MEKONG BLOG 01
Tuesday March 5, 2019
You’ve probably worked this out already, but our long awaited adventure in Indochina is underway at last! Late on Sunday, we flew backwards through the night (well, not actually backwards, but back through the time-zones) to Singapore, where we swapped planes and got airborne again, landing late Monday morning in the cosmopolitan city of Hanoi – in what used to be known as North Vietnam.
We were met by our friendly Vietnamese guide-for-the-next-four-days – Thang (or ‘Tongue’ as were we told to call him) – and taken to our posh inner-city hotel for a freshen-up and a quick snooze. It had to be quick, because awaiting us in Hanoi’s colourful Old Quarter was a fleet of ‘cyclos’ – Vietnam’s traditional pedal-powered mode of transportation – along with their drivers, all limbered-up and ready to do the work.
For the next hour or two, these skilled, mostly-skinny blokes pedalled us Kiwis through Hanoi’s utterly chaotic traffic, dodging swarms of flying/weaving/tooting buses, trucks and overloaded motor-scooters (so close we could almost touch them) – then steering us into a maze of small back-alleys, lined with shops and stalls and on-the-footpath foodie-joints, crammed wall-to-wall with people, more people, and still more people. (Some eight-to-10 million live in Hanoi alone, plus at least four million motorbikes.)
Talk about a heart-in-mouth, hold-your-breath introduction to Hanoi! That cyclo-tour was unforgettable, laugh-out-loud fun. And all we had to do was hold on tight and click our cameras!
We capped the day off with a delicious Vietnamese banquet at a local restaurant – then collapsed, comatose, on our hotel beds!
This morning (Tuesday) began as all mornings should: with an eye-popping, over-the-top breakfast. Then off we zoomed to a Very Important Landmark where we joined one of the longest queues in the world – comprised of zillions of adoring Vietnamese, squillions of exciting schoolkids, and a generous sprinkling of tourists, all lining-up to view the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh – Uncle Ho, as he’s known here – widely honoured as the founder of Vietnam, and now lying in state in his imposing mausoleum.
Here beginneth our first-of-many-history-lessons-to-come about Indochina …
We broke for lunch at popular Koto (‘Know One Teach One’) – a restaurant where former street-kids and orphans are given the opportunity to learn skills which will help them find jobs in Vietnam’s burgeoning hospitality industry. Then we drove to a nearby centre for lacquer-work artists, where many of us spent more than we should have (and are now wondering how on earth we’re gonna get it home in one piece!). Finally, we caught the last 45 minutes of a traditional water-puppet show in a local theatre.
But our highlight of the day was yet to come …
We footed it down a mad-busy side road (don’t ask me to find it again) and followed our guide, single-file, into a dingy, narrow, badly-lit alleyway that led up several flights of dingy, narrow, badly-lit stairs, past discarded junk, wildly dangling power-lines, and limp hanging washing that had seen better days. Franky, the place seemed decidedly dodgy – and we all agreed later we would never have ventured into such a shambles on our own.
But suddenly, stepping single-file onto the second floor, we found ourselves in a tiny café – I kid you not! I think it was called ‘Time’ or something. It was nothing to write home about – a few old chairs and tables and couches, and a weather-beaten veranda that opened out onto that mad-busy road.
We could hardly believe our eyes! Talk about ‘local’ and ‘authentic’! I don’t think any of us had ever been in a café like it! The owners/couple-in-charge couldn’t speak a word of English. But the thick strong coffee they served up in miniature cups was as good as you get anywhere – and the ‘egg-coffee’ they gave us to sample (a Hanoi delicacy: coffee with a raw egg stirred into it) was surprisingly yummy
“What a fantastic day!” we kept saying, as we drove back to our big soft beds in our big posh hotel. And we weren’t exaggerating …
Yours bloggedly – JOHN
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