Monday, October 3, 2011

Unemployed... Hanoi - just because I can!

SATURDAY 1st October

Today being the first day of my month dedicated to travelling around Viet Nam and relaxing, I loaded up my backpack, walked to the bus station (5 minutes away) and caught the bus to Hanoi. It tosts 65,000 dong ($3)  and takes about two and a half hours ... long enough to take a nap...

When I got to Hanoi, I jumped on a No.22 bus and rode for an hour (15c) to meet Lina. She is in Hanoi for two weeks doing an intensive block of study for her next degree. We then took a taxi to the Silk Village... I finally got to go to the silk village! Several times Helle and the girls have gone there, but I was always too busy working to join them. The shops are a treasure trove of silk clothes, scarves, bags, etc. etc.

It was great shopping with Lina, she kept bargaining for a better price wherever we went. In one shop she bargained 450,000d down to 330,000d! $16.50 for 2 pashminas, 1 silk scarf, 5 embroidered silk wallets and a couple of tops for Jordan and Bailey.  And she taught me to offer half in the markets, bargain a bit, then turn away if they don't come to the party. Invariably, they will call out and agree to the low price rather than miss out on the sale altogether.

We dropped in to the silk factory to watch the looms at work. It's off the main street, and you first come into a courtyard shaded by a huge tree and lots of hanging orchids. It must look amazing when they are in bloom.
On the wall by the door is a lattice covered in silk-worm cocoons... reminds me of when we were kids in Roseville with our silkworms and mulberry tree leaves.
Inside, there were a dozen wooden looms clattering away, making silk cloth in various colours and designs.
It must be quite a skill setting up the looms for each pattern, for the thread is so fine and the patterns so delicate.

You get a bit of an idea what a racket the looms make in this video - I was shouting about being in a silk factory and you can't hear me at all

After our shopping spree, we took a taxi for a short way, then caught a bus to the Old Quarter... a very cheap way to get around if you have local knowledge! I was talking to Lina on the bus - she was standing and I was sitting, so I raised my voice... too loudly it turns out - the conductor Shhh'd me! How mortifying!

From the bus stop, we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake to go to the hotel

There were so many foreigners we played 'spot the Aussie'
It's so peaceful and beautiful, you just want to sit and relax.

Lina had booked me into Thang Long Hotel in Cau Go street for only $14 a night - right near Hoan Kiem Lake, in the thick of things. My room was small, and on the third floor, but clean and very quiet.

See those little shoes under the bed? They are for the bathroom... once you have a shower, the floor is all wet. But I had to laugh - the soles are air filled, so every time you step into them they give a little squeak of protest, and when you take them off they made an even longer squeaky sigh of relief :)

After I had a shower and freshened up, we went downstairs, across the road and down a little way and found a street stall selling Bánh Khúc (Mung Bean Dumplings)...
 ... now on my list of favourite Vietnamese foods

This is no frills street food Vietnamese style
It's a ball of sticky rice with a filling of pork and a mung beans and greens mix that tastes quite delicious, with a sprinkling of ground peanuts and salt. The pattie is pork and green rice and other ingredients ... Bánh Khúc doesn't look special, but it tastes amazing!

We perched on little plastic stools and had a little feast. I'm so greatful that Lina took time to spend the afternoon with me - I never would have tried this food if I was on my own.
Lina wasn't feeling very well, she'd had food poisoning earlier in the week, and it was still too early for the night markets, so she headed back to the Uni and I went up to my room and watched a bit of telly with my feet up. After a couple of hours I ventured out and walked down to the night markets.

I did the walk-away routine and bought a nice leather wallet for a few dollars.

By then it was 10ish and I was thirsty so I went into a cafe overlooking the water fountain and thoroughy enjoyed an extravagant watermelon smoothie and an ice-cream sundae while I watched the passing parade.
... western food doesn't sit as well as Vietnamese food... I couldn't finish it.

SUNDAY 2nd October

After a good night's sleep I headed across the road and had Bánh Khúc for breakfast. Then headed off for a stroll around the lake...

It was early, and the road was closed for a series of running races. There was a beautiful cool breeze blowing and the weather was just perfect ... the cool of the morning.  I walked down to the Hiệu sách Thăng Long Bookshop, looking for an anthology of Vietnamese poetry. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I did buy an English translation of The Tale of Kiều. It is an epic poem in Vietnamese written by Nguyễn Du (1766–1820), and is widely regarded as the most significant work of Vietnamese literature. I also bought a small volume of poems by Hồ Chí Minh: Prison Diary.

There were lots of old people out and about getting their morning exercise and meeting up with friends
I shared the park bench with this lady for a while as we just sat and enjoyed the view.
There were families out and about, too...

    Everyone walking here keeps an eye on the water, hoping to get a glimpse of the huge 500 year old turtle that lives in the lake. For centuries, Hanoians have been fascinated by the mysterious turtle (actually it's a tortoise) that lives underneath the tranquil waters of Hoan Kiem Lake, passing down stories about the beloved creature from generation to generation. According to a tale that dates back to the 15th century, King Le Loi, also known as Le Thai To, the founder of the Le Dynasty, was given a magical sword, which he used to defeat the northern Ming (Chinese) aggressors. He found a holy turtle during a cruise on the then Luc Thuy, or green lake. The turtle told the King to return the sacred sword now that peace had returned. Le Thai To unsheathed his sword and threw it to the turtle, who grabbed it and disappeared into the depths of the lake. He later named the lake "Hoan Kiem" (Lake of Returned Sword).

    Named Rafetus Leloii after King Le Loi, this ancient turtle has become an integral part of the culture and history of Ha Noi. The Vietnamese add a title to his name, Cụ Rùa , which means great-grandfather the turtle. To many people, the turtle in the lake is not just a normal turtle – it is a sacred being. Many put a picture of the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle on their altars for worshipping.  The Great Turtle in the lake belongs to a soft shell species measuring nearly two metres in length and weighing over 200 kilos. They reckon it is 400-500 years old.
So there I was strolling along, when I noticed some people pointing and there it was! It's hard to see in the photo because it was only just breaking the surface with its nose, but it's huge..

You can see it better in this video... Da-daaa!

    I stopped off at Thuy Ta Cafe on the lake for a cuppa and a mille feuilles and headed back to the hotel to put my feet up. On the way I stopped to get my shoes polished by this nice friendy shoe-shine boy who spoke good English. Big mistake.
He had asked for 50,000d but he'd agreed to do them for 20,000d, so I sat down on the window sill and we chatted away happily.
This lady was selling sweet little donuts

    Next thing I knew he pulled out a skewer and poked it through the white edge around the bottom of the shoe and began to sew around the shoe ... "fixing" it... except that they're Colorados and certainly didn't need "fixing"! Once he'd started I figured I'd have to let him continue or I'd have holes in my shoes.. Half an hour later we were still arguing that my shoes didn't need fixing and they were going to last for years without his intervention and I had told him I didn't want them "fixed", but he had gone ahead regardless... He reckoned his work was worth $10 at least (200,000d)! I ended up very begrudgingly paying him 50,000d and stormed off saying "This would never happen in Hai Phong!"... The first and last time ever I feel sorry for a shoe-shiner.

    At 1:30pm I met Lynn Rees at the water fountain. I met Lynn and Des the first time I came to Ha Noi in March. They are Aussies teaching at a language school in Hanoi. They have taught in India and China over the last six years and thoroughy enjoy life in Hanoi. They live on the square next to St Joseph Cathedral. 
To get to to their apartment you walk down a narrow dark passage that twists and turns... past the neighbours' incredibly tiny kitchen...

... and the pet monkey...

... up the stairs... looking over the railing you can see the way in...  no space wasted in the middle of the city

Then we came to Lynn and Des' apartment
It's two storey - living room and tiny kitchen downstairs, with a lovely bedroom and bathroom upstairs
and a terrace as well

We had a bread roll and a cuppa for lunch and after a while headed out through the twists and turns of narrow streets and laneways to go to their favourite Pina Colada bar, where we sat and chatted, watching the world go by. Traffic seems to be quieter in Hanoi... in Hai Phong motorists blast their horns constantly, but we sat in that lane for more than an hour and the riders didn't toot at all.

When we headed back the square in front of the Church was full and there was a procession in full swing. Lynn said October is the celebration of Mary and the Rosary and it seems that was the reason for the ceremony. We watched and took photos

gorgeous banners

The ao dai's worn by the choir were exquisite.

a giant rosary

and lastly the statue.    
    We went our separate ways then at 7pm Lynn and Des came to my hotel. We walked down the bustling street, forced onto the road because the street food stalls were doing a roaring trade on the footpaths. We made our way to Tandoor Indian Restaurant. The food was fabulous... fresh roti, chappatis, chicken korma, Bengali fish curry, and a vegetable mix I can't remember the name of. Too busy talking and eating to remember to take photos (sorry!). But I did get Des to take a pic of us leaving...

Unfortunately on the walk home someone jostled into Lynn, slit her bag and stole her camera. It was done so smoothly she didn't even realise what had happened until after she got home. She carried the bag over her shoulder... I have a bum bag that I keep under my shirt... one time that it's good to have a big belly... you dont notice the bag so much and it can't be reached.
It was lovely spending time with Lynn and Des. I do hope we get to cross paths  again... maybe next year in Hanoi?

MONDAY 3rd October

I had a lazy morning and ended up watching a movie on TV before checking out at 9.30am and catching a taxi to the bus station. I jumped on a xe-om at the bus station at Hai Phong and got home at 12:30.  What a great couple of days!

I had a chat to Tony, unpacked my goodies and began blogging. Dave Spencer was on skype from Tanzania, where he's working in an orphanage and loving it, and later Katie came on line. And so passed the rest of the day  :)

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