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Published: November 12th 2006
Trapped Children Street
... no, it was actually bamboo stick street, but I guess they were using the trapped kid to grab people's attention.
Since plane tickets from Beijing to Australia aren't cheap, we decided to make the best of our family visit back to Australia by stopping over in Vietnam. Why Vietnam, you ask? Well, as you know, we're greedy people, and Vietnamese food is just so yummy!! Oh, and of course, we wanted to see the beautiful cultural stuff and scenery, and etc ... yeah, but mainly the food.
Alas, we were short on leave for the year, which meant, a super fast, time maximising, sleep minimising, 6 day trip.
First stop was Hanoi, capital of Vietnam. The airport was quite a way outside the main city, which meant we were treated to the beautiful green landscape of Vietnam, including rice paddy fields and lots of french-like villas on the way to our hotel. If you weren't aware, part of Vietnam was once ruled by the French, and one of the clearest remenants of their influence is the french-esque
Our hotel was in the old quartier
(old quarter), which supposedly was supposed to have maintained a more traditional vietnamese city style of living. Alas, unless the Vietnamese of old used to run millions of tourist shops and sell everything
That must hurt their necks
Yup, these Vietnamese women are super strong. There were gazillions of them parading around carrying all sorts of things from vats of noodles to buckets of ice-cream. All balanced precariously on their poor necks.
from branded backpacks to swiss army knives, the old quarter had clearly sold its soul to the god of tourism.
Nevertheless, we decided to go exploring, and were pleasantly surprised to find all kinds of interesting stuff. Each street in the area was dedicated to a different type of product, such as sheet metal street, basket and sticks street, and things that go dong
street - but the most fascinating street we found was fake money street. Yes, counterfeiting is an open thing over here, or so we thought - the truth though was that the fake money was for funerals - the vietnamese give the dead the fake money to help them out in life after death.
Of course, if you know us, once we realised that there was a street for every kind of product, we started eagerly hunting for food street - specifically, fried, oily and tasty snack food street. Alas, no luck finding any such street. We did however stumble across a delicious little 2-table stall where we had our first vietnamese meal - these great little vietnamese beef patties served with a mountain of mixed leaves (coriander, mint, and some kind of grassy
The Motorbike Hoardes
And you thought traffic in your city was bad. All and sundry in a seemingly chaotic free-for-all.
thing), and this fabulous fish sauce mixture drenched in chilli!!
Vietnamese street stalls are like other asian hawker stalls, except everybody sits on really short little red stools - you know the type that kids sit on in kindergarten. Some really small street stalls don't bother with tables - they just have some lady cooking stuff in a pot. If you want some, she'll place a little red stool on the sidewalk for you to sit on. So at night, the sidewalks become one huge eating street, filled with hoardes of people squatting on little red stools, huddling around steaming pots of tasty food cooked by local housewives.
As evening drew near, we headed over to a central landmark of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem lake. Its a fairly sizable lake with two little islands in the middle that sport little temples/shrines. It was a nice night, so we went wandering around the lake, which gave us the opportunity to see lots of local vietnamese wandering around in romantic dazes with their loved ones. It was a particularly pleasant walk, one of those walks that makes you think 'hey this is a cool city, we should live here'. That is,
Okay, its spelt Pho, but its pronounced Fur. Its a staple meal in Vietnam - basically a beef noodle soup available on every street corner. Quite a yummy way to start the day.
until you snap out of your daze and look around and notice the hoardes. What hoardes, you ask? The motorbike hoardes.
If you ever wandered what a plague of locusts looked like, then come to vietnam, because the motorbike hoardes will give you a pretty good idea. When it comes to motorbikes, we're sure this country HAS to be the number one consumer of motorbikes. Imagine taking the most busy street in the world, trebling the amount of cars, and then replacing each car with 10 motorbikes, and thats what you see in Hanoi. Its truly a sight to behold. Every man, woman and dog was riding a bike, dressed in everything from the standard motorbike jacket-and-pants uniform, to women in fancy dresses and high heels. Intersections and round-abouts are particularly fun to watch, because amidsts what appears to be complete chaos, there is a beautiful synchronicity, manifested in the way the hoardes uniformly change direction, and interweave with oncoming traffic in a perfectly co-ordinated game of chicken.
... Okay, so back to the lake. We had been meandering for quite awhile now, and so decided to go hunting for a tri-colored drink (if you haven't had one
Men on the lake
Lots of local Vietnamese congregate around the serene Hoan Kiem lake each night to waste the night away.
before, its a delicious mixture of 3 colors of jelly and coconut milk that most overseas vietnamese restaurants sell). So we walked from cafe to cafe, peering eagerly at each menu hoping to see something vaguely similar. Alas, it seemed that the tri-colored drink must be an overseas vietnamese restaurant invention, because it seemed nobody had even heard of the concept before (actually we were told by a local vietnamese later that its a really popular drink, and that we must have just been extremely stupid not to be able to find it). An hour later, we gave up in exasperation and instead decided to go see a water puppet show.
Water puppetry is apparently very popular in vietnam, and basically is a puppet show performed in water. The puppetters hide behind a big screen and use big long sticks under water to move the puppets. The show we saw was completely in vietnamese, so we didn't understand much of the story, but there was lots of colorful movements, noisy music and a lot of laughing. It would have been really nice, except that we kept falling asleep. At first, we thought it was jet lag, but after noticing
Voted my favourite meal in all of Vietnam. Deep fried fish spiced with basil, fish sauce and ginger in a super-spicy creamy sauce. Oh man ... am drooling just thinking about it.
that a few other people beside us were also nodding off, we figured it was just a badly ventilated room suffering from huge carbon dioxide build up. We felt extremely embarassed, because one of the ushers was standing near us, so during the times we managed to stay awake, we purposely overexaggerated our looks of amazement with overdone oohing and aahing.
Thus ended day one. This was to be our only 'leisurely' day of the whole holiday. From now on, it was going to be non-stop craziness.
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