We’ve Found it in Vietnam…

“It” is that charm, that unique feeling of warmth one gets when seeing a new place for the first time. When I arrived in England I was fascinated by all the different things I’d see around me, the road signs, the lush green grass and different architecture of the houses. “It” was amazing!

We lose that in today’s world. I feel that especially visiting Europe, I don’t feel lost in an unknown magic land anymore. Yet, one does in Vietnam. I can see why people say that Vietnam is what Thailand used to be 30 years ago.

Here in Hanoi, there are no Starbucks or Mc Donald’s anywhere. Instead there are stalls all around the Old Quarter for people to sit on a stool on the pavement and have a bite or a drink. The food served is always tasty and cheap. When we had a “pineapple break”, see how these ladies are looking at Andy. ..

Since we arrived in Hanoi, I’ve been in love with Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad called Bun Bo Nam Bo. Don’t be deceived by the word salad as this is a dish served warm. The fact that it has peanuts on it alone is probably enough to explain my love affair with Bun Bo Nam Bo but there is so much more to it. Rice noodles, lettuce, coriander, local herbs, lean beef, minced lemongrass, salt, pepper, fish sauce and papaya. Thankfully Andy loves it too so we find our feet taking us towards Bun Bo Nam Bo most evenings here in Hanoi. Also we like saying it….Bun Bo Nam Bo!

When thinking about Vietnamese food, most people will recognise the Vietnamese soup “Pho” which is what we went to find the very first afternoon we arrived. The place we were recommended was so packed we had to queue to get in and when we eventually did get a table, we shared it with this lovely young couple.

As we ease into our time in Hanoi, we get totally comfortable even with the unexpected rains. Armed with our high-tech gear, nothing can scare us away from roaming the streets.

There are also loads of specialised shops which are often part of a big specialised street. My favourite is the street selling celebration products only, looking happy and colourful.

Traffic is crazy, a bit like India minus the cows! We’ve never seen so many scooters in our entire lives. Cars, motorbikes and scooters come at you from every direction.

However, you can’t be safe on the pavements either because that’s where locals park their scooters! If you are lucky enough to find a gap that has no scooter parked or not taken by a street vendor, feel yourself lucky and get your foot in there I’d say.

Before coming here, we watched some YouTube videos about vietnamese food and made a mental note of some local dishes we wanted to try. However one really needs to get to grips with Vietnamese food terminology. One day we were caught up in a heavy thunderstorm in the middle of town and swiftly moved under a nearby tarpaulin shelter. We were very hungry, the rain was heavy so we thought we might as well order something. The name of the food, Bun Cha, sounded familiar from the videos we’d seen. Great name right? No, as it turns out Bun Cha means pork meetballs which I don’t eat. It was looking rather nice too.

There is still good news for me though as beef is widely available and very tasty so I get to enjoy some rather yummy Vietnamese delights.

What I love about hot countries is that you finish work and only then the enjoyable part of the day is beginning. The city comes alive. The weather cools down to a warm breeze that is just comfortable enough to go out and enjoy the local life. There are always small lakes dotted around where you can just go and sit on a bench watching shimmering lights without spending a penny.

If you feel like splashing out, there are always cafes and fresh fruit stalls where a glass of fresh pineapple or passionfruit is available for less than a pound. Simply take a seat at the pavement and watch the world go by, like I’m doing right now… The lady running this shop keeps bringing me this complimentary drink that doesn’t have a strong taste but is so very refreshing. I only found out later that it was iced green tea.

Oh and in case you are wondering, the famous Vietnamese egg coffee is delicious. It’s a bit like uncooked meringue. Nice and sweet but too little for the hefty price tag. Andy tried the hot version and I went for the cold. I guess hot is nicer as melting ice in the cold one spoils the taste a little.

Egg coffee hot and cold

Enough about food and drinks, let me tell you a little bit about Vietnamese people. They are a friendly nation and proud of their country. We were approached by two ladies 20 and 22 years of age, wanting to do English practice with us in preparation for their upcoming exam. They asked us questions and we chatted for well over an hour. Apparently the young lady talking to Andy even asked him what he thought of Vietnamese girls…Cheeky!

There are old ladies walking around selling fruit on their “plates balanced on a stick, looking like scales thingy”, who can be a bit opportunist when they see tourists. They call those things Quang Ganh. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is Andy demonstrating it for you…

Still the locals are generally fair to tourists and I dont feel we pay any different than anyone else. Unlike the time in Colombo where we were charged 10 times the price on a public bus. Seeing our puzzled faces an English speaking young local woman intervened and got the man to return the overcharged amount back to us. What a heroine!

Vietnamese people are also very generous. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the hostel we are staying at serves free beer every evening at their happy hour. We thought it was a joke but it turns out most hostels do serve free beer at their happy hour in Hanoi. Added to that there is free breakfast every morning, all for less than £7 for both of us, for our double bed in a 4 couples dorm room!

I would probably be as happy as this guy if it were free wine

As the Mid Autumn Festival is fast approaching, we are now experiencing the happy jolly side of Vietnamese people. It’s delightful to see the colourful dragons, lanterns and masks sold all around Hanoi. I was quite sad to realise that we weren’t going to be in Vietnam to see this festival but relieved when I learned that the festival is celebrated in most East Asian countries. Apparently we may be witnessing even wider celebrations where we will be then. Can’t wait!

Hanoi has been an amazing experience, one that makes you want to come back for more.…

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