Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 26

Sunday 2 October – Hanoi

Eyes open.

It’s close to, but not yet 7.00am.

It ain’t happening.

A little more dozing, maybe even a few minutes of extra sleep achieved, but a nagging thought that we’ll miss breakfast is enough to make me make a move around 8.00am, even though I don’t really want to.

Apart from a severe case of lethargy, I actually feel alright.  Well, I do, until the realisation hits me that today is our final day.

I can’t believe it’s arrived, when a week ago it felt so far away.

It’s a sombre feeling, but one that is put to the back of my mind when I think about last night.

I’m still pinching myself that we were able to do what we did.  It kind of feels like an end to a journey, even though this journey is a long way short of ultimately being completed.

If it is ever to be completed.

I then look at my arm.  I still love it.

It then makes me think of the young guy’s reaction to it yesterday, and I love that just as much.

We eventually get ourselves organised, and head downstairs a bit before 9.00am to do the breakfast thing.

Two fried eggs with bacon on toast, along with a banana, some watermelon, and a caphe sua da.

It’s good, and it reminds me that it’s our first ‘western’ meal since Green Village.  It also reminds me that it’s the first breakfast we’ve had in a ‘real’ hotel, since the day we left Hanoi almost three years to the day, just a few streets away.

It’s interesting, and just a reminder of what we do, and how we now go about things.

I used to think that a hotel breakfast was almost, but not quite, a non-negotiable, but I now realise it really isn’t that important to me, anymore.

It’s just so easy to get something off the street, or not, if I’m not hungry.  Which is often the case.

Breakfast done, and yes, it was really good, and we head outside to begin our final day.  It’s warm, but not hot, and it’s also not raining, which is a bonus.

No real plans, although there is a desire to see something, that we’ve kind of had on the list since the day we drove past it, on the way back to the airport on our first trip.  It’s Chợ Long Biên, which is the market below, and next to, Long Bien Bridge.

I know we’ll likely be a little late for it, but seeing it at its not so best, is better than not seeing it at all.

Well, that’s the thinking, anyway.

Up towards Dong Xuan market, and the dry start to the day is now not so dry, as it begins to drizzle.  But fortunately, only lightly.

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Delivery guy.

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They work so hard.

Out of the Old Quarter, onto the busy main road, and up, and under, Long Bien Bridge.  The time has come to cross the busy road, so courage is plucked from somewhere, and the leap of faith undertaken.

We make it, and then head into the market, and yep, as expected, it’s rather quiet, but there are still a few around.

Lots of fruit and vegetables, with the easily distinguishable smell of durian in the air, along with all the other usual smells of a market.

We walk the ‘streets, as well as head in to an undercover area where you could buy more paper type celebratory stuff and ‘lucky money’, than you could ever use in an average lifetime.

Back outside, we find the hat section, and just around the corner we find the sugarcane vendor, who is next door to a group of women making nón lá’s.

We stand and watch them for a few minutes, and it’s fascinating to see the work involved.  It’s such a labour intensive job.

The market, like pretty much every authentic market, was good to see.  But being there around this time, which was about 10.00am, it was far from the madness I imagine it would be much earlier in the morning.

It would be interesting to see it at its busiest, but at the same time, I could see us potentially just getting in the way.

Back outside, the leap of faith is once again undertaken, and we make it across the busy road, safely.

Under the bridge, and we do the walk up to Long Bien station, seeing as we haven’t been there since yesterday.

The gate, that we walked through to get to the track, is locked today, but we do have the option to walk through the station.

We end up chickening out, mainly because of a sign on the door that says masks are mandatory, but noticing some stairs leading up to the track on the other side, we decide to go and have a look.

Back down the road, and once again back under the bridge, we find the stairs and head up.

Onto the track again, a couple of photos taken while watching and listening intently for the things that use tracks like these, and then Lisa points out a sign that clearly states that I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.


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I know now…

We slink away, feeling just a little guilty, as well as admonished, even though we haven’t actually been told off by anyone.

