After the church bells woke me early on the first morning in Hanoi I set out to visit the quiet streets. I found many low end food stalls, fruit vendors, fried pie vendors, paperback book vendors, shoe repair vendors and mobile florists all awaiting my coin. It seems inescapable that every western tourist in Hanoi is vastly more wealthy than any VN street vendor or noodle shop keeper. As the countryside farm life dissolves and hordes of uneducated and poor people migrate to the nearest city in search of income, shelter and food, the poverty demographic skyrockets. I saw much rudimentary housing with squatters stacked on rooftops, sketchy open sanitation street drains, and traffic and transportation infrastructure near the limit of total urban overload. Certainly I was frequently seen as only a ‘money object’.
We, the 3 of us, set out from the Hanoi San Souci IV hotel, very near the Cathedral, to visit the West Lake area. We enjoyed the walk and street confusion and went by the Tomb of Uncle Ho, but we did not enter. The Tomb and nearby Palace Grounds are patrolled by handsome, well tailored in tropical white, military men. The free tourist maps helped some and after a slow 90 mins we found the lake. We watched the most curious fishermen who toss heavy leaden treble hooks 40 meters out into the lake without a bait. What fish would want to eat a metal hook? We saw many such fishermen. And we saw the result of the hooks which are dragged along through the water quite quickly. Anything can get hooked. Many fish were simply speared through the spine or eye. And many turtles are also caught this way.
We ate a great local bowl of Pho, beef noodle soup at a typical tiny shop and paid total not USD 5. We met the whole family who run the tiny ‘restaurant’ including granny and wee baby. How nice it is to put the coin into the right pocket. We then visited the Hanoi Club Hotel on the West Lake. We had a slight disagreement as whether the lake was clean enough to swim in and whether those apparent nets in the water indicated swimming areas. I thought NO swimming here but I have been fooled before on ‘swimmable’ bodies. This high end hotel offers golf ball hitting off mats into the lake for the guests and a very nice clean swimming pool. We used the very nice toilets.
We started to walk towards home at the beginning of the rush hour and survived some busy streets. Tired, weary and thirsty we wandered into an open air beer hall and restaurant. They were drawing beers into steins and 5 liter table top mini-kegs. We took a few steins till we figured out that 1 mini keg would have been value packed. We went for the stir fried vegetables and other good looking dishes, after peeking at our fellow diners. And we watched 367 motorbike accidents which never happened but should have. So this eatery was very well received and if not for the traffic noise and moto exhaust, would have garnered ***** from we three travelers. Where? Somewhere in Hanoi on a busy street.
Do you want a French bagette? Find them in Hanoi, as breakfast. First split the bread longwise, then open and stuff with chopped Spam and mayonnaise, fold and eat. Said to be delicious. I did try the Hanoi Coffee reputed to be tops in SE Asia. Early and alone one morning I ventured out and found the Metropole Hotel and watched breakfast diners at the buffet, through the windows. Next time I’m in Hanoi I will try this hotel, at least the buffet. I needed a coffee and found the highly adverted number one coffee franchise in VN, just up the lane. This was a cold, cloudy late December morning about 8 am. I was the 2nd customer and from a long list chose ‘traditional VN drip’. As an American I want my 8 am coffee, on a cold December morning, to be really hot. But after the drip, drip, drip through the metal filter into my cup I found barely 8 tablespoons of cold, dark December, but not hot coffee. Fifty thousand dong they charged me.
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