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Published: June 11th 2017
It's about 3 pm and we are relaxing in our hotel room in between tours (I'll miss the local rooster's regular crowing!). This morning after breakfast (where we said good bye again to Susie and Nick, and Brydan - I've been spelling it wrong - and Kim), we were picked up at 8:00 am by Trang from Vietnam Awesome Travel for our "Tho Ha Village Tour".
It was a private tour - just Susan and I - and we had a comfortable car for the drive out of Hanoi. It took somewhere around 1 1/2 hours for the drive to Tho Ha Village. We took a little ferry across the river to the village, which is on an island. The villagers used to make pottery, for many centuries, but after the reunification of North and South Vietnam they stopped making pottery (it sounds like were basically ordered to). When the economy changed from a strict communist one, the village began to make rice paper and rice crackers. They can't grow rice on the island (I don't think there is enough land) so they had to find a way of making a living. Because they are on an island it is
easy to ship out what they make via the river. Their rice paper and rice crackers are sold in the village market and in Hanoi.
The rice paper is set out on bamboo racks to dry (there are racks of drying rice paper all over the place in the village). The rice paper makes a kind of crackling sounds as it dries. When it is dried it is cut into circles of paper, and sold in Hanoi for making spring rolls. They also make brown rice paper which is sliced into strips and used as a noodle.
There are about 800 people living in the village and they all make their living making rice paper or rice crackers. The whole family shares in the work. The rice crackers are really large round crunchy crackers with chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, and shredded coconut sprinkled on them. The liquid mixture is spread out on a kind of crepe pan, cooked a bit, then another layer is added. It is steamed for a minute or so, then the nuts and coconut are sprinkled on top, and the cracker is rolled onto a wooden rolling pin, then unrolled onto a bamboo drying
rack. The racks with the drying crackers are all over the courtyard in the family home. When they are dried, a family member crisps them up over a hot coals.
We got off the ferry and walked trough the village and stopped at a home where they make rice wine (another commodity the village produces). They use a sticky rice which is spread out on sheets to dry. Trang explained the process of making rice wine, and we were offered a sample by the family. Of course we had to accept as it would be rude not to. We had a very small cup of rice wine (it is very potent so a small cup is enough) and Trang brought a bottle (they don't bottle the rice wine, simply siphon it into small plastic water bottles).
We then continued through the village, with the village children excitedly waving and calling "hello!" All Vietnamese children know how to say hello in English. This village doesn't get a lot of tourists and the children were either excited to see us or a bit wary. At one house where we waved to the children we were invited inside to join the
family (in this case just the men and children, the women were likely at the market). As it would be rude to refuse, we joined the group on the floor and had a few more small cups of rice wine. The men were very hospitable and happy to have us in their home. After a bit they brought out betel nut and betel leaves (this nut is cut up into pieces and wrapped in the leaf, and chewed). It is the same nut that we were offered at Grandma's house where we had dinner in Hue. I didn't particularly want to try it, but it's offered to guests as a way of showing hospitality, so I chewed it. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be (not that you would know it from our faces!), which got a good laugh from the men. The nut and leaf mixture turns a reddish colour and it turns your tongue red. There must contain some mild form of drug because I felt dizzy for a bit after chewing it.
We left the men and continued our way to visit a family making rice crackers. Susan had a go making a
You often see four people on one bike. It wasn't raining, lots of women wear the jackets to cover their face and hands so they don't get tanned.
cracker and it was a good job for a first try. We sampled the rice crackers and Trang bought us one each to take with us. (They are really big round crackers so we will break them up into pieces to bring with us on the plane tomorrow). We shared tea with the family. Everyone is extremely hospitable. We were kind of wishing we hand't booked the tour this morning but we are both really glad we did it. It was a great experience interacting with the villagers.
We walked back to the dock and took the ferry back over the river where the car and driver were waiting for us. We made a quick stop at a furniture showroom to see the beautiful carved wooden furniture, and then continued on to Hanoi. It is hard to tell where the villages end and the city of Hanoi starts because there is really no open space in between, it is continuous houses and shops.
We had lunch at the owner of Awesome Travel's homestay and restaurant. He has a beautiful big house right on the river. He also gives cooking classes in his big kitchen. We ate on a
deck overlooking the river and the lunch was a delicious feast. We had soup, spring rolls, salad, tofu and tomatoes, fish, water spinach and garlic, steamed rice, and guava for dessert. Susan had a chicken stirfry and her water spinach had beef as well. The tofu dish and the fish were particularly good. The fish was in small pieces, maybe barbequed, and was so tasty. With the addition of a Hanoi beer, we were absolutely stuffed.
