Vietnam – Hanoi

Tuesday 11th December 2108

Dear Vikki,

Welcome to Vietnam where it’s raining and cold, chaotic and charming, aromatic and smelly all at the same time. So far, so good.

Our journey started yesterday from home, Perth (as you well know). The Newby’s purchase of a house was finalised as we stood in the check-in queue to board our flight to KL. As we took off his net financial position was severely in the red. Might as well go on holidays. Eventually we landed in KL, ehaving both watched Oceans 8 (a good, if predictable movie) ready for a good nights sleep. We had been up since 4am to get The Piper onto his flight, after our Christmas dinner the night before. We need this holiday!

Our budget 8 hrs in KL was very budget. You might recall the great view we had from Traders hotel last time we were in KL. This time The Newby announced that the view of the neighbours chuddies was at least as good. I think not. Our third early start in a row and we were back in KL airport within 9 hrs and ready to get going. Not before a crazy gate queue and a delayed flight. Twenty three hours after leaving home we touched down in Hanoi to the cool afternoon. What day is it?

Through customs and border security we withdrew our 2 500 000 dong. That’s $150 and I can see that’s going to be as confusing as f@#$. My head has to learn that 100 000 is $6, 50 000 is $3. We’ve agreed I’ll hold the money, pass it to him, he’ll double check it, hand it over, get the change, check it, hand it back to me for “banking” and hope we got the right change. Keep calm and check your dong! Next stop, a SIM card for 200 000 ($12, I’m getting the hang of this) for unlimited data for a month. Should keep us happy and connected to you! Last stop, a taxi into Hanoi and here to our home for the next 5 days. All our accom, from place to place, is booked through air bnb. A first for us and so far, so good. We are in a one bedroom apartment in The Old Quarter. It’s more than adequate and will suit us down to the ground. At $45 a night we are getting free wifi, drinking water, 2 reverse cycle ACs, a bath and a central location.

As we settled in, the rain started so we needed a plan to make sure we weren’t huddled in a shop front with a soggy map trying to work out where to go. We decided to take a walk to The New Day eatery, as recommended by The Lonely Planet. The Newby says to tell you he found it all by himself. More like luck I would say. Anyway he’s made me jump ahead. First I have to tell you about the crazy (read absolutely unbelievable, never seen anything like it before, oh my god I’m going to die) traffic. Motor bikes rule here, adorned with their honking horns. The corner traffic could give the Holden Precision driving team a lesson. How we didn’t get killed I have no idea. Combined with the rain and the dark it’s a scary and funny experience.

Along the route we wandered past the spice stores outside our accom, past the baby stores, then the clothes stores then found the eateries. The traffic might be mad but there is order in the shopping. If only you could get to the stores. The motor bikes are parked side by side outside the stores, at times up to the door, driving you onto the road among the traffic. Our chance to have dinner, was a welcome opportunity to get out of the rain. We opted for the 4 course meal with a beer each (320 000 dong = $19). Soup, spring rolls, chicken and beef with rice, and a creme brûlée style dessert was perfect. I’ll be complaining about the rice and stir fry’s by the end of this trip, but for now I’m happy. Especially because I’m home safe now, warm, eating MM’s with a vodka and lemonade and booking a few fun and relaxing things for the next few days. Let’s hope the rain stops …

Hi Vikki.

How is the weather there at home? It’s been raining here all day. Happy holidays. Didn’t stop us from heading out though. Armed with my umbrella we spent the day navigating the streets, fighting the traffic and checking out a few sites. Our first stop though was for coffee and breakfast. A quick google search suggested we should head for a place called Bami An which we did. It was a far and exciting walking (they all are) across town. Eventually we arrived at a tiny shop front that looked uninviting. Looks can be deceiving. The young guy running the place was welcoming and we had our first Vietnamese coffee in no time. Mine with condensed milk in the bottom. Breakfast comprised a Vietnamese roll with egg and cheese. Basically an omelet in a roll but yummier than that sounds.

Because of the unrelenting rain we decided to do indoor things today. Shame we didn’t check that what we though would be indoors actually was. First stop, after a long walk across town, was the Temple of Literature. This was a great place of Confucian teaching, an early university to educate the children of the wealthy and a few other fortunate boys and young men, and now an series of buildings in beautiful gardens. We learned about some of the clever Vietnamese who established the university and then its rolls of honour. Lots to see here as we dodged the rain and it’s certainly a pretty place where being clever was applauded and is now revered in quiet contemplation.

Next stop was to be the women’s museum, but first more coffee in a cute restaurant and a long walk across town (pretty sure we went back to where we came from) to have some lunch, a delicious chicken pho. In case you’re wondering how we can afford the food let me tell you how much we are spending. Coffee is 25k, breaky roll 25k, chicken pho 36k. Today we have spent a fortune on food so far. A grand total of 297,000 dong. Sounds like we’re breaking the bank but is amounts to $7.50 for breaky and less than $4.50 for lunch. That’s not each. That’s together.