Back into the Old Quarter, with the rough plan being a caphe sua da at our newly ‘re-found’ café, Alfetto.

I know where we are, and I know roughly how to go about getting there.  Well, I do, until my mind drifts away from the job at hand, and the targeted walk becomes an aimless one, without me even knowing it.

In fact it’s not until a good 15 minutes later that I realise our plan has unravelled, when we once again notice the very train line that we were trying to walk away from.

The good news, however, was that the aimless walking resulted in not only the finding of another public toilet, but also the much needed using of said toilet, which was quite possibly the best 5000 Dong I have spent in a while.

Map looked at, adjustments made to move in the opposite direction to the train line, and we start again.

Off in the direction of Stainless Steel street, and we find a street that has become Halloween street, seeing as we are now in October.

We reach our intended target, and then ultimately Hang Manh street, and the desire for a caphe sua da has now become a desire for a nuoc mia da, so we make use of our guy around the corner from the Emerald.

10 000 Dong each, as they have been every time we’ve been here, and we head off down to Hoan Kiem Lake, for what will likely be the last time this trip.

We reach the lake, and I’m stuffed.  All the walking, and no doubt the late nights, is catching up with me.  The heat is also not helping, and although it’s not overly hot, the humidity is making it feel much hotter than it probably is.

It’s just so draining.

We find a seat to rest, while enjoying our ice cold nuoc mia da’s, and do the watching of the world thing.

Ten minutes later, now somewhat revived, we do our final lap of the lake.

Same old, same old, but never boring, it’s all the usual weekend sights.  I love it, and I can’t imagine a time when I won’t.

We only get stopped twice to practice English, and both times it was by pretty young kids.  But it was more ‘interview like’, than having a chat, as both had exactly the same questions printed down on a piece of paper.

It was all still an enjoyable experience, as it always is, and at least this time it didn’t go for quite so long.

The remote control cars are where they always are at the bottom of the lake, the business expo thing is still going, along with the dancers on the eastern side of the lake, and there’s signs set up indicating that there was perhaps a marathon run around here earlier today.

Running is never really my thing, and even if it was, I doubt that I would have much desire to run any distance, long or short, in this heat.

We see the girl, who had excellent English, we spoke to two weeks ago, and she’s back in the same spot doing the same thing she did with us.

I just can’t believe it’s been two weeks, already.  Back then we had so much ahead of us, and now we have so little left.  It’s frightening how quick it feels like it went.

But really, and as usual, I just need to stop thinking about it, and just enjoy the moment.

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Fruit lady.

Lap completed, we head back to the Emerald for a rest and recovery session around 12.00pm.  Lunch isn’t really required, which I guess can be one of the ‘joys’ of forcing yourself to eat breakfast, even though you could easily just replace it with a caphe sua da.

Well, one of us can.

The rest was obviously much needed, as I actually slept for a good half an hour.

Somewhat recovered, we head back out to tick off something that we didn’t know was possible until yesterday, and that is a caphe sua da from our old café.

Back up to St Joseph’s, and around the corner, and fortuitously, there are a couple of free seats outside Alfetto.

Two caphe sua da’s (25 000 Dong each) ordered from the incredibly friendly lady, and we are back to doing one of our favourite Vietnam things, from a place that we feared had not survived the last three years.

And as an added bonus, the caphe sua da’s are just as good as they were the last time we were here.

Coffees savoured, while the world watched, and then we realise that the girl sitting at another table nearby, actually talking to a couple of the owners of Alfetto, is the same girl we saw five years ago here at Alfetto.  Well, not here, but over the road where the café used to be.

She worked at, but probably also owns, one of the shops on this street, and we’d first noticed her while having a caphe sua da on the 2017 trip, when she took a fairly significant interest in a French tourist who had walked in.

I’m stunned, but not because she’s here, but because we recognise her from all that time ago.

It gets me thinking about some of the connections we’ve made along the way, which then makes me think about how far we’ve come, since that one off, and one only, trip we planned for 2014.

