Street food versus Restaurants….. I know what your thinking… street food is local, limited choice, not governed by hygiene monitoring perhaps no cleanliness star rating. Whereas restaurants are surely governed by different standards and monitoring, have menus – you know those fancy descriptions on actual paper, have proper chairs and tables even maybe a serviette… Well I am living proof that this is all bollocks… After nearly two weeks of ONLY street food I deemed it time to visit a local restaurant…36 hours later I am now coming round………Still lesson learned and in the words of the immortal Monty Python….”always look on the bright side of life”…having maderoom after becoming a bit of a bloater, I can now really go at the street food scene again… nice!
So, enforced break from exploring leads to further observations. Backpackers (amongst which I now consider myself an honorary member), do they ever wash or clean clothes etc and if so how? Well foresight is a wonderful thing and purchasing small tube of travel washing substance has proved invaluable, after all how big would your backpack have to be for 4 weeks? Drying has proved more difficult..remember 6 days without sun… but today no problem….just in time too!
Dogs – contrary to popular belief not every country south west of England eat our canine friends, although it may happen in some parts of this continent, 1 we are not going to talk about it and 2 it does not happen in Vietnam…
Got to get into this business…another satisfied polystyrene box customer…..
There goes that law again…. set out on a 20km or so bike exploration only to get 10k out and the sun decides to appear for the first time in 7 days. No hat, 30deg and due to dubious powers of navigation an extra 10k on top of the 20k planned. For a while I thought my web site name was a prophecy and I may indeed begoneforsometime….. However it was all worthwhile due to the great scenery and interesting views along the way, some of which I will once more bore you with…
Never quite understood the need to show off live food at a restaurant. Having seen and made friends with the creature do you then really want to eat it? Sure it attempts to demonstrate freshness but whose to say they don’t substitute a thawed out version kept out of sight…or am I just being cynical… Either way I hope these are just for show and are actually pets called nemo or similar with a long life ahead of them…
Zig zagging across many rice fields are a series of paths frequented by local farmers, bikes and the inevitable scooters plus the occasional buffalo! Throughout there are miles of irrigation channels reminiscent of ‘el Campo’ in rural Murcia although significantly more abundant water here.
Lots of white Egret’s around the rice fields and lots of plastic / tin can attempts to scare them off. Although did see this chap doing a good job too.
Middle of nowhere and up pops what appears to be the local version of scooters r us but on closer inspection turns out to be party-time, exclusive for scooter owners; unfortunately my bike did not qualify…ho hum…
However all was not lost as 5k down the road and of course…you come across the ubiquitous Irish bar! I don’t know how they do it, I have seen these in virtually every location I have travelled from Kenya to Bahrain; from Wroclaw in Poland to Delhi and beyond. Remarkable export for such a small country!
Suitably refreshed had some serious catch up to do so on my bike once more; this time away from the beach area across Hoi An down busy arterial roads with the constant accompaniment of scooter horns – seems when they want to change direction they toot the horn and just go… As the sound is the same whichever direction they take not sure how we are supposed to know and therefore be ready to take the correct remedial action. However, as in Bangkok, I am yet to witness any carnage, close encounters aplenty but it appears to actually be a non-contact sport…so far at least! Soon reached a much more tranquil labyrinth of pathways crossing rice fields, down dead ends which finished in someone’s house and occasionally coming across surprising sights…
Of course in this part of the World there are one or two Temples around…. Sooooo many! Huge and small, inhabited or just a roadside shrine St. Christopher like overseeing fair play in the relentless non-contact traffic sport. Some dating back centuries and some just a few years or even currently under construction. The first one in the photos below shows the year 2532 which is based on the lunisolar calendar closely linked to the Chinese calendar and is actually 31 years ago as we are now in 2563…do try and keep up…
Back to Hoi An old town. First pic is the Bamboo circus on the adjoining island in the Thu Bõn river.
Stumbled across a busy market. Mix of fruit & veg plus fish, spices and stuff I had no idea of. However also saw the laundry sign…wish I’d seen that earlier…wonder if it’s a dry or wet kg for a dollar?
I’ll finish with a Public Health warning…. The fruit below is called a Durian….under NO circumstances should you get nearer to one than this photo. When cut it could clear an arena in seconds as it’s aroma is a cross between an ancient overworked latrine, an angry skunk and a marathon runners old socks. Why on earth it is bought and eaten with apparent relish and why on earth it is called a fruit I will never know. Many hotels actually have signs forbidding the presence of the fruit in their premises…thank god! You have been warned!!
Situated midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, Hoi An is one of the best preserved Old town sites in the region. It’s a real mix, a veritable historic melting pot demonstrating its rich and varied history. Wooden Chinese houses and temples, French colonial buildings, ornate narrow Vietnamese houses and shops and a Japanese influence best exemplified by the 18th century Japanese covered bridge with its pagoda. Easy to walk / cycle around although it covers a fair size; that is if you can negotiate the manic scooters who ignore all traffic controls and lane discipline but simultaneously defy all laws in never seeming to come to a dire end…..so far…
Take your pick…. walk, boat, taxi, rickshaw, cycle, scooter….
Lovely people, more smiley than in the capital but I guess that is pretty normal wherever you are. Very happy to say hello, or at least that’s what I think they are saying and as usual in some foreign lands very keen to show off their English language skills…. although have not heard ‘the Queen’, ‘fish & chips’, ‘Bobby Charlton’ or fortunately Brexit as yet.
