Hoi An

I got dropped off by the Easy Riders at the Quynh Nhan Homestay, my home for the next couple of days. I liked it instantly, maybe because the room was already cool?

Beth and I had agreed to meet for dinner, so I settled in and later asked the girl at the reception for directions and recommendations. Thus armed with information I met Bet at the corner from the home stay and we walked into town.

We stopped at Bebe Tailor and stayed there forever because I wanted to get some things made. And although I didn’t order anything on the first evening, we agreed on most of the details. I just never realized how much you need to clarify when you order clothes tailor-made.

Eventually we walked out of the shop, me with my work cut out for the night to think about how I wanted things done, and walked to the Thu Bon river. We were on the lookout for a street food place which Beth had found two years ago. She raved about it, telling me that she went back to this woman because her grilled chicken was the best. The chicken was on little skewers and served with rice paper, salad, herbs, rice patties and a rich sauce to dip it in. They were positively lovely and I was enchanted right away.

After dinner we walked back to the main part of the old town, to the Lantern Bridge. We needed to cross it to get to the night market. Not that there was anything new to buy, but it was wonderfully illuminated and just great to watch.

  
  

Lots of vendors everywhere who sold fresh fruit (also ones I didn’t know) and banana fritters. I was just too full to try them, but kept them in mind to taste another day.

  

The next morning we met already at 7:30. Beth had told me that the old part was wonderful in the mornings and I wanted to see it for myself. We were actually quite late already, lots of people around but way less than last night. We met again at the corner of the Lantern Bridge, then walked around for 5 minutes before sitting down for coffee. But the five minutes were enough to take these pictures.

  
  

We sat down underneath a large tree, just beside the Japanese covered Bridge which beckoned for a later visit.


In search of breakfast we passed a vendor selling sweet tofu which we had to try. It was good though that we took it as take-away since it was not to our taste.

  Just two blocks further we tried sticky rice with sugar and peanuts. We later saw that the rice was also available in savory version.

  

Shortly after 9am we were still waiting for our sunglasses shop to open. Last night we had learned that optical sunglasses were cheap and quickly available, so both of us wanted to get a pair. Until this shop opened we needed to kill more time. When we passed a Banh Mi vendor, I bought one filled with everything (what’s the point of moderation on vacation).

  

Finally the shop opened and we could order the glasses (have used them already and the came in very handy). It’s something I didn’t really need but always wanted. While we were in the shop a chicken walked in! How is that for city life?

After the successful conclusion of the sunglasses deal, I made my way to the Bebe tailor shop (one of three or four in the town). The shop came recommended by the receptionist and by Tripadvisor. I had made up my mind on how I wanted things done, it took me a while but I finally did it. More important for me was the material though. I wanted something which would hold up well during travels, not wrinkle and didn’t need ironing. I found all this (or so I was told) and placed my order. By then it was almost noon and very hot again. I was ready for a power nap back at my air-conditioned room.

The power nap turned into an afternoon in my room, relaxing from the heat. At 4pm I decided to leave the room though, no point in traveling and then staying in the whole time. Beth and I were supposed to meet around 6pm and I had my first fitting at 5pm.

Before that I wanted to explore the town, it was a world cultural heritage site after all. I just walked around, wanting to get a feel for this place. Even though it was very touristic, it still had a comfortable vibe. Everything was near and within walking distance, people were friendly and there were historic sites all over. Since I had to go to the tailor, I decided not to buy the tourist pass for the sites but rather wait for a day when I had more time. Instead I went to a street vendor and bought a prawn pancake (note the shells).

Then I was off to the tailor for the fitting which turned into a disappointment. I couldn’t believe I had ordered so much and already made a deposit for it. I was sure none of these clothes would ever fit me properly.

At least meeting Beth gave my thoughts another direction and after venting my disappointment for a couple of minutes, we walked again through the old town and tried new food. After some a boy let me try from his juice (I actually thought it tasted like piña colada) we bought one bag of it. Turned out it was made of beans (at least that’s what Beth said), so I cannot rely on my taste buds at all.

  
  

After more walking and some deliberations we decided on dinner in a restaurant. No street food on our last night together. We sat on the balcony with a great view on the street below and shared an appetizer variety and a Hoi An specialty (I am sorry but I forgot the name).
  
  
  

The meal was delicious but I am sure you didn’t expect anything less. From the restaurant we already had to rush to the sunglasses store. Our glasses were ready for pickup from 8pm on, with the shop closing at 9pm. Beth was leaving early the next morning for Dalat so we had to get to the store. We made it in time and our sales girl was so happy that we bought something that she took some pictures with us (clearly we paid too much which didn’t matter because the glasses were perfect).