Again, it’s funny how stuff pans out, without you even realising it’s happening.

But, as far as connections go, it does remind me of Hai, the book seller / optical technician at the end of Hang Hanh street, who we first met in 2014, and have seen on every subsequent trip, since.

We’ve not seen him this time, which is a little disappointing, and it makes me wonder what happened to him.

I hope he’s okay.

Coffees done, and with it now around 2.30pm, the effects of a rather large breakfast are beginning to wear off.  We make the short walk down to Hang Hanh, in the hope that our banh mi lady has started setting up, but when we get there, she’s not.

Assuming, but more hoping, that we’re just a little early, we wait a few minutes.  Not looking good, Lisa heads into the nearby tour agent, who is the one that can’t be described as either generous or fair, when it comes to money exchange quotes, to ask if they know if our banh mi lady operates on Sundays.

The answer, unfortunately, is no, it’s her day off, and having missed out on one of her banh mi’s on our last day three years ago, I’m so disappointed.

It’s not just because her banh mi’s are good, but more that she’s a very small enterprise, as well as also being incredibly friendly.

Plan B is put into action, and we walk back the way we came, past Alfetto, and around the corner to St Josephs.

Photos, of course, taken, and as we walk away, I realise we may have seen it for the last time this trip.

Lucky I have so many photos…..

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Last one. For now.

Down to Banh Mi Muma, two banh mi’s with pork ordered, and then finally received, and as usual, they’re good.  And at 20 000 Dong, the price is alright, too.

We get onto Hang Manh, and seeing as we’re walking past the Emerald anyway, we make a quick comfort stop, to save 10 000 Dong.

Relief attained, and in the process money retained, we head off towards Beer Corner to do something I’d really prefer we didn’t have to do.

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For me, it’s always about the sights.

Down near the big roundabout, and then into Underwear Lane.  It could be the last walk of it, and while it’s no longer a street that I walk every single day like I used to, I still have a strong enough love and connection to it, that that ‘final’ walk isn’t easy.

Into Dinh Liet, and we find Cammy.  We sit and chat for a bit, while trying to deal with the overwhelming feeling of inevitability, before just reaching the point where we need to treat it a bit like a band-aid.

It has seriously been good seeing her again, and while we really missed her down at Can Tho, I’m so pleased that she looks so happy here in Hanoi.

Another ‘last’ ticked off; they ain’t getting any easier; and it’s most definitely a ‘see you later’, than the dreaded formal, and more final sounding, ‘goodbye’.

Being so close to Ma May, which means the bia hoi place I went to the other day is also close, I take the opportunity to show Lisa where it actually is, and what it’s all about.

Even though she really doesn’t care.

We quickly find it, and while it’s fairly quiet, there’s one or two locals there that look like they’ve been there, or maybe elsewhere, partaking for a while.

Once again on the street, doing my favourite thing, while Lisa has a look on her face, that says she really doesn’t completely understand my love and obsession, for this pastime.

While the bia hoi place is quiet, there’s plenty of people going about their day, including a police officer who is scratching his head at a car parked in the actual nearby intersection.

The driver is nowhere to be seen, and the police officer is struggling to come up with a quick and easy solution to the traffic issues it’s causing.

A bit like some of the driving here, some people obviously think that it’s also a ‘whatever goes’ with parking, as well.

It was, however, as long as you weren’t trying to navigate the intersection, rather funny.

Lisa spots a young boy, probably seven or eight, trying to cross back over the road, after buying something at one of the shops opposite.  The road, while not wide, is carrying a fair bit of traffic, and each time he goes to step out, he gets scared and retreats.

His father, I can only assume, who is sitting close by, is oblivious to his son’s problem, so I head across the street to escort him back.

It was just a small good deed, but one that filled me with some trepidation.  Apart from that big wide busy road not far at all from here, there’s really no roads I’ve come across in Vietnam that worry me, when it comes to crossing them.

