So after a 13 hr flight, I land in China for a 5 hr layover. Had a moment in the restroom where I paused noting that the stalls were marked differently
I didn’t know who was more perplexed: me, or the cleaning lady watching me takes pictures of the squatting pan. I found a nice little place to eat some noodle soup though I am still unsure how much I paid for it.
Finally after 20 hours of travelling I land in Hanoi, Vietnam. I had arranged for someone at the hotel to meet me. I will refer to it as “The Palace Hotel”. I had bragged to my friends before I left showing pictures of its grand entrance complete with chandeliers. All for only 25 dollars a night! Well then, it seems things are not always what they appear to be on-line. I felt like I was in a Hollywood boutique hotel from the 1950’s. The driver banged on the door until two men let me in. Both looked as though they had just been woken, poor fellas, and in fact I suspect they were because right beside the front desk were two mattresses on the floor. I was advised that through some miscommunication they had only booked me for one night and they were booked the following night. At this point all I wanted was a bed. I would deal with it later.
First thing in the morning I made my way to the front desk (sans mattresses). The hotel owner apologized for the confusion and offered me a room at his other hotel even closer to old town. I accept his offer and he tells me he will take me himself. I meet him at the front with my very large backpack and carry on suitcase. I expect him to bring a car around but instead he hands me a helmet and leads me to his scooter. Really? With all this stuff? We manage to jimmy the luggage to the scooter and without much hesitation I jump on the back –ah well- “when in Nam” as they say. I felt as though we were driving through one-way streets dodging cars and bikes and scooters as though I were in a scene of Indiana Jones. “What is your name” I say loudly to my fearless driver-“Foo-but you can call me Tony”.
Finally we make it. I take no time to get out and find myself some authentic Vietnamese food. I might add that taking that first step across the street was perhaps one of the scariest things I have ever done. Forget sky diving-you want to face fears cross a busy street in Vietnam.
I pass by the small cafes and bars and take a left onto a small ally that spilled from the main road. Food is the theme in everything I pass. It is the focus. People are either preparing food or selling food, eating food or carrying food. Naturally I am quickly enamoured.
Who needs to go the fish market when the fish market can come to you
I find a street vendor comprising of four generations of family. The women gesture for me to pull up a brightly coloured plastic stool. They do not speak any English but somehow I managed to convey that I want whatever they suggest I eat. They soon return with what looks like Pho and a bottle of chili sauce. Simple. Fragrant. Delicious.
Feeling brave, I add the freshly cut little hot chilis from the condiment basket. And for a moment I felt as though I settled into an authentic Vietnamese experience. However with one mouthful of broth I realized that the chillies had collated to my spoon. My face reddened quickly and I began to cough uncontrollably. No one moved-they only observed. So good for being a wallflower. I was now the afternoon sideshow. Finally I pull it together, finish up and pay. I had left a good portion of my noodles, which they removed. But then something happened. I noticed them take it two doors down where a lady inspected it. I had just witnessed a transaction whereby they sold my left overs to the nearby vendors. I had heard they do not waste food in Vietnam but this.. Well this I hadn’t considered.
My smile quickly morphed into a slight look of alarm as I considered that in fact I may not have been the first to eat that soup. Ill sign off on that.