Just a few minutes later Beth and I said our goodbyes at the corner of our hotels. Four wonderful days with her had come to an end. Yours, Pollybert

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Around the Hoàn Kiém lake in Hanoi

I arrived in Hanoi with an hour delay at 0:30 on May 30th. My month in China was over and now a new chapter would start.

I had splurged for the hotel in Hanoi on account of a recommendation I got from a friend. The Golden Sun Suites Hotel would be my home for the next four nights. What a good idea that I had also ordered a pickup service. In no time was I in my room and ready to go to sleep except for the music at first and later cocks crowing. What a weird combination. The next morning I heard that one of the neighbors raises chickens on his roof.

Eventually I must have fallen asleep because at 9am I was up again and went down for breakfast. Reading through the guide book on what I had to see this day I went to the reception desk to ask for a map and was stopped by Eric the manager/travel agent of the hotel. In no time had I booked a trip to Halong Bay and Sapa. The moment I gave over my credit card I was not sure anymore if it was a smart deal. But too late.

Provided with a map from the hotel I made my way to the Hoàn Kiém Lake which was just around the corner of the hotel.

When I saw on the map that there was also a St. Joseph’s Cathedral (I think in Montreal it was the St. Joseph Oratorium or so) I made a little detour and walked there. The church closed during lunch hours and I made it in just before. IMG_3418

The church offered a welcome reprieve from the sweltering heat and humidity. It must have had around 40 degrees. But the reprieve was short lived since we were ushered out not 5 minutes after my entering.

From the church then I walked to the Hoàn Lò Prison which was started by the French.

The prison detailed the gruesome treatment of the Vietnamese by the French but also showed the almost summer camp like living conditions for the American prisoners. I took no pictures since it was very dark inside and the information came more from videos and information spread sheets. As usual I so much more preferred the book section of the museum and I wrote down a couple of titles to read up on this chapter of history.

From here I walked back to the lake and set down in a shaded cafe (with fans outside) for water and a plain yoghurt on ice with a shot of coffee on top. Delicious in the stifling heat.

Still keeping to the lake I walked around it until I came to the Ngoc Son Temple.

        

Here I walked slowly through the small temple area and savoured the view on the lake. It looked cool and refreshing which was probably only an illusion though.

I decided against lunch. There was really no point in eating anything in this heat and walked instead further into the old district. One more temple was on my list and in the vicinity, the Bach Ma Temple and then I was proud to say I had seen all the sights in the area. Best to get that done right away.

  

By then I was exhausted, soaked through with sweat and ready to call it a day. So I walked back to the hotel but once inside I got immediately refreshed by the cool air. Thus revived I signed up for the food tour the same evening. I had to eat something anyway, so why not try lots of new stuff?

We met at 6pm in the lobby and after a shower I felt like a new person. Which was short lived because once I left the hotel I was drenched in sweat again almost instantly (I later heard that temperatures hadn’t been that high since 45 years).

We started at a restaurant with AC (what a bliss) trying first a banana flower salad which was decorated with banana flower leaves.

Then some spring rolls and then we had to roll our own spring rolls with fish. The fish was roasted over fresh dill.

    

Next stop was a sugar cane juice stall.

Next we tried a Bánh Mì, a Vietnamese baguette filled with a freshly made omelette, cucumber and some other stuff.

  After that we tried something fried on the street (sorry no picture and I can’t remember what it was, so not remarkable), were shown the best Pho place in Hanoi (and there was a huge line up of local people), passed the church that I had seen this morning and had some lemon green tea right next to it.

From there we moved on to the next place where we saw how to make the rice paper. We tried it fresh when it is very soft, stuffed with ground pork and mushrooms. And to wash it down we had cold green tea (tasted bitter).

We were still not finished, after the rice paper crepes we ate green tea ice cream. It was so hot that I had to take bites instead of licking it otherwise it would just have melted away.

Then we crossed the main square in the old district which was really a crazy thing to do since the motor bikes and the cars never stop. They just drive around you. You have to step down from the sidewalk and just begin crossing the street. If you wait for a pause in the traffic this will never happen.  After a day you get used to it and just do like the locals.

     

Far from ending the tour we now tried a fruit salad on ice with tapioca and coconut milk. There was also avocado in the salad. Loved it!

 Passing a fruit vendor on the way

we moved on to our last stop to try Cafe Trung, coffee topped with an egg yolk mixture. Really tasty but also too sweet for me.

And this is how a happy me looks after an evening full of palate pleasers. Yours, Pollybert