But now, taking charge, I actually felt quite nervous at the responsibility I put my hand up to do.

In the end, it all worked out, and we both made it safely across.

Back to the beer, and the watching of Hanoi and its people, and after two each, well, probably more a ratio of two and a half to one and a half; you can decide on who got what; the bill of 48 000 Dong is fixed up.

That makes it 12 000 Dong each, which is similar, but not the same, as what I paid the other day.  So, unfortunately, I’m still none the wiser to what they actually charge.

I suspect today is right, at 12 000 Dong a glass, but with the odd amount the other day, where I thought it was 10 000 Dong, I can’t be sure.

Tourist tax?  Weekend surcharge?  Possibly even rounded down earlier in the week?

I don’t know, and I don’t really care, but in the interests of research, I will try and confirm exactly what it is next time I am in Hanoi.

Hey, what can I say, I’m good like that when a problem needs to be solved.

Back in the direction of the Emerald, but this time in the long and convoluted way, which is done for two reasons.  One, I want to go up to Bat Dan, and going this way will mean I will get there without passing the Emerald.  And two, because I’m really not that smart.

It kind of feels like the right direction to walk, but it’s so indirect, it’s likely not only longer, but also far more confusing.

We eventually, somehow, reach Stainless Steel street, and taking a chance on Lisa knowing the way ‘home’ from here on her own, I turn up Bat Dan, but not before giving her directions twice, and then asking her to repeat them until I’m satisfied she does actually know.

She seems to, as she should, but we have been here before….

Say goodbye to Lisa, possibly for the last time, should this all go awry, and then up Bat Dan for what is likely, and hopefully, to be the second last time.  But it’s only hopefully, as I just hope it isn’t the actual last time.

Back to my beer place, and there’s quite a few there.  So many in fact, that I can’t actually get a seat on the Bat Dan side, with my options now down to being inside, which will never do, or sitting outside around the corner.

The outside option is taken, and I quickly work out why it is free.  It’s the sun, which is not only hot, but also shining directly at me, which is not making it conducive to world watching.

Nonetheless, I ain’t sitting inside, so I man up by mustering all the stubbornness I can.

I must have looked a little uncomfortable, as my beer lady when delivering my first beer, seemed rather concerned with what I was putting up with, and indicated I should sit inside.

It was nice that she cared, but outside it must be, so outside it is.  Especially on my final night.

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The first. Of the last.

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About to have a second beer, and I notice a vacant table back around the corner where I’ve been sitting all week.  The move is quickly made, and once again, all is well with the world.

While sitting there, arrangements are made via WhatsApp with Jo and Sam, for dinner tonight, with the plan to meet at the Emerald at 7.00pm, before walking across to Nam Bittet.

Couple more beers, more watching, and really, really not wanting it all to end, but knowing it will, as it always does.

Bill is fixed up, and I use Google Translate to explain to my original beer lady that I’ll be back later, but that it is also our final night here.

She has a sad look on her face, and she shakes my hand, which was much appreciated, as she came across as incredibly genuine.

I give her a hẹn gặp lại (see you later), just to try and confirm what I was attempting to get across with Google, and a smile.  She reciprocates.

Back down Bat Dan, then onto Stainless Steel street, and then back ‘home’.  The realisation hits me that I may have walked, what has become my favourite street, for the second last time.  That then makes me realise that I may have done the same with entering the hotel.

I hate that, and I’m really struggling with it all.  I also hate that my mind thinks of these little ‘milestones’.  Although, imagine how much worse it would be, if we were actually leaving Vietnam tomorrow?

Thank God for the few nights in Saigon, still ahead of us.

Shower had, as well as a few notes, along with some of that dreaded packing, that can’t help but signal what’s ahead.

Fortunately, a text message from Lesley and Andy telling us that they too are free to join us at Nam Bittet, helps take my mind off it all.

Downstairs by 7.00pm, and Jo and Sam are already there.  So as to not embarrass myself by getting lost, the less convoluted route to Nam Bittet is taken.

