19.05. – 21.05.2016
Later than expected I was back in Hanoi – the adventure to the north-east still fresh in my mind. Getting off the bus I got hit by strongly by the heat. Oh, I missed the cooler north already. Trying to find my bearing at My Dinh I instantly had to fight off the swarm of taxi and Xe Om drivers who jumped towards me like a pack of wolves would do if they spot Bambi.
I quickly realised that it would be a tad difficult to get the right taxi. So, having no other choice I went to the taxi queue, where one of the drivers who spoke English got me to the first available taxi. A good sign? Who knows – but I took the chance and got in hoping I was with an honest taxi driver. As usual I looked at the metre for the first few minutes, but it seemed to be ok. Traffic just before 8pm was quite heavy, so a took a bit to reach the Old Quarter. While the driver was honest he had no clue how to get to Ma May. So he asked a few times for direction, once headed the wrong way in a one-way-street. Recognising one of the streets I decided to get out here and walk to Ma May. With 170.000 Dong the taxi was cheaper than the taxi to My Din 2 weeks ago, but still 10.000 Dong more than the bus from Cao Bang to Hanoi!!!!
So for a third time I arrived in Hanoi, but for the first time I had no room. The Hanoi Guesthouse was full, and their sister hotel was a bit too pricey for me. But that really is no problem – not even 2 minutes on Ma May I was approached by someone offering me a room at the Green Street Hotel on Ma May near the corner to Hang Buom, so it was worth checking the room. The room was nice enough and after agreeing a price for the night and also for late check out the next day (flight to HCMC was leaving at 21:30) I had my room sorted. The review for the Green Street Hotel is here.
After freshen up it was time to get some dinner. The food place next to the hotel had a barbecue on offer, but I walked down Ma May and saw a busy place with tourists and locals alike – Quán Bò Xuân Xuân BBQ at 47 Ma May. Getting a table inside it was hot – especially as the two massive A/C machines were a bit further away. Add the gas barbecue put on your table and you might get the feel of the temperature. I ordered the mixed bbq plate, and soon the meat and vegetables were on the bbq, the smell of the lovely flavoured meat grilled in front of increasing my appetite – and thankfully the food was great. It is a nice place to visit for dinner (despite the temperature).
After dinner I was back at one of my favourite spots in Hanoi – bia hoi corner. Getting a seat at one of the larger places (the owner getting a table and chair out of nowhere) and it was nice to sit down again here, drinking cheap, cold beer, watching the mayhem in front of you. And once again I realised how small the world is. Having a conversation with my table neighbours it turned out the couple was from outside of Glasgow – and they were equally to meet here a German who has lived in Glasgow for a few years. Obviously, this had to be celebrated, so we left bai hoi corner, walked through beer alley (aka Ta Hien) and at the corner with Hang Buom stopped at a little street bar, where you get dead cheap cocktails and long drinks while sitting on a tiny chair. Here we spend the next hour so until it was midnight once again – and all street bars closed down. I said bye to the Scottish couple, but instead of going back to the room I headed down bia alley and as expected the one bar was still open, the shutter be ready to put down as soon the police appears. I just love it!!!
Sitting down I met a guy living here with his girl friend who works here. It was nice to have a chat, drinking a few beer, and it was time to find out why people bought balloons inside the various bars. Well, they are filled with laughing gas, and you just inhale the content. For 50.000 Dong it was worth a try. I must admit, it was a weird experience – time seemed to move a bit slower, and for some reason I was instantly reminded of a very old computer game. Yep – an interesting experience. After a few more beer I decided to leave the bar at 2am, heading out into the rain – which was actually a bit refreshing. On my way to the hotel I saw a little green cart selling Banh Mi. I didn’t have food for over 4 hours so I got one there. And my, it was good. Through my travel I found some very good Banh Mi places – but this one is one of THE best. It only opens later in the evening on Hang Buom, on the right hand side before getting to Dao Duy Tu.
The next day I wanted to take advantage of my last day in Hanoi. I started to head back to Hanoi Guesthouse to finally try the Bun Cha place opposite the guesthouse. It was sold out the last time I tried, but getting there for 11am it was still open. The tables and chairs are inside a little alley while the meat is grilled on the street. Hard to find, but worth the search. The Bun Cha here was great – much better than the food place so well-known about in the Old Quarter, and on par with the one near the Temple of Literature I went to back in 2014.
