Vietnam #10 Food and Hanoi

Last morning in Hanoi

Eggs

Eggs

Selling produce

Selling produce

Gorgeous berries

Gorgeous berries

More dried fish

More dried fish

Dried Fish

Dried Fish

Varieties of rice

Varieties of rice

Snail soup

Snail soup

Our morning snack

Our morning snack

At breakfast this morning, we reconnected with two of our American friends from the boat on Ha Long Bay. We talked about the wonderful people we have met on our trip so far. They are on a similar itinerary, a few days behind us. Hope we will see them later in Ho Chi Minh City. Determined not to waste the morning we decided to find the famous ‘coffee with egg’ place. We had the morning free, transfer to the airport was at 11:45am. So we set off for the far side of town. There was a direct route on a main street but it was too noisy, so we took a detour and promptly got lost in food stalls. We found eggs for sale, lots of dried fish, but we were looking for something to eat.

Carrying fruit

Carrying fruit

Instead of a food truck....

Instead of a food truck….

Easy transport

Easy transport

Our morning snack

Our morning snack

Snail soup

Snail soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had been looking for a perfect Bahn Mi. Found it, Rachelle and I shared it and were very happy. Then we wandered down another street and found a woman selling a snack off the back of her bicycle. It was a kind of polenta spread on a crispy rice disk, sprinkled with finishing sugar. Again, really good. We continued on our self-made food tour and stumbled across the food alley that we had seen days before. That day, we were part of a city tour and ate in a restaurant. This time, we wandered in and saw what looked like an amazing soup. It smelled wonderful so we asked for a small bowl. The woman showed us a tiny slip of paper that read, “Do you want to eat snail soup?” We swallowed and said yes. Turned out to be so good, a bit sour, filled with flat rice noodles, a few snails, greens and lime juice. The sourness seemed to be from a reddish broth, maybe tomatoes or plums? The woman refused to take our money, insisted it was a gift. Rachelle declared her the soup goddess, and we went on to find the coffee and egg drink.

Blueberry panne cotta

Blueberry panne cotta

Egg Coffee

Egg Coffee

After asking for directions a few times, we finally found the place. We were told by a local to go upstairs and sit. The waitress was not keen on that, but eventually let us go up. We found a little room with some cushions on a wood floor and a tiny balcony with one table. Sat outside, watching the street traffic and had hot coffee blended with egg, a true custard with some kind of liquor at the bottom and a blueberry panne cotta. Those unearthly blue jelly bean shaped things are filled with very sweet blueberry-flavored imitation juice. It was a meal of all kinds of custard. Totally happy with our food tour, we took a cab back to the hotel and met our ride to the airport.

At the airport, we met a Vietnam Vet traveling with his son. It was the Vet’s 70th birthday trip. They were on their way to see where he had served during the war.

Vietnam #9 Biking and Rowing in Ninh Binh Province

This morning a bus and our guide Minh, picked us up and we had a 2 1/2 hr ride to Hoa Lu, the ancient citadel of Viet Nam in the 10th Century. It’s located in Ninh Binh Province, the ancient capital of Vietnam.

Love those hats

Love those hats

Lily pond at the temple

Lily pond at the temple

Lily Pond at the temple

Lily Pond at the temple

Ancient temple wall

Ancient temple wall

Honored ox in front of the temple

Honored ox in front of the temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw the temple dedicated to the emperor and learned that a temple and pagoda look exactly alike from the exterior. The difference is that a pagoda is dedicated to the buddha, and a temple is dedicated to a local person of note.

 Minh explained why the homes and buildings are so long and narrow, at least in the old quarter of Hanoi. The emperor imposed taxes based on property frontage, so if your space was narrow and deep, you would pay less than the same square footage that was shallow and wide!

We learned s bit about the language. Every word is only one syllable, so, for example, “America” is 4 separate words. On top of that, there are 5 ways to pronounce “la”, depending on tone. Each has an entirely different meaning.

It helped pass the time and before long, we were at the halfway point, at another one of those tourist stops. This one also had a section of crafts being made by people maimed by Agent Orange, dropped by US troops during the war. It was terrible to see what we did here.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the river.  Lunch was nothing worth describing though we did get to taste the famous goat meat, a speciality in Ninh Binh. We then boarded little sampan boats and 2 per boat, were rowed up, then down the river, along with scores of others. For a few moments, I felt like I was on Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. (“We are now approaching Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous explorer, Dr. Falls”).  I love Jungle Crusie, so, no matter. The locals row with their feet – amazing flexibility, dexterity, and strength. It was quite beautiful and we appreciated the silence and fresh air.

The boats

The boats

The boats with 2 hats

The boats with 2 women in hats

Foot rowing

Foot rowing

Just a nice pic

Just a nice pic

Out from a cave

Out from a cave

Out from a cave, again

And Again

and once more

and once more

The rock outcropping are the same as on Ha Long Bay, but arise out of the earth rather than the sea. We passed through three caves, Hang Ca, Hang Hai and Hang Ba.

