Thursday, 19 December 2013

Vietnamese Scrabble

Ha Noi to Hoi An

After Sa Pa, I spent two more days in Hanoi, meeting up with Kate again for lunch one day, and just meandering around and getting lost in the city on the other. The food in Hanoi is amazing – for between 20,000 and 50,000 dong ($1 - $2.50) you can get huge amounts of meat broth, noodle soup, or whatever else takes your fancy. Banh mi set you back all of 12,000d, and the itinerant basket-carriers sell every kind of fruit imaginable, or bread, or doughnut type things – all of which you can pick up for about 5,000d (although you need to barter, and then wander off, before they come after you with a good price). They also deep fry everything that stays still long enough, at little portable fryers. If you happened to have one with you, it would probably be possible to get them to deep-fry a Mars Bar.
I should have brought one with me and added to the varied cuisine of Vietnam. I'm sure they'd have thanked me.

The streets are maze-like, and there are myriad alleyways and narrow passes lined on either side with stalls and thronged with pedestrians, along which motorcycles weave among the wares and the wary. The shopping districts are scattered over the city, some composed predominantly of shops selling imported goods and fancy clothes, others of stall units, selling everything under the sun. The stalls tend to be of a type in each street - there's a street to buy sewing equipment, one of hardware stalls, and so on. My personal favourite is the Street of Cunning Artificers:

In this row of metal workshops, they dismantle everything from motorbikes to fridges, and fashion new items from the scrap - it mainly seems to be storage boxes. There are welding sparks down the street as far as you can see, and you have to be careful peering into the interiors.

As much as I enjoy Ha Noi, however, it's time to move on - there's a long way to go. 
And so another day, another night train. This one to Da Nang. I decided to miss out Hue, which is a big city with a huge number of old imperial buildings, and a big cultural centre. Like every other tourist in Vietnam at the moment, I've opted to accelerate south away from the rain. I don't mind the rain so much I itself, but the cloud is low, the rain is dense and sustained, and it's actually very difficult to see anything much through it. Basically, I've skipped down about half the length of the country.

My travelling companions in the sleeper were Silvaig (gentle warrior) and Heim[something] (rock-watcher) from Norway, and their Vietnamese guide, John. They were alighting in Hue to begin a ten-day cycling tour of the central highlands. I'm mildly jealous, as it seems a fantastic way to see this country, but it's a bit dreich at the moment for me to really be envious. They were lovely, and the conversation covered everything from their grandchildren and looking forward to the ski season when they get home, through attitudes to past wars between different generations (Rock-watcher still isn't great with Germans, apparently), to the mythology and legends of Vietnam, Norway and Wales, and the relative importance and symbolism of dragons.


They left at 11am at Hue, and I went on another 2 hours to Da Nang, and then shared a tourist bus with two Canadians and an Indian to Hoi An. Again, you get the best prices on these things if you wander off. We paid 60,000d each for the trip, which is more or less exactly what it would be for a half mile walk to the bus station, public bus, and taxi from the bus station at Hoi An. A great improvement on the Sa Pa version of the same thing!

Picturesque it may be, but if you don't want to get any tailoring done, there's not much to Hoi An. The lanterns that adorn every shop front, lamp-post, tree, telephone wire, and any conceivable location make the town absolutely beautiful to wander around in the evenings, and there are street stalls selling the local specialty, Cao Lau – grilled pork with noodles – and the fusion food resulting from Hoi An's history as a major port in the 17th century. After the incredible flavours in Hanoi, though, I must admit to being disappointed with what I've managed to get here. I may have been unlucky, but it just isn't the same. It's also comparatively expensive (50,000 – 120,000d), but then it is a small town geared to tourism, so I can't blame it for that. Unfortunately, the chances of a silk lantern making it back in one piece in my rucksack are pretty much nil, so I've had to forego them, although they are beautiful.

I've set up camp for the afternoon in a fish and chip shop (don't judge me! It's really good. Fish and chips is a perfectly reasonable world cuisine. Barracuda is really tasty!). 

Vietnamese version of the Anstruther Fish Bar