Back to Hanoi
Updated: Nov 14, 2018
20 Apr 2009
In the morning we way slowly made our way back to shore after a hearty, tasty and undoubtedly cholesterol laden breakfast. Along the way we visited one of the floating villages. They are literally that – a couple of dozen small wooden houses floating on a platform of planks and old barrels. They apparently live almost exclusively off the sea – either fishing or tending nearby fish farms. Even through they’re only a few yards from the rocky shoreline, they have no connection with it. It’s obvious that their other main source of hard cash is yours truly and my fellow floating tourists. As we pull into the bay, we’re met by a small flotilla of row boats, each laden with food or trinkets and usually rowed by a very young kid (to further soften you up into handing over some dollars). It’s also interesting to note that they have an unusual forward rowing technique. It has the obvious advantage that you can see where you’re going (all the better to track your tourist target), but apparently it’s much harder than it looks.
On the bumpy ride back to Hanoi you really get an appreciation for how much this country relies on manual labour to get things done. There’s very little heavy machinery in use in construction sites and fields. For example, you’ll see a bunch of guys building a new house and hauling the bricks up to the second floor by hand, mixing the concrete by hand, building a very rickety-looking bamboo scaffolding, and so on. Even the traffic barriers at railway crossing appear to be manned by a guy sitting in a hut (not sure what happens he’s off sick and forgets to call in).
As well see later on, throughout Vietnam you’ll see folks selling goods by the side of the street. On this stretch of road, the goods on offer are small loaves of bread, like a short baguette. You’ll see a little old lady squatting next to a box full of loaves, wearing a face mask to try and filter out the worse of the traffic fumes. What’s interesting is that this goes on for ages – every 100 yards or so you’ll see another vendor, with an identical offering. After a couple of miles and several dozen bready offerings later, you have you wonder how much the last lady is selling.
Back in town, I check into my hotel (the Elegance 3; highly recommended on trip advisor) and then head back into the wilds of Hanoi Old Quarter to stretch my legs, see a bit more of the streets and to reacquaint myself with beer corner. After an idle hour watching the fleets of cyclos roll by (generally carrying a cargo of one slightly bewildered, rather overweight American tourists and propelled by small, wiry and straining Hanoiese), I treat myself to a minor splurge of a dinner at La Restaurant and Bar (25 Ly Quoc Su Street) and round off the evening with aperitif at the I-Box Bar and Café.
I-Box is a stupid name for a place to drink, but apparently this is the bar of the hour and the place to be seen. It oozes atmosphere – dim lighting, plush velvety furniture, Hookahs on the table and a great big tinted window to the outside world – perfect for surreptitiously watching the crazy Hanoi traffic go by. I’ve been doing some background reading on the wine industry here (mainly to try and figure out why good wine is so hard to come by, and so bloody expensive when you do). Apparently for a lot of Vietnamese, the taste is only part of the attraction; it’s also important to be seen to be drinking an expensive drink, ideally in a venue such as this. Far better to be seen with a well known and expensive bottle in front of you, rather than spend good money on a wine that may be fantastic, but no one else recognises. It sounded rather sad a vein when I read this, but sure enough at this bar you can not only buy shots of scotch and brandy, but whole bottles. I amuse myself by perusing the extensive list of available bottle, which starts off reasonably innocuously with Jack Daniels finishes with a flair on a bottle of Remy Martin Louis XIII (so special it has its own web site). Yours for a mere 25 million dong.