Filled with a great meal I went to the heritage house on Ma May, which wa recommended by my HanoiKids guide two weeks earlier. Entrance was 10.000 Dong, and I was standing in an old wooden house that reminded me of the various houses in Hoi An. It is not large. In the entrance area is a little shop, and heading to the back of the house there is a little courtyard, a little storage room and a another room at the back. Via a wooden staircase you get to the first floor with a bed room, a study room, and from a little balcony style area you can look down a the yard. Even though you might only spend 15 or 20 minutes it is a worthwhile stop when walking along Ma May. If you haven’t been to Hoi An before, it is even more interesting.
Next I got a Xe Om from the Hanoi Guesthouse (after getting a lovely welcome from the staff who remembered me) to visit a museum I missed last time – the Fine Arts Museum. So back on a bike I was quickly driven to the Temple of Literature. I was actually surprised last time I took a Xe Om in Hanoi that the driver stopped away from the traffic lights – until I realised they do this to keep the passengers and himself in the shade. A nice touch!!!
Dropped of at the entrance of the Temple of Literature instead of the museum I followed my steps of my first visit to Hanoi – and I felt I had to stop at the corner cafe I visited last time as well. Bringing back memories is always fun – unfortunately this time I had not enough space in my belly to visit the Bun Cha place next door again. Well – maybe there would have been some space, but it would have been greedy!!!
In the end I made it to the museum, paying 20.000 Dong to escape the heat by entering the cold colonial building housing the museum. Yes, the A/C felt wonderful. The museum has three floors, and one each floor are a several rooms with exhibitions – from old buddha statues to lacquer art or older and modern painting.
It is like a journey through the times of Vietnam and seeing how art has developed. Though even here you cannot escape the war as there were paintings from that time – either showing the grief of the people, or paintings that reminds you of propaganda, with smiling soldiers and happy citizens. The highlights for me though were two modern pointings. The first one was named “Dead River” – a girl standing with a mask in a river, surrounded by dead fish. It is from 2010, but with the events from of 2016 in Central Vietnam this painting sadly reflected the current situation. It was a very powerful painting, and my favourite one.
The other one was the opposite, just a family sleeping on the ground. You could look at it the whole time and feel relaxed and peaceful.
For those who like shopping there is a shop on the first floor selling some artwork and books. I saw an interesting book called “Life behind the Front Line”, full of photos taken by Vietnamese civilians and photographers during the war. It is a nice book with some photos you might not have seen. For me it was definitely 500.000 Dong well spent.
Unfortunately during my visit in the museum it turned out that my plan for the weekend was suddenly changed. I was supposed to fly to HCMC and then head with my friends there to visit their family in Phan Thiet. Due to the election and the visit of Mr. President (yes, that ONE, the one who lives in a large white building…) to Vietnam we were not able to head out the next day. So the departure day was moved to Monday. And that led to an important question – do I want to stay in Hanoi for an additional night, and try to change my flight. Obviously I didn’t make a decision straight away as it would be too easy.
From the museum I tried to walk back to the Old Quarter – the emphasis is on “tried”. Unfortunately I came across a distraction I could not resist – rail track heading into a neighbourhood, houses with food places, shops and even hair dressers covering both sides of the tracks. And obviously these tracks were used for cooking, washing and other daily activities while there was no train coming. It is such a surreal view.
The downside of the distraction of the rail track was – I had no clue where I was. Well, I know I was still in Hanoi, but nae idea how to get to the Old Quarter. Well – I tried anyway, what is the worst that could happen!!! The good thing was I came to areas I have never been before, passing some nice little streets, nice looking houses, and even a cafe I decided was nice enough for a fresh fruit smoothie. During the break I came closer to my decision as it turned out that Pierre from HCMC was not there either till next day. So I was actually sure that I would like spending another day in Hanoi. I was just wondering if I could change my flight on such short notice.
Finding somehow my way back to the old quarter I headed once again to Adventure Indochina Travel where I got some good services from before. I met the American owner / manager inside, and he made it clear immediately that this shouldn’t be a problem, even though my flight was leaving in less than 7 hours. He referred me to Kathy, one of the young Vietnamese working there. Well – you will struggle to find a more helpful person. A quick call to the head office of Vietjet and it was sorted. I just had to get to the their office outside the Old Quarter with my flight details, my passport and 400.000 Dong and I was good to go. I didn’t really thought it was possible, but Kathy managed it. When I asked how much I owe, the response from the manager was – nothing. Considering the reputation of travel agents in Vietnam, and how many try to rip off tourists, this was a big surprise, and as a result I can only highly recommend using them when in Hanoi.