Full up with warm pho we headed into the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Definitely worth going there and a great way to spend a few hours. The first floor is dedicated to marriage and birth, the next to women’s efforts in the various conflicts and the third to fashion and jewellery. Strong women like us Vikki can feel a lot of solidarity with the women represented in this museum. Women who are fiercely loyal to their family, their country and their cultural norms. I loved the photo of women from the Three Responsibilities working (responsibility 2) while still prepared to fight (responsibility 3). The perspective here in Hanoi, at least in this museum, is one of fighting against the Americans. As always, it depends on who is telling the story. We are in the north, so the story comes from a different lens than the one we have looked through before. These women fought for the enemy in the story we have heard. As a woman all I can think is that they did what I would have done. Fought and died for their family, their home and their beliefs. Things to look at in more detail when I get home are Dang Thuy Tran (Vietnam’s Anne Frank), the human bridge picture and the Heroic Mothers of Vietnam. Vikki, I think you would like this museum.

We are now home and my feet are dry and warming up. A few close calls with the traffic this evening but we made it out alive. I did witness a fight between a young man and an old lady but The Newby was keen for us to mind our own business. Apparently we are headed for dinner soon. With 2 vodkas under my belt the chaotic traffic may seem less intimidating. Looking forward to tomorrow. I’ll keep you in suspense but I hope it’s a as good as they say …

Thursday 13th December

Hi Vikki,

You still with me there GF?

In the interests of making the most of our time here we set an alarm for 7.30 but I was awake before that. It’s taking a while for my body clock to swap to holiday time. The Newby on the other hand has no such problem. Our breaky this morning was very western, in a cafe called Lifted, just around the corner. The rain has stopped thankfully so an outdoors day was possible. But not before a couple of luxurious hours indoors.

The Lonely Planet recommends a massage at a place called Omamori. The therapists are visually impaired young people who are taught the skill of massaging as well as life skills, amongst them sexual assault prevention. Clearly there are issues with vulnerability. Anyway we booked in for the 2hr Zen massage and along we went. We both had young male masseuses who used great techniques including wonderful hot stones to relax us both into sleepy states. The premises are immaculate and we had a couples room, where we were treated like VIPs. Unfortunately the cold has worsened my cramps so I was a little more tense than I should have been but we both loved every minute and it was worth the 750 000 dong each ($45 each for two lovely hours). If you get here to Hanoi make sure you treat yourself to this luxury and help those less fortunate than you. They have a strict no tipping policy but joyfully accepted kangaroos 1 and 2.

Unfortunately we had to leave this little oasis and head back out into the crazy, horn tooting, motorbike jammed city. We decide to head over and pay our respects to Uncle Ho. Ho Chi Minh is The Man here. He is actually on display in the mausoleum for most of the year. Apparently he gets taken over to Russia for a couple of months for maintenance but when he is in his cold room you can visit him. The Newby was keen to do this while I was keen to avoid it, mostly because Uncle Ho actually wanted to be quietly cremated and popped somewhere peaceful. Poor man. I doubt he is resting peacefully, with many crowds parading last him each day. I don’t know where he is right now but I’m glad we didn’t see him. We did get to see his guards change over, his house and meeting room, his getaway stilt house and some of the gardens he wandered in.

Next stop was what looks to be an abandoned military museum. The Newby read that there was a downed American B52 bomber in the grounds so we wandered along to have a look. Indeed there is a B52 bomber, or parts of it in the front of a building. We were the only ones there and it felt a little like we were being watched, as we read about the bomber, admired the bonsai and wandered the front area. I admit to being a bit freaked out and keen to leave but I tried to hide it. I suspect it was partly post-massage delirium setting in. To overcome this wave of tiredness I suggested to The Newby that we take a ride home in a bicycle taxi, known as a cyclo. Yep, that’s a seat in front, with a cycling rider behind. Think a reverse rickshaw. Through the madness of rush hour in Hanoi. Oh my goodness! Funny, scary and exciting all at once. We made it back here though and then The Newby told me our rider was drunk! Won’t be doing that again.

Somehow I managed to get it together enough to go out for dinner around the corner at a spin off of the place we went to last night. Nice food, served by Kitty (can you review me on TripAdvisor? That’s k-i-t-t-y) with another Hanoi beer to wash it down. Loving the cost of eating out in Vietnam and we are doing it inside, not on the streets. Yet …

Friday Good night Vikki.

I think you’ll be asleep now but the streets of Hanoi are coming alive. I am in bed though having walked too many steps to count. We have had a long but great day. It started in the cafe next door with the sweetest coffee I have ever had. If you want your coffee with milk here it’s condensed milk. It is lovely but way sweet. And this mornings was the sweetest ever. With our coffee we had a banh mi with egg and cucumber. I don’t do cucumber any time but I certainly couldn’t do it at breakfast.

