Friday, 4 December 2015

Ravenous in street food town (48 hours in Hanoi)

This trip is very different from the one in October.  By the time I woke up in Hanoi for the first time on the last trip, I had spent 4 nights embracing toilet bowls and I had paid for and missed three flights.  Consequently I was very wary of what I would eat.   It was close to Tantalus torture walking by all those street and sidewalk restaurants, seeing the amazing edibles being offered, and not daring to eat a single one.
MUCH better minibar prices than in Las Vegas

Last night I already supplied myself with fresh mandarins, and today will be a day of sampling the local cuisine !

Hue (not my pic)

Danang (not my pic)

Similar to the Hong  Kong hotel pool closing for the winter the morning after my arrival,  the temperature that was still up at 28 degrees last night has plummeted to 17 degrees. 

 The light rain in today's forecast is accompanied by wind and the forecast makes no hope of improvement for at least 48 hours. Looking at the forecasts for other towns along the coast I get the impression that the weather patterns travel from North to South, so  that maybe  I should not start my travels south to Hue and Danang, which would be following the clouds, but probably should travel north to Sa Pa first.  

Sa Pa (not my pic)

I better check with hotel staff on the prevalent direction of cloud movements ;-) 

At 6:15 I take the elevator down to the 3rd  floor to check whether the hotel staff is already awake and has turned on the light in the reception area.  NOPE, I'm still too early.  Ever since they moved me to the penthouse (where I can smoke on the balcony) I am adamant of not waking them anymore by trying to go out the front door.  Breakfast is at 7 am so I'll try again at 6:30.

The light is still off and one of the receptionist who had moved himself from his cot has fallen asleep again at the desk.  But at least the front door is unlocked so I can sneak by ;-)

No red sunrise today
The HSBC bank machine at the Lake of the Restored Sword happily distributes millions of Dongs and I buy a small bag of fresh mandarins for 50,000 Dong (definitely a tourist price ) and a bunch of flowers for 20,000 Dong (the equivalent of a single dollar).
the just  bought flowers in my room
By now I'm famished and can't wait for the hotel breakfast!  I order the October favourite of vegetables and beef on fried noodles.

Then it's time for another walk to the Lake, more grocery shopping, a visit to the post office (10 gorgeous  post cards & postage to Canada all for 15 bucks)

wedding cakes made of Vietnamese & US currency?

Then a sit-down for chocolate and kiwi ice cream, which is still fabulous but the 18 degrees  are a bit to chilly for ice cream.

On the way back I look for but don't spot Mong in one hotel, but the receptionist of my hotel spots me, smiles at me while expressing his happiness to see me again and just doesn't release his two-hand grip on my arm.  Holy ....   But I'm quite happy to see him again too ;-)

I book my room for another 2 nights  and then sit down with the receptionist to book an excursion.   This excursion is similar in price range as a one-day bus trip to Havanna from Varadero in Cuba, but the upcoming trip is way more complicated.  2 full days of hiking around a mountainous region in the North. Plus an overnight train trip (22:00 - 5:00) to get there plus staying in a hotel in the mountains.  

There it is!  The thing I have been waiting for.  Being hurled into The Unknown.  True, Sa Pa is a tourist region and I won't be able to apply for the role of the Lone Hiker, but sleeping overnight  in  a 4-person sleeper definitely gets me out of my comfort zone and  from what I have been reading on Tripadivsor, the scenery is spectacular !

During a quick visit to the Hanoi Social Club,  I discover that they have  over-nuked the croissant AGAIN, turning it into an edible hot-air-balloon. No No No!  WRONG !  

Because then all that hot air from the croissant ends up in my cheeks !

Then it's time to do some exploring on a smaller scale. I'm going to replace the battery of my dead e-cigarette and I found a store in Hanoi.

One hour walk from my present location and the route passes by Ga Ha Noi, the capital's main train station.

Further along the route ... 

...I cross a BUSY intersection...   

... realize I'm far off the beaten tourist track  when school girls stare at the tourist and say "Hello" to show off their English skills...

... discover Buddhist temples in the middle of a residential area with roads not passable by cars ... 

... and when nature calls see and outdoor hair salon but fail to see ANY public toilets. 

In a coffee shop I finally use the facilities and order a mojito as a thank you. What is THAT? NOT a mojito.  Maybe it's a very weak mint tea?  Anyhoo, it tastes good and I no longer have to pee ;-)

That tells you how little I still know about Vietnam. It was a free welcome tea.  The Mojito arrives a few minutes later and packs a punch.  Everyone says one should not drink drinks with ice cubes, so I'm hoping that my stomach is fortified after the last trip and that maybe the booze neutralizes any bacteria in the ice.  But then what am I worried about. Now and in October I have used the tap water for brushing my teeth!  I can taste the apple pieces in the mojito !!!  YUM ;-)

Their single toilet has neither a functioning lock nor paper towels but their free Wifi works and I use my GPS to determine that I'm just 5 minutes walk from the Electronic Cigarette Company of Hanoi.  A fabulous adventure and  a fabulous mojito for a buck 50 ;-)

Poor English but good advice

When I get to the GPS indicated location there is no Electronic Cigarette Company there.  I ask 4 Vietnamese and they are all VERY friendly and try to be helpful, but no-one has an idea where it went to.  Back to the Cafe 25 I head, fire up the laptop, go to the company's web-site (only in Vietnamese) and find the address.  They moved to very close to the Lake of the Restored Sword, right in my neighbourhood !!!!  I could have saved myself 2 hours of walking !!!

The mojito I had a while ago is starting to announce its presence via my bladder, so I drop it off in the same cafe that I picked it up.

Then it's time to rejoin the hustle

But if that gets too much there is always an alley to duck in, into which no car will fit ;-)

Almost back at the railway station but on its back side I happen to walk through THE flower and fresh food vendor street. 