We were then driven back to our hotel, arriving about 2 pm. We are just resting (and I'm working on the blog) until we are picked up at 5:45 pm for our "Food on Foot" tour. I don't know how I am going to eat all the delicious street food in just a few hours! Today is a very food-oriented day. At least tonight's tour will include a lot of walking. I'm pretty sure we will be walking to the old quarter (20 min at least) and then we'll be walking around the old quarter for the duration of the tour. So that should help offset all the eating, at least a little bit!
The weather was really nice today, sunny and
hot. It may rain sometime this afternoon but it hasn't yet, and if it does will likely be a short shower, so it shouldn't impact our walking tour.
I'm going to add pictures to the blog, and then relax before our Food on Foot tour. We should get back to the hotel about 9 pm. Tomorrow we get picked up at 7:30 am for our flight to Hong Kong, where we will have 3 action packed days. When we get home we are going to need a vacation from our vacation!
Just a quick update after our Food on Foot tour. We were picked up by Yen (pronounced Ian) and took a taxi to the old quarter. We walked around the old quarter a lot and visited numerous little places that specialized mostly in one type of food only, and sat on teeny plastic stools on the sidewalk to eat. It was a blast.
The old quarter is just crazy at night. The sidewalks are jam packed with people sitting on little stools enjoying all sorts of food, and parked motorbikes, and the streets are packed with cars and zillions of motorbikes. It is so hard to
describe the traffic here, there are no actual traffic lanes, cars and motorbikes just weave around each other and there are no traffic lights and there are crosswalk lines painted on the pavement occasionally but they don't mean anything and crossing the street is always an adventure. There is a night market tonight in the old quarter which is just wall to wall people.
We sampled lots of great food and would have eaten more if we hadn't had such a big lunch. We started out with a kind of rice pancake which was light and delicious. We had a veggie version, a meat version, and one with an egg. So good. We then had a green papaya salad (with dried marinated beef for Susan's salad), which was very tasty. Susan told Yen she wanted to try durian, as I did, so we next stopped at a place that had different durian desserts. We sampled durian cream cake, durian ice cream, and deep fried pastry filled with durian. All were really good, Susan liked the deep fried pastry durian best. We then had a rice noodle soup with pickled green mango (with pork for Susan). Next was a delicious
fruit dish assorted tropical friut, coconut cream/sweetened consensed milk mixture, and shaved ice. You stir the ice into the dish until it melts. It was fabulous. At the same place we had a watermelon smoothie which was fresh and yummy.
Yen was going to take us to a place that made a fish wrapped in rice paper dish but they were full (which was a good thing because good as it sounded we both were stuffed to the brim at this point). We told Yen we were good with finishing up with egg coffee so we waddled to the cafe specializing in egg coffee. The egg coffee was absolutely fabulous! It is made with strong Vietnamese coffee, with an egg yolk and sweetened consensed milk mixture, whipped into a froth. It sounds sort of odd but it is really amazing. We had one hot and one cold version so we could try both. Both were yummy but the hot version was the most delicous. We also had a version with chocolate instead of coffee and it was also fabulous. Somehow after the egg coffee we felt less full! We taxied back to our hotel and packed up for tomorrow's
Tho Ha Village street
See the rice paper drying on the bamboo racks
I had a bit of a panicked moment this afternoon before our Food on Foot tour. I was getting our Hong Kong paperwork together and when I looked at our confirmation print out for the Hong Kong hotel I realized that it was for a different hotel that we had thought. There are two Stanford hotels in Hong Kong, both in Kowloon. We had thought we were at the Stanford Hotel in Mongkok, on Soy Street, but in fact we are booked at the Stanford Hillview Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, on Observatory Road. OMG, WTF? I knew the closest MTR (Hong Kong subway) station to the Stanford Hotel, and how we were getting there from the airport, and we had arranged for our tour on Oct 1 to pick us up at the Stanford Hotel. We checked the Stanford Hillview website and emailed the hotel to confirm we were booked there (yes we are) and emailed the tour company of the change in hotel. So it's all good. Next post will be from Hong Kong!
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