Our first full day in Hanoi has been fun. We set off into the rain to follow a walking tour which Claire found on a website. Our hotel is right near the start point luckily. First stop was Hoan Kiem Lake which is in the centre of Hanoi. One can take a pleasant walk around the lake or visit the island which houses a small temple. We paid to see the temple and had a nice look around. All of the locals were leaving money at the various buddhas and then praying. The temple also had a giant stuffed turtle which turtally amazed me…
It was here that we saw the famous two tier pricing system in effect. It seems to be widely accepted in Vietnam (and probably most of the world over) that tourists pay more than locals for attractions. As we were paying our entrance fee (of about 40p each) locals were wondering in and out as they pleased.
We then moved on and followed the directions around various streets including a street famous for its banyan tree. The tree is hundreds of years old and the buildings in the street have been built and revised to allow for the trees roots and branches as they grow. It’s not entirely clear in the photo below but the tree and the buildings are all “at one”.
We then continued and took the tour’s recommendation of noodles at Bun Bo Nam Bo, an eatery popular with locals. We have done a few of these non tourist eateries now and we find that you have to just go with the flow. The menu isn’t always clear and one place in HCM seemed to sell more pig penis than anything else. To set the scene of Bun Bo Nam Bo the meals are put together at the entrance and the table and staff pretty much block the entrance. The seating beyond is low tables with tiny plastic stalls, all of which are pretty dirty. And at BBNB there is no menu. This baffled us for a while but we were hauled from our confusion by the arrival of two large bowls of food.
(I had to duck!)
The food was rice noodles, bean shoots, beef, lettuce type stuff, mint, basil and other mysterious vegetables we couldn’t identify. A local couple sitting at our table used the power of hand gesture to indicate that we should mix our food and we then discovered it was sitting in a delicious soup.
Over the years I’ve had a fair few attempts at using chopsticks, and I seem to recall being berated by Jon (our good friend who is partly oriental) for my hamfisted efforts. But faced with having to ask for a fork at every meal for the next 5 weeks (not always easy as fork doesn’t seem to have a universal hand gesture) I decided to go with the chopsticks. This went very well and although some of the food ended up on the table and floor I did manage to finish the lot. And very tasty it was too, especially as it cost us around £2.75 all in.
From there we moved on to some more random streets and saw a shop selling caged birds and a whole street selling bamboo ladders and poles.
By this point the rain was becoming hard work so we decided to go to the rail station to book our tickets to Hue on Tuesday night. This is a night train so we booked a 1st class sleeper carriage with soft beds. It was all a little vague but we think we are both on a top bunk. This could pose some security issues so we are currently planning how to ensure nobody steals our bags.
Whilst being served a local old lady was demonstrating the Vietnamese custom of not queuing. She was trying to push between us at the counter. I’m now so used to this I just shuffled across and blocked her progress. She was about 80 and no more than 5ft tall admittedly but this didn’t deter her from dropping her shoulder and passing me on the blind side. Luckily the ticket lady ignored her and we finalised our tickets.
With our tickets purchased we started to head back to the hotel via the French Quarter where we bought two huge oranges. We then climbed to the 4th floor of our hotel for what is becoming our traditional afternoon snooze.
This evening we found an excellent restaurant which was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. The whole place was full of Westerners who had presumably all been reading the Lonely Planet guide too. One large group of Brits, Aussies, South Africans about 16 strong had clearly all met at their hostel or been on a tour together. This will probably be us in a few weeks, but for the moment we eat alone.
The food was absolutely fantastic again. We had spring rolls, tofu in tomato sauce, lime and chilli pork and rice. Rice is harder to eat with chopsticks than noodles but I completed my second meal with chopsticks nevertheless.
After the meal we took a stroll through a part of town we hadn’t yet visited. Mostly the area was lively though we did take an ill conceived turn down a dark street. We also saw this very old gatehouse which was an original part of the citadel wall. This photo is quite unique as it doesn’t feature a moped.
We didn’t get to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum today so that goes on tomorrow’s agenda along with all of the other sights to the North West.