 I  almost jump when a HUGE  prawn in a big bowl of water suddenly jerks.  Then I see the bubbling water  hoses leading into other bowls  crammed with BIG fish, all of  this  stuff just sitting on the pavement.
The far-rightmost bowl of the lady in red pants contains the twitching prawns !

I take a quick break at my hotel and then start walking towards the new e-cig address.  I find 2 more fold-out card ships for Grandma's Armada (she really liked the one I brought her in October, and finally locate the e-cig store. With C$ 33 for a battery, charger cable, two mouthpieces, and a bottle of e-juice the starter kit I end up buying is even 25% cheaper than in Canada !  Back in my room,  I discover after  some tinkering  that  my old battery wasn't broken after all; it was the mouthpiece that I had bought new  in Vancouver just before I left that had died prematurely!  All good: now I have two batteries with 2 functioning mouthpieces, i.e. TWO functioning smoking sticks !

After walking around for a total of more than 3 hours today, I feel like some real food. The Hanoi Social Club is just 3 doors down from my hotel, but about at about double the distance I have been ogling a restaurant since October that advertises Western, authentic Vietnamese and vegetarian food, as well as Pizza. Quite a mixture but worth a try.  It is also one of the very few Vietnamese establishments without internet.  

The place is called Chuon Chuon Quan or similar and its menu lists a lot of items with the word Dragonfly in their names.  

Then I notice a napkin box on the table. Only then do I notice the ironwork in the chair backs, the table tops, and even the metal entrance gate.  Someone took the design very seriously !  And YES, chuon chuon in English means Dragonfly (Thank you Google).

The food looks and tastes great.  Stir-fried chicken in curry with vegetables and rice   The price is 69,000 Dongs, that translates to CAD$ 4,09.  Insane!  About  15 years ago, there used to be a sushi  place on Main street that served a plate of grilled eel and rice for CAD$ 4. The place was called Simply Delicious. I used to cycle there whenever the weather cooperated and I was not too busy, which means on average every 3rd day.  

good old Simply Delicious
The food was great and the owner played classical music so I couldn't imagine a better place to read a book.  But it;s the same sad  old story.  The place was always so  empty that waitresses had to quit because a lack of tips and the fact that people based their tips on the already dirt-cheap prices.
So eventually the owner decided to sell.  The new owner renamed the place to SD Galleria, called it URBAN sushi, doubled the prices, cut down the menu, put hideous colours on the wall in addition to blaring TV screens accompanied by hip music from a sound system.  I repeatedly tried reading a book in that cacophony and just couldn't so I eventually stopped going.  But the place became a huge success.   People loved the higher prices and the noise.   Strange, I can remember lots of those sad good-restaurant-dies-to-make-room-for-bad-restaurant stories.  Must go back to France soon ;-)

At 6 or 7 pm  I lay down on my bed to give my feet a rest ...

... and wake up at 3 am. 

During my first cigarette on my outside deck I hear the distinct noise of RAIN on the glass patio roof.  

At 6:35 I walk to the post office to drop off some postcards, some of them time sensitive (only 8 days until the 12th ;-).  At the beginning of my walk, my right foot tells me that it had enough walking yesterday and that it would like to go home NOW. After a few hundred meters it forgets about the going home and stays quiet.

It's not really raining anymore, more a thick sprinkle, but the crowd on the scooters, most of them usually dressed so elegantly that I feel like a slob, have turned into a multi-coloured horde of smurfs !!!

Breakfast time !!!!   I'm hungry again.  And my stomach's continued good behaviour doesn't leave me with excuses any more.   Today I am going to have for breakfast what the Vietnamese have for breakfast.  Pho  (apparently pronounced FO with an O as in ox or slot and not like 'foe' as heard from customers in various western Vietnamese restaurants.

Taking a picture of the steaming bowl proves difficult because my camera lens keeps fogging up ! 

The pho is delicious and I regret not having had it for breakfast before.

Yet another walk is necessary to the lake (The bank machine, the post office, and two grocery stores are constant attractions) The fact that bank machines in Vietnam usually only dispense a maximum of 2 Million Dongs (~100 bucks) is partly to blame.

Even the Lake of the Restored Sword looks a bit dreary in the rain

The water puppet theatre

The place that serves the fabulous ice cream
Then I see a locked wooden shack with some display windows:
MORE Dragonflies


not sure what it is but it's nice

what a cool vase !

I'm always fascinated by the flower vendors and their bikes

I keep following them ;-)
must be a good kickstand ;-)
I head over to the Royal Palace 2 hotel again for better internet access and to look for familiar faces.  Again no sign of Mong but seeing the big grin of the former evening receptionist when he recognizes me and we shake hands is very nice too ;-)

Walking through the reception of my hotel at 3:30 pm, I am relieved that I have booked my room for another night.  Others have been torturing themselves on the couches since the check-out time of noon. And they still have quite a while to wait, since the trains to Sa Pa don't leave until 9 pm. That's another 5.5 hours of couch torture, to be followed by 8 hours on a train.  Good thing I'm in Vietnam, where hotels are very cheap. Extending the room to avoid 9 hours of couch surfing would not be fiscally responsible anywhere else.

Need better internet and food.  Off to the  Hanoi Social Club again!

Vietnam Railways already delivered the ticket for the south-bound journey from Hanoi on Monday, so there is nothing to do but wait for today's departure time, which will probably involve napping in a non-moving and non-rattling bed ;-)

The train station is only a 14 minute walk away, but part of the excursion to Sa Pa is a taxi ride to Ga Ha Noi. At first I find that excessive, but then I realize that I'm one of the very few tourist that does not drag a roller suitcase behind them through the streets of Hanoi after checking out of a hotel.

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