Jumping into a taxi they ordered for me I was soon at the VietJet office, and 5 minutes later I was out again with tickets for a new flight at noon the following day. So I had now one more evening in Hanoi. On a Friday. When the night market is on. So one more chance to visit my favourite food stall. Oh, how naive I am!!!!
The walk back to the Old Quarter was pleasant, and for a late afternoon coffee I went one more time to one of the cafes overlooking the main roundabout north of Hoan Kiem lake. I like this cafe as it is fun to watch the mayhem below you. I also took the chance to let two people know that I am one more night in Hanoi and if they want to catch up. They were a bit surprised but happily agreed to meet after they arrived in Hanoi in the evening.
From here I headed back towards Beer alley and when I passed Tom’s Bar the owner, who knew me by now following my previous visits, insisted to have a seat and a beer. It was just 16:30, so I am sure it was beer time. Sitting outside, watching the people was fun as usual. As was the conversation with the impressive lady whoo owns the two bars. I also did something very touristy. My shoes were dirty and when a young man approached me to clean it I thought it is worth the 20.000 Dong. In the end I paid 60.000 as he repaired the shoe as well (and prevented me to throw them away at home). So yes, maybe I fell for the shoe approach, but at least I had clean and repaired shoes – and that is the important bit, right???
After 2 beer I still had some time to relax and took advantage of the numerous places offering massages. As usual it felt so relaxing I fell asleep as usual. If I feel so relaxed it is a sign of a good massages.
At 7pm it was time to meet Scott and Lisa at beer corner. I know both via Trip Advisor and we spoke quite a bit so we agreed to take the chance to meet up in HCMC the following week – but due to my plan change I am sure I made their day by meeting them in Hanoi. I am just a nice guy.
For some reason people seem to know who I am so they found me very quickly (some people might not be surprised that I was late 10 minutes….). I suggested grabbing some food first at my favourite food stall at the night market. There was only one problem – it was not there. Actually, the whole night market was not there! On a Friday!!!!! It seems the market did not take place as a person with the initial O.B aka Mr. President decided to follow my lead and visit Hanoi the following Monday. Great. Thank you Mr President for ruining my last evening in Hanoi and prevent me having the little dishes from heaven for a last time!!!! So I can say something I never thought I would do – Mr President impacted my trip!. For the future I would like the White House to contact me so I can re-arrange future trips so my belly does not have to suffer.
Slightly deflated I took Scott and Lisa to New World, the restaurant I went twice before. And for the third time the selection of pork ribs, chicken curry and some vegetable went down well, and it was nice catch up with Scott and Lisa to share our travel stories.
Surprisingly both Scott and I agreed the best next place would be bia hoi corner to enjoy a few cold beers, a little police raid where we had to stand up, more bia and more talk. Unfortunately Lisa didn’t feel too well and left earlier, and Scott’s age was showing as well as he left when the bia place was closing. We would catch up in HCMC the following week anyway.
To finish my night I went back to Tom’s bar for a last late night beer, one more laughing gas balloon, and one last delicious Banh Mi.
The next morning I was once disappointed as the nice Bun Cha place on Ma May was not open, but I found another place serving a good one on Dao Duy Tu. It was a nice last meal before taking the private car from the hotel, and heading to Hanoi airport. And once again my Vietjet plane left on time – saying goodbye to Hanoi again.
Hanoi once again did not disappoint – even though it was only for two nights. But the food, the beer, the people and the architecture makes it such a lovely and interesting place to visit. And most people realise quickly that this is a place you want to return time after time…
- Food wise try the New World restaurant, Quán Bò Xuân Xuân BBQ and the little bun cha place opposite the heritage house – all located on Ma May
- For a late night snack nothing can beat the Banh Mi stall on Hang Buom shortly before the corner with Dao Duy Tu
- The Vietnam Fine Arts museum is an interesting place, and a good site to visit to escape rain and heat
- If you see rail tracks disappear between blocks of houses – follow it. It is a surreal and interesting experience