Morning in Hanoi

Coffee. Vietnamese style. A relief after negotiating even just the first few streets of the morning.

To paint a picture of the café clientele:

A group of suited men and smartly dressed ladies just exited the café chattering and laughing (from some special celebration?), the ladies donning elegant white straw hats against the sun.

A young couple, she resplendently pregnant in a long flowing white dress with colourful pom poms above her extended belly and matching dangly earrings, he in fresh shorts and t shirt, pay avid attention to their mid morning noodle soup, dunking what look like huge churros into it, deftly wielding chopsticks in a manner I can only be envious of.

Meanwhile, a table of three men all dressed in black, sit opposite me with tiny coffees, discussing things that sound important. One of the middle aged ones does most of the talking, the other middle aged one concentrating on his phone rather than the conversation, the other older man nodding silently, perhaps sympathetically.

The one on his phone has left. The other younger one now has a little boy sitting on his knee. Three generations at the table. Maybe they own the café.

After coffee I wandered on through my plans for the day. I saw this building and thought it was a temple but actually I think it was a shop? Or maybe several shops and a residence?

I wandered down a street known as “hemp street” for all the clothes etc sold there:

Aha! So here at least they were trying to repair/improve the pavement

This is what a Hanoi lull in the traffic looks and sounds like 👇🏼. I reckon this was the longest period of time I experienced all day without any horns honking. 6 whole seconds! Wow!

In the cordoned off square next to the lake in the city centre there always seem to be things going on for children and young people especially. This lady was waving a bubble wand about:

It was tricky to get a picture of this ancient temple in the middle of the lake that can only be reached by rowing.

According to Wikipedia:

According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. Lợi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King (Long Vương) had given Lợi some time earlier, during his revolt against Ming China. Later, the Emperor gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese. Emperor Lợi renamed the lake to commemorate this event, from its former name Luc Thuy meaning “Green Water”. The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to the legend. 

These are the devil’s dumplings! Foisted on me unexpectedly by a lady who thrust them in my face saying, “You wanna try? Try them” and then gave me one. I was caught unawares and of course as soon as I tried one then she was shovelling loads of them into a bag and charging me too much money for them. But “too much money” is a whole conundrum here anyway, as the currency is worth so little.

You’re supposed to haggle by offering half whatever street sellers ask you for. I’m not very good at that, but by the end of the day I did manage to give the lady below 60% of what she asked for, but she asked for a lot. Especially given I didn’t really want a whole bunch of bananas and a bag of prepared pineapple! What I wanted, which she knew and took advantage of, was a photo of her! Well good on her. She balanced her wares on my shoulder so I could feel how heavy they were. (Really very heavy.) She looked crestfallen with what I gave her, but it was still more than I’d pay for something like that in the UK.

I spent most of the day confused about currency (but finding the XE currency app super helpful – thanks Antonia for that recommendation), and increasingly having to say “No” very firmly to lots of people trying to sell me stuff or offer me a ride on one of those motorbikes (😳 the way people drive here makes the jet boat ride in Queenstown, New Zealand look like a safe option!).

I also had a bit of a scare when I tried to use a dodgy ATM and although it seemed to think a transaction had been completed it didn’t give me any money. In one of the bigger tourist info places nearby, I asked the lady about that, and she was not sure what might have happened. So I asked her where I’d find a bank that was reliable, and she pointed me to an HSBC, which was reassuringly familiar. With my new found “Nothing is too cheeky when you’re in need” attitude, picked up in NZ with the help of Tash, I asked the lady whether they had WiFi in the tourist info place and whether I could cadge onto it. She gave me the password. So I was able to check (and recheck when I came back later in the day) via my banking app that there was no suspicious activity going on, which so far there hasn’t been thank goodness. If anything does happen I can freeze either of my cards. I know it’s sad that banks are more faceless and rely so much on automation now, but I’m very thankful for being able to check what’s going on constantly from a device I own, especially in a country where I am unfamiliar with how things work.

I’ve also felt very conscious of not wanting to flash money about, but actually all the market stall holders constantly carry a huge wadge of notes about with them, and it’s not uncommon to see one of them standing by their stall counting through a fistful. The thing is, the notes are mainly in tens or hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Dong (VND). To give an idea, 100,000VND is worth about £3.32. It cost me just under £5 to get into the Hoa Lo Prison museum, and another £1.66 for an excellent audio guide in English that took me through a lot of the history of Hanoi and the political history of Vietnam in the 20th century.

I was very impressed when I put a 50000VND note into a vending machine in the museum for a cool drinks can, and it managed to give me my 30000VND change in notes with no problem. I’ve never seen any coins here. It’s all notes. I suspect that it does mean that the lower denominations of notes are barely worth the paper they’re printed on.

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