Friday, 18 January 2013

Good Morning Vietnam!

Craig writes: We flew Thai Airways to Bangkok with a couple of hours lay over then a couple of hours further to Hanoi where we were met by our toothy and charming guide, Zwanye. Hanoi is a bustling, heaving city. The place moves and pulsates like a kicked ant hill. 7 million people by night, 10 million people by day. 5 million bikes and 1 million cars. The visitor is constantly primed and braced for that imminent bang. But it never comes. There is this almost poetic ballet between bike and car and bus and pedestrian. Everyone weaves, ducks and toots. And no one ever, ever, ever loses their temper, shouts or gets abusive. Its like watching two polite prize fighters in a ring, moving, jabbing, dancing, threatening to explode on each other but it never happens. Our driver, Mr Victory, takes it all in his stride as he maneuvers our large bus along tiny narrow streets.

Traffic cop in Hanoi? no thanks!

Pretty aren't they?
Remember this name...Cha Ca La Vong. It is the street name and the restaurant name and the name of the only dish the restaurant sells and has been written up by the New York Times as one of the taste experiences of a lifetime. And yes, one of the best things i have ever eaten. Cat fish cooked at your table in catfish oil. Fresh greens are thrown in at the last moment so they are lightly cooked and still a bit crunchy. Accompaniments are rice noodles, coriander and dill, peanuts, chilli, chilli oil and spring onions. Mix it all up as you desire. The food here has been a sensation. Like the Vietnamese people, it is all about harmony and balance. Sweet, salty, sour and spicy. And fresh, everything is very very fresh.

Catfish heaven, I dare anyone not to love it
After a tour to the thousand year old temple of literature we had a one hour Cyclo ride through the city. Basically you sit in a big basket on the front of a big pedal powered three wheeler and off u go.

Have to let Callum know there are some countries where they may take offense to that.

Amazing what you see. Things people move on their bikes. Bedroom furniture, cattle, entire generations of the family, including pets, office furniture. One woman had that many chrome hat racks, light fittings and steel "bits" hanging off her bike from behind she looked like a two wheel Death Star. Eggs, stacked a metre wide and a metre and a half high. A crash on a hot day would have meant death by omelette for some poor bastard. Things people do on on the side off the road. Cook, eat, give haircuts, weld, delouse, light fires to keep warm, sleep, sell suckling dog. Yes , here you can get authentic hot dogs. Had our official welcome dinner last night. Another winner. Lots of small courses, everyone a winner and washed down with a Long Island Tea that could fuel a space shuttle. On the way back we decided to stop and get Charlie a new jacket as the weathers a little chilly. A little bored as we were taking our time, Callum decided to go stand in the front window and pretend to be a store front mannequin. Which I must say he did very well. I was watching him when a curious young local about ten stop to peer in. He was checking out Callum's outfit when Callum turned towards him and sprung to life. The poor kid screamed, jumped back about a metre and pelted off down the road. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. And yes I don't encourage my kids to have fun at someone else's expense.. very often. 

Christina writes: Our hotel, the Hanoi Paradise was located in the Old Quarter. Made up of 36 streets, this area of narrow roads and chaotic motorcycle traffic, captures what daily life is like in Hanoi. The roadside is filled with women selling vegetables and cooking Pho fresh to sell to passers-by. There is no advertising, no "American" brands (except the occasional Pepsi sign or Coke fridge inside restaurants and cafes) and no chain-stores, food or otherwise. Each of the 36 streets in the Old Quarter specialise in a different product. Our hotel was on 'Hang Chieu' meaning street of mats - and all anyone sold was mats and rugs. The same mats and rugs - in every shop.

Daily life in the Old Quarter
That's some pretty hairy wiring weaving through those trees
Overhead the power lines are a big tangled mess. They look like an extension of the trees they hang trough - big gnarled branches hanging low over the side walk. Having a private guide meant that the day was ours, to go as slow or as fast as we pleased, and plenty of time for the kids to have a run and Craig and I to enjoy coffee in the botanic gardens. The coffee here is strong, thick and chocolaty - no bitterness. It is served in little metal 'drippers', and if you ask for milk, it is condensed milk. It still looks black, but it is sweet and luscious and comes with a big caffeine and sugar kick.

The coffee drips slowly into a cup warmed by water
Coffee with milk (really!)

These are not real people
In the afternoon it was off to the famed 'water puppet show'. We have been spoilt by too much high tech entertainment elsewhere and all found it a little boring, although the music and use of unusual instruments was fascinating. 

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