We decided that today we would do the self guided walking tour of the Old Quarter and tack a walk through the French Quarter onto the middle. Turned out to be a lot of steps, some great experiences and a couple of duds. Basically forget the French Quarter. It’s dull and posh and dirty all rolled in together. The Old Quarter on the other hand is vibrant, alive, exciting and fresh. And it’s where our accommodation is. In fact we are bang in the middle of it. Along spice street. Here’s how it works. A street name only applies from one corner to the next. If the road actually continues past an intersection, the name changes. The convention for naming follows what is sold from corner to corner. We are on Hang Vai. This translates to “dry goods”. The dry goods are spices of the most pungent variety. A very pleasant place to reside.

We left our pleasant place of residence and picked up the Lonely Planet walking tour at its closest point. Within a few minutes I had some new walking shoes and a new jacket. I have outgrown my boots I’ve had since forever. That’s right, outgrown. I think my arches have fallen. Ageing sucks. And I only bought one jacket with me, so I needed another. I also bought a new runner for the foot of my bed at home. As directed by all the guides, I haggled and saved 25%. Instead of paying $12 for a silk runner, I paid $9. As always, I felt cheap afterwards. I’m not sure why I do that bargaining thing. It’s a moments salary back home. Money I would waste without the blink of an eye. But I saved it here in Vietnam. Lucky me. It’ll buy me a beer or two that I can also afford.

Next stop was the Catholic Church followed by a temple and then the temple on the lake. From here we navigated the traffic to cross the road and head into the French Quarter. After lunch in a patisserie (of the Vietnamese kind) we walked miles to a closed temple, before heading to the Old Quarter right in time to see the most amazing fresh food markets come to life. The Newby was wondering around looking like a shell shocked white guy, saying “oh my” every couple of seconds. Between the traffic and the markets we were in sensory overload. And that was before we turned the corner into the everyday items market!

Eventually we made it home for a vodka or two before heading out for dinner and a wander around the evening markets. We ate at a place called Cumulus, run by a man who was a street kid before being given an opportunity for an education. The food was absolutely amazing. So fresh and so tasty. William, the restauranteur showed us how to mix up the ingredients to create the dish at our table. Yummo. To end our night we wandered back through the closed streets, thankful for the safety of no motor bikes or scooters, unlike all of our days so far.

Happy weekend from Hanoi Vikki,

Today is our last day in Hanoi before we head off to Halong Bay. So we tried to make the most of it. We headed out for breaky of banh mi with egg and coffee before we walked through the old quarter, out to the 4km long mural and the Long Biên Bridge. We made a few mistakes trying to find the bride but eventually we got there. Our first mistake was to cross the 8 lane road. Not so much the crossing over, we did that on a footbridge. It was more the fact that we then ended up on a road parallel to the highway, walked along it a few hundred metres and then needed to cross back! Without a footbridge. If you’re in any doubt as to how hard that is, have a watch of this video we took from the bridge (once we found our way onto it). The Newby describes it as a game of Frogger. We all know what happens to the frog!

We wandered alongside the traffic on the bridge for a while (only motor bikes and pedestrians allowed) before turning back to watch a bit more Frogger. You could stand there all day watching the crazy traffic. As you watch the end of the video you will see a floral arrangement go by. Everything is moved this way. We’ve seen a Lexus bumper bar, a framed picture about 1.5m square, a family of 4, enough tyres to deck out a small fleet of cars and even a fridge! And for every bike on the road, there are at least as many parked! Unbelievable.

Next stop was supposed to be the Tran Quoc Pagoda however after walking all the way there, it was closed. We could see from the outside that it loooked lovely but it wasn’t due to open for another hour and a half so we decided to move on to the Vietnam Military History Museum. As always, it depends who is telling the story but I think it’s clear that Vietnam has been on the receiving end of a battery of attacks for a number of centuries. While we stayed a while, we didn’t go through the place finely. The message was clear in any case. Vietnam won, they have the evidence and they are strong. Good on them I say, as I remember it always depends on who is telling the story.

Eventually we stopped for a late lunch from a menu that didn’t really appeal to me. The Newby did a good job to score us some French fries, a bowl of beef with noodles and 2 beers for the grand sum of 140 000 dong ($8.40). We don’t think we have ever had beers for 90 cents before! With fuller tummies we decided to come home to sort a few things out, ready to move on from here tomorrow. It’s the final of the ASEAN football league tonight and Vietnam are playing Malaysia here in Hanoi. The place is crazy with noise and flags and it’s going to go off from 7.30. We are planning to head out among it for a meal and wander. Let’s go Vietnam!!

Last meal in Hanoi for this leg of our trip is done. It was a lovely one too, in a bright and happy restaurant. The fever of the footy game was permeating everything and when Vietnam scored, the street and staff went crazy. After dinner we wandered around, taking in the markets again, buying our Vietnam head bands and watching snippets of the game. Our next stop is Halong Bay. Follow us here.

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