Even though the more convoluted way is actually quicker.

I just can’t take the chance that I get us lost, and anyway, this way will give me another walk through Underwear Lane.

We reach it, and then the final traversing is completed, which was always one of my saddest moments on previous trips.

It’s still sad, but Stainless Steel street may just have taken some of the love.

Up Dinh Liet to Beer Corner at Ta Hien, and it’s absolute madness, with people everywhere.  It’s slow going, and while it could be described as vibrant and exciting, I’ve seen it enough now that it just frustrates me.

I’ll miss some of Hanoi’s streets, but not this one.

We eventually reach Nam Bittet, and as always, a table is quickly found.  We take a seat, beers ordered, and a few minutes later Lesley and Andy arrive.

It’s good to see them again, and to know they’ve survived their first couple of days.

Food ordered, along with more beers, and we sit, chat, tell stories, and just generally have a great time.

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A street food feast!

Food done, we fix up the bill for six meals and eleven beers, which comes to 570 000 Dong.  Lesley, who is still trying to get her head around the notes, is helped by the main Nam Bittet guy, who looks after the money side of things.

He can be a bit gruff at times, but he’s heart is in the right place, and we’ve had a few nice little moments with him over the years.

Anyway, he helps with the note sorting, and while it’s often recommended that you never let anyone have access to your money over here; usually talked about when the topic of the scamming taxi drivers at HCMC airport comes up, he helps Lesley with the right amount required.

We head off, after once again our ‘last’ restaurant hosting us for our last night, and end up back down Ta Hien, where it’s probably now worse than what it was before.

Struggling through, with some of us taking longer than others, we eventually reach slightly quieter streets, where far less interrupted walking is now possible.

We eventually reach Bat Dan; another last added to the list; and simply resume what we were doing just a few minutes ago at Nam Bittet, but this time minus the food component.

More chatting, more beers, more stories, more beer, more laughing, and more beer.  While I can’t help but think about the fact, that right now on our eleventh night here in Hanoi, that we’ve reached the end, I also can’t help but feel it’s a pretty fitting way to end our time here.

Lesley, who’d found the Vietnam Trip Advisor forum earlier in the year, while planning her and Andy’s trip.  We ‘spoke’ a couple of times in the lead up, and when it was discovered that we’d be here around the same time, well, if a catch up was at all going to be possible, then a catch up was something that was going to happen.

And Jo, well, again, like last night, eight or something years in the making, it’s been a long time coming.  Which is strange, because this was something that was far more likely NOT to happen, than something that could possibly happen.

Yep, weird how things pan out.

The beers and the laughs continue, and as my beer guy walks past, I use Google translate to ask him if we can do a photo later?

He nods, smiles, and gives me the thumbs up.

The time flies, as it always does, when there’s good people and beer involved, and before long it’s time to make a move.

I ask the main guy, otherwise known as the money guy, mainly because he’s the one holding all of it, who is sitting nearby, if he would mind taking a photo of us all.

His gruff, but rather funny, response is, “Too busy”.  But he does call over one of the other young guys to do the photo thing.

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Photo done, and looking down at what will be my final beer here, I have an idea.

I go over and see my gruff mate, and using Google translate, I ask if I can buy a glass – an empty one – to take with me as a souvenir.

Without hesitation, he says yes.

“How much?”

10 000 Dong, apparently.

Done!, and a 10 000 Dong note is immediately swapped for not only a new bar ornament, but a reminder of an occasion that I will long remember.

Bit after 10.30pm, it’s time.

I seek out my young beer guy, and we do the photo, as well as shake his hand.  Again, I’m not really sure why it’s so important to me, but it just is.  I don’t know, I guess it’s just the interaction thing, along with the fact that he ‘looked after’ me.

As moody as he can be, yeah, I’m going to miss him.

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My beer mate.

