Small Progress

No sightseeing today! Hard work instead. After a late”Pho” noodle-soup breakfast at 10 am some internet research in my room and then a leisurely stroll through the narrow roads of the old quarter to find the three tour operators I wanted to get in touch with.

In Hanoi there are probably the most tailors in Asia offering hand-made suits to order within 24 hours. Here is a typical sewing “factory”…

Discussing my ideas with the three different tour agents destroyed my illusions that Vietnam is a cheap place! I am planning a trip to Northwest Vietnam next week. My first idea of a ten day organised tour turned out at more than 2000$! Plan B was to rent a car with a driver and a guide. This “cheap” option would cost me “only 1300$ – hotels, food etc not included. So  I am going for plan C 🙂 My Bulgarian/Vietnamese friend An Fam had put me in touch with a cousin in Hanoi who in turn hooked me up with a travel guide. This gentleman, Mr. Huy, only asks me for 400,000 Dong for himself and 1,700,000 Dong for the driver with the car a day. Plus food and lodging for them. That’s about 155 Leva/DM  base plus expenses. In either case a no-win situation.

So, I decided to shorten the trip to 6 days. Instead, I will spend 4 days on a country farm in the Northern mountains with a friend of Huy’s at 7.50 Leva/DM a day. Which will be a lot of fun, I guess. I must not forget to buy a few bottles of Vietnamese rakia before going there.

Another hairy point is the visit to the world famous Halong Bay in the North. This is obviously one of the absolute musts. And huge tourist business. You cruise in the bay for 1-1/2 days on one of the 100eds of tourist boats and the cheapest option is 225$! This forced me to get an additional blood pressure pill out of my box 🙁 I can’t see how to avoid it, however. Probably I will have to eat noodle soup for the rest of my stay.

In general terms: Hanoi is the most expensive place in this part of Asia. Luxury for a poor Bansko farmer like me. Even the staple Vietnamese small dish, the Pho soup is on average 3 Leva in the cheapest street joint. I can get Shkembe Chorba in Sofia for much less than that. In a restaurant with real chairs and tables…but, of course, I am comparing apples with pears. I am not complaining at all – just my Bulgarian moaning 🙂

After my sobering visits to the travel people I decided I needed a to get in the mood again and to contemplate my options. So I bought a map of Hanoi and set out to find the street where they sell “Bia Hoi” (“Bia” is Vietnamese for beer, “Hoi” means gas – and bia hoi is a freshly brewed lager with only about 3% alcohol).

The map vendor, of course, had not only grossly overcharged me (I paid 10,000 Dong for the map) but also slipped me the Vietnamese version, not the one in English…no problem, however, after having been here for more than three days now my Vietnamese reading skills have become phenomenal and I found the area eventually 😉

Sitting on a plastic chair the size of a small footrest (which, to my surprise, did not even crumble under my not-so-Vietnamese weight) I stretched my feet far onto the street from the minuscule pavement, ordered a Bia Hoi and started to contemplate. And more contemplation and Bia Hoi…and so on. It was difficult to focus as I also had to watch the passing street life! All the Vietnamese and all the foreign tourists. And the attacks of the local vendors on the tourists. A study in global psychology! And, no complaints now, I paid 5,000 Dong per beer (about 0.40 Leva/DM) while the “tourists” next to me had to fork out 7,000 🙂 Seems, I have already started to blend in 🙂 Overcharging foreigners, by the way, is more the rule in Hanoi than the exception…reminded me of certain places in Bansko 🙂

Then I headed back to my hotel for a shower and a change of clothes. And, thanks to my new map, I took only one wrong turn. After answering some emails and selling a home insurance to a prospering Bansko apartment owner (always the successful businessman) I set out again for an early dinner and to walk along the central lake.

One of the most interesting times of the day here (like in most other places in this part of Asia) is the time between 5 and 6 pm. After 5 pm it becomes a little like twilight for about on hour while the rush hour is in full swing and thousands and thousands of motorbikes swoosh by. Then at 6 pm someone pulls the plug and it gets dark within seconds. An atmosphere difficult to describe and that you cannot find anywhere else on the planet (at least not in places I have been to). On my way I passed by an elementary school where hoards of parents were waiting with their scooters to pick up their off-springs.

…just a small glimpse of parents waiting for their children…in the other direction even much more waited…not only the streets but also all the pavements were blocked…

Dinner was, not surprisingly, another Pho noodle soup. I am REALLY blending in ;))) As it took me only about six or seven years to start looking like a Bulgarian, maybe 10 years in Hanoi will make me look like a Vietnamese ?!

After that I found the most impressive, romantic no-name café that I have ever been to. What led me into this backyard and up three winding stairs I cannot tell you (the intuition of the predator?) but I ended up on the most intriguing roof terrace facing the lake. Sadly, the battery of my camera was empty by then – so I have to go back there soon to shoot some pictures just for my own memories. I sat there for two hours watching, sipping on my Vietnamese coffee and chatting up unsuspecting locals…getting an invitation for a private “Nem” cooking course from the chef of the Hungarian embassy for Sunday noon 🙂 Of course, I will make it obvious that I don’t even know what these nems look like.

Tomorrow I will meet the relatives of my friend An Fam from Sofia. And my driver/guide also has plans for me for the afternoon. So it should be a relaxed all-Vietnamese weekend! Life seems to be a song even here…












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