lady.
Yep, that’ll do, and we quickly have a seat on the footpath.
Two x phở bò, and two x beer, and just like the other night, it’s all really good.
We sit and enjoy, and while doing that, I notice a western couple looking interested in our choice of dinner place, but also looking rather apprehensive.
I’ve been there before, and still often visit the land of apprehensiveness when out hunting for food, amongst other things, so to give them some reassurance, I give them the thumbs up.
They’re appreciative, and they end up sitting on the table next to us.
We start chatting, and it turns out they’re Dutch, and they’ve just arrived from Bali, and as such, things still feel a little daunting.
While talking, I notice a western guy walk past, and straight away, he looks familiar. I’m sure he’s the Serbian guy we met up in Ma May street in 2019, who was here teaching English. He’s also the guy that we shared some of Mike’s rice wine with, and then on the final night, left him with the last remaining bit.
I’ve often wondered about those that lived and worked here, over the last few years of Covid, and what actually happened to them. I consider chasing him down the street, but shyness, and a fear that it’s not actually him, put a stop to that.
And even if it was him, which it was, would he even remember me?
Yeah, probably not.
Dinner done, and bill of 150 000 Dong paid, and then up to my beer place.
They see me coming, and yep, their reactions tell me I’m well and truly considered a regular now.
Seats taken, beer arrives, and the world just feels that little bit better. Although, to be fair, the world, well, my world, has been pretty good today, even without this.
We sit, take in the usual sights, and as we do, the older local guy, from earlier, as well as previous days, who annoys me, pulls up on his scooter again.
But this time he’s wearing pyjamas.
Unfortunately the pyjamas don’t make him any less demanding, or arrogant, and regardless of his choice of clothing, his attitude still annoys me.
While sitting there doing our thing, Lisa receives a phone call through Facebook, from a friend back home. They’re part of the same cricket club that we are, and apparently, they’re missing us.
That’s nice, but it’s likely more a yearning from a cricket perspective, as in helping out around the club, than any genuine friendship thing.
That’s okay, I’d probably be the same, but it does make me think about how much time we have left. And it’s not that much.
A week tonight we leave, and I’m really not looking forward to that day.
I’m now a little annoyed that I’ve been reminded of that.
A few more beers, lots more watching, some interacting with a couple of locals, along with an attempt at stretching my Vietnamese vocabulary, when asking for another beer. Which will also work with lots of other things.
It’s not much, in fact if it was anything less it would be nothing, and I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t tried it before.
It’s ‘please’, and see, it’s embarrassing!
Anyway, it’s làm ơn, which is kind of like cảm ơn, which probably just makes it even worse that I’ve not learnt it.
I try it out a couple of times, using both the way Google translate tells me, as well as trying it in an order that I would use if I was saying it in English. It seems to work both ways, which doesn’t actually fill me with any great confidence that I’m doing it right.
Oh well, I just hope I don’t offend anyone.
Beers, and fun, had, we make a move a bit before 10.00pm. Down Bat Dan, and into Stainless Steel street, with a quick stop off at my convenience store for supplies.
We get down to Hang Manh, and as we’re about to turn into it, I hear, “Scott!”
My instant reaction is one of surprise, but it’s also coupled with a certain amount of fear, as I wonder who could be calling my name.
I turn around, there’s a girl standing there, and she’s with a friend. But I don’t recognise her.
“We met down south at Green Village!”, she says.
Ahhhh, it’s Alexia!
I’m relieved that I now know who she is, but I’m more blown away by the fact that she’s standing right here in front of us, here in Hanoi.
I’m stunned, and I can’t help but think what the chances are that we’ve actually crossed paths at this time of night, and in this spot.
It’s fantastic to see her again, but even better knowing that she got over her illness, which turned out being a tonsillitis / throat infection, and that she was able to continue her trip.
Rafael left yesterday, and her sister, who is the other girl, has just arrived to spend some time with her.
She mentions that she and Rafael actually saw us the other day, while they were on a bus, and we were walking the streets.
Again, that blows me away, and I can’t help but wonder how we left a big enough impression that they would remember us, now over two weeks later.
Regardless, I’m just rapt that she’s been able to continue her journey. And just a little pleased that she went out of her way to say hello.
Just another one of those ‘little moments’, that I love so much, I guess.
Back to the Emerald, still shaking my head, and upstairs and onto the bed for the usual beer, packet of chips, a few notes, and just generally trying to understand what just happened.
I love this place; not just Hanoi, but all of Vietnam; I love the people, and I love experiencing what happens along the journey.
Yes, it’s interspersed with some not so good stuff, but that’s just part of life, and in the end, that just becomes part of the story, too.
So, another day all but done, and now down to the final week. It’s starting to go quick, but we still have plenty to be done, and tomorrow is no exception.
Along with a laundry drop off, we also have a birthday cake to pick up, which also means we have a birthday cake delivery to do, to help celebrate Cammy’s birthday.
And then there’s also that little appointment we have, where we both go from being inkless to inked.
Which reminds me, I still need to work out where that ink is actually going.
Hmmm, hopefully that little ‘life changing’ decision comes easily in the morning….