Bill fixed up, and we all head off together.  Back down Bat Dan, then onto Stainless Steel street for the last time, then to Hang Manh, where the first dreaded goodbye is done with Lesley and Andy.

And yep, as usual, I don’t find it enjoyable at all.  It really was great to meet them, and I’m absolutely rapt that we were able to play a small part in their Vietnam adventure.

Up to the Emerald, and all far too quickly, it’s time for the second one.  That eight years, or something, in the making thing, has come to an end.

It’s a strange feeling, and as hard as the goodbye is, I’d rather have to deal with it, than not get the opportunity at all.

Goodbye done, while really hoping it’s more a ‘see you later’, but not totally convinced that we could get this lucky again, we head inside.

Anh is at the desk, as he usually is at night, and we stop for a brief chat.  Remembering that we are low on toilet paper, I ask him for another roll.

I really hope he doesn’t know something I don’t know, but he hands me a pack of 20 rolls.

I laugh, and hand him back all but one.  He’s a lovely guy, and I’ve enjoyed our talks, and he’s just made that goodbye a little harder.

Upstairs, toilet paper put where toilet paper goes, and then I race back downstairs to give Anh a very small memento of Australia.  It’s only a dollar coin, and as such, worth very little.  But it does have kangaroos on it, and seeing as Anh has talked to me about his young daughter, I thought she might like it.

Anyway, he seemed appreciative.

Another goodbye done, it’s back upstairs; that’s probably the final ascent; for the usual on the bed, including another beer or three, that I really don’t need.

But I’m just not ready to close the page on the final Hanoi day.

Again, thank ‘insert your preferred expletive’, we still have three nights left in Vietnam.

So, eleven nights here.

It’s a lot of nights, and one more than we did in 2019.

Back then I wondered if it was possible to spend too much time here.

I’m not sure it is.

I’ve always loved Hanoi, as I thought, or more hoped, I would, while reading about other people’s love for the place, on the Trip Advisor forum, prior to our first trip.

The ‘hope’, was more about it living up to those expectations, and I still remember the moment when I realised we had first entered the Old Quarter, just by seeing what was being sold on that particular street, while sitting in the car of our private transfer.

It gave me goose bumps, and still does, when I think back to that first time

But this visit has felt a little different to previous ones, for some reason.  It’s renewed, or maybe reignited, my love for this amazing city.

Not that I had fallen out of love with it, or anything like that, but it’s somehow taken my passion for it to another, higher, level.

But I’m not really sure why.

The change of location perhaps?  As in a change of scenery, with an opportunity to get to know a different area?  Even though we’ve probably walked the whole Old Quarter over the journey, anyway.

I don’t know.

The Emerald itself?

I really can’t fault it.  And the staff, well, again, I have absolutely no complaints.  They all made us feel extremely welcome, but, and this is only because we tended to see them the most, Jenny and Anh were just exceptional.  Two more genuine and caring people, you’d struggle to meet.

Yeah, I know they get paid to be nice to you, but you can see past that.  You can tell.

Then there was meeting Quan, and then spending a bit of time with him.  I’d expected that that was always going to go well, due mainly to the Khoi connection, and in the end, it was probably more than I hoped it would be.

I’m more than pretty sure we’ll be seeing him again, at some point.

And then, of course, there was the catching up with Trip Advisor friends.  William, seeing Kerstin again, and then ultimately Lesley, Andy, Jo and Sam.

I’m still pinching myself that we got as lucky as we did.  Again, things that happen, that then allow things to happen.

It’s ridiculous.

So, after all that, I’m still not sure what’s changed.  And maybe, in the end, it doesn’t really matter, anyway?

Almost 1.00am.

I’ve done it again.

It’s because it’s the final night.  I always find them painful, as I just don’t want them to end.

Which, when you think about it, is exactly how you want it to feel.

Because, if they’re not painful, or you don’t feel sad that you have to leave, it means you want to go.

And if you want to go, then it likely means you’ve had enough.

And I’d just hate to ever feel that way.



5 thoughts on “Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 26

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