4 hour bus ride from Hanoi via small towns and rice fields. Ha Long Bay city is a bit of a building site and mix of apartments, hotels and casinos – mainly aimed at the numerous Chinese tourists who come in there thousands…normally… Am on an organised tour which I would usually do anything to avoid but in this case it’s the simplest and quickest way to make the return trip from Hanoi spend a night onboard a boat and see the sights. Due to the virus effect there are only 11 of us and 20% of the normal number of boats so worked out a good option. Fellow trekkers (not the Mr Spock type) from France, Slovenia, Oz, US and UK. Two guys doing same as me, one following his fathers footsteps as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war… do I mean footsteps?
UNESCO World heritage site and you can see why…. a must on any bucket list. Literally thousands of limestone islands, chunks of rock topped with rainforest. Visited huge caves and climbed 425 steps up to a pagoda vantage point giving 360deg views around the bay. Amazing sight… only disappointment was the weather – cold at around 14 deg, damp and very cloudy; gave the island vista a really mystic, surreal, monochromatic feel. Would have been nice to see the sun out and how it changed the view, I imagine the islands would look remarkably different and for sure the water would be shown in all its glistening emerald splendour. However this did not spoil the trip, it really is an amazing place.
Famous ‘cock-fighting’ rocks…
Apologies for the number of photos but believe me I have loads more I could have put in!
Back to Hanoi for an overnight stay prior to travelling to Danang and Hoi An. Still time though for some more street food and local beverages…
This time a do-it-yourself version of chicken ‘hot pot’, of course with Vietnamese beer.
My new best mates…especially as they provided the beer!
Left Thailand for Hanoi, Vietnam but some bits and pieces from last few days….
No 1 SPICY…… have eaten only local food, mainly street food in Bangkok and in Kanchanaburi. Different kinds of noodles – rice, vermicelli, egg, thick and very thin. Usual meats, fish, shellfish and veg but lots of different ones as well…river snails, frog, snake, every bit of a chicken / pork / beef imaginable…nothing wasted. All of course with a variety of spicy sauces from the tongue tickling to the ‘blow your bloody head off’ variety. No potatoes no bread! Love the food but must admit some nice bread would be good… if only to dip in the excellent stocks. Forget western fast food as a freshly cooked red Penang curry with seafood and chicken takes about 3 minutes at a street food ‘barrow’! Zero issues either apart from getting fatter…
Mostly shanks’s pony but so far taken planes, trains, taxis, buses, boats, kayaks’s Tuk tuk’s, bicycle and scooter taxi’s (basically scooter with sidecar platform-could seat about 5!). Few opportunities for gym so far but must have walked over 50km already.
Electrics…. erm…different, plugs/adapters never seem to sit home properly and frequently fall out of the sockets but they do work… outside cabling all seems to run just above head height and has similarities with Indian sub continent in the sheer mass of cabling involved; difference is that there seems to be a large degree of organisation involved with a significantly neater arrangement and with frequent loops of extra should it be required but still looks like an oversized spaghetti portion… Water – all good so far, hot cold although always seems to be opposite of the way the taps would have you believe. Security etc – always felt very safe apart from one excursion walking around some Bangkok areas where there were many worse for wear ‘westerners’ enjoying the local scene…
Thai people are amazing, extremely friendly, very polite, very keen to practice any English. Hard working for sure, often with very little – could be just some fruit trying to sell on the street or a simple barbecue and some beef/chicken satay, but always smiling. Reminiscent of Sri Lanka who for sure are the World’s most smiling people.
For sure the virus is having an effect on tourism with very few Chinese visitors around and they would normally make up a large percentage in South East Asia as a whole, especially Vietnam (60%). Many wear masks but very few cases apparent locally. In Bangkok the airport has scanners everywhere and medical staff looking for signs of fevers etc; even in the entrances / exits to large venues like shopping malls they have the same facilities. They seem better prepared than most western places.
Wow…what a difference…arrived into Hanoi late afternoon. Should have been light but a grey cold damp gloom hung over the city making it appear somewhat unfriendly and not at all welcoming. Around 16deg but because of the gloom AND coming from a week of high 30’s it sure felt very cold. Hotel in the old quarter and yes it was old…narrow streets crammed with buildings, shacks and above all else scooters… There are 8million people in Hanoi and apparently 6million scooters…saw a fair number in the first few hours… Vietnam is a strange shaped country – the locals call it dragon shaped – large rounded head bit, long thin section (in the middle it is only 50km wide) and curly tail end bit. Total population at the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 was around 40 million and today it is just short of 100 million – serious growth rate!
Spent the next day walking round…still dank and gloomy but discovered there is a certain old colonial (mix of French & Chinese) type charm about the place. There are also very different areas to the cramped old quarter too. First stop Ho Chi Minh park with its palace, wooden stilt house and mausoleum, a very large facility surrounded by wide avenues and is the main Embassy area as well as location of many large government buildings, all of which seem to be housed in palatial French colonial style housing. Lots of ceremonial guards around with their white naval looking uniforms as well as local police / army with their familiar green and red uniforms. Whilst Vietnam encourages and welcomes visitors there is still a huge communist presence and feel. The people are generally not so smiley as in Thailand and for sure the economy is not as strong but they are welcoming nevertheless and extremely keen to practice English AND earn some USD.
Next to the Chinese Buddhist pagoda on the lake and lunch at a street side cafe. Then on to the Literary Temple, Chinese style Buddhist seat of learning set in ornamental gardens complete with large lily ponds. Ended at a local restaurant and the Twilight sky bar overlooking the city for a nightcap in the rain…