This would have been Gary's pic

This would have been Gary’s pic

This one too

This one too

Jungle

Jungle Tree

Cemetary

Cemetary

Other boats

Other boats

The bird rock

The bird rock

Cave Entrance

Cave Entrance

Still rowing

Still rowing

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Love those hats

Love those hats

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The rock outcroppings

The rock outcroppings

We then hopped on bicycles and took a short ride between Hoa Lu and Tam Coc, through the villages and adjoining rice fields.

Rachelle in purple

Rachelle in purple

Rice paddy up close

Rice paddy up close

Rice fields

Rice fields

We returned to Hanoi in a light rain, and got off the bus in the old quarter. Walking back to our hotel, we found the place for pho. Minh suggested we look for a sidewalk setup with a huge pot of simmering stock. The larger the pot, the more customers served and the better the pho. Our soup was perfect. Turns out all those sidewalk setups are illegal. When the police come by, the customers stand up, the tables and chairs disappear along with the soup. As soon as the police pass by, everything reappears and you can finish your meal.

Tomorrow we leave Hanoi for Hoi An.

Vietnam #8 The Hungry ATM in Hanoi

Evening on the boat

Evening on the boat

Today is our last day in Ha Long Bay. We had breakfast with a couple from Norway. Both tall, blond and gorgeous. She hates the water and won’t get near a kayak. We left them and kayaked in a sweet, very clean bay, and though the wind picked up this morning, it was calm and beautiful in the bay.

Back in the boat, we packed up our stuff, then met to make spring rolls.  Over assembling our rolls, we got conflicting advice for our free evening in Hanoi. This afternoon, we have the long bus ride back. On the way back we already knew the drill. 1/2 way back, the 30 minute stop for the driver to have a meal. No mention of the fact that we are again herded through the monster shopping barn. It must be standard  tourist industry guide instruction. Our guide is too smart to think we don’t get it. This time we were smarter and headed right for the cafe in the back, where we had a perfectly wonderful bowl of pho.

By the time we returned to our hotel in Hanoi, it was pouring. It was so good to see a familiar face at the front desk. Our new friend, Dang, gave us a great room. We ventured out in pouring rain to the ATM which promptly ate my bank card… Then we went to dinner at a place that took credit cards. So we could have eaten on the street for $2.00, but instead went to a fancy restaurant and spent $20.00. Somehow it made me feel better, and dinner was excellent. Years ago, there was a restaurant on South Fairfax called Saigon Flavor. I went there often with my friend, Henri, and we always had minced pork on sugarcane. I saw it on the menu here and it was as good as I remembered. It sucks that I can’t reminisce with him. Dessert was also memorable; it was warm banana in a warm coconut sauce.

Vietnam #7 Ha Long Bay day 2

Still on the V’Spirit, we had breakfast with our Czech friends, Martin and Jana, and exchanged Facebook info. Will have to go to Prague and visit Their B and B one day. Another boat came by and picked us up for a morning of kayaking. Very mixed emotions here. The islands, about 2000, are stunningly beautiful, rising out of the sea on every side. But the bay is filled with trash – plastic, styrofoam, bags, cups, packaging of every kind. One beach was so dirty, the captain decided not to stop. Kayaking, we saw a huge jellyfish float by, an eagle standing above a cave, and a couple of young monkeys eating in the trees just on the edge of the shore. There were beautiful areas, with lots of photo ops…

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Which pic, this or the next?

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This or the previous?

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Beauty and calm

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Living on the bay

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No matter that there was no sun

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Fishing boat

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Fishing boat leaving…

Our guide for the day was rather ambivalent about his job, so we hung out with the guide for one of the French tourists and he answered all our questions. Regarding the trash, he said it mostly came from the villagers. The government has moved most of them inland to make room for the scores of tourist boats, who also pollute the bay. If this is to be any kind of wonder of the world, they really need to clean it up.

Back on the boat, we had a great lunch and thought about taking out the kayaks again, but we all took naps instead. I got the French woman with the bad back to stretch with me, then Rachelle and I practiced on the deck.

Pearl Farm

Pearl Farm

The pearl

The pearl

By mid-afternoon, we were at a pearl farm, which turned out to be really interesting. We watched them implant the oysters with a bit of membrane and a seed of shell. They grow in the water for 5-6 years. 30% of them produce pearls and 10% of those are jewelry quality. They farm 3 kinds of pearls here…. And sell them of course. I was asked to point to an oyster and our guide opened it for me – there was a perfect pearl. So then I had to buy one!  We were two Americans with 3 French couples, one couple around 70, the others around 80. They were having a great time shopping, so we joined in. Turns out shopping is an international language.

We helped choose, then approve each other’s purchases, then returned to the boat where a whole new set of tourists had boarded. We met a great English couple who lived in Croatia and had dinner with two American sisters from Boston and North Carolina. We listened to amazing stories about trekking in the Southern Himalayas in the 80s, and a family in Boston who fostered children of American vet fathers and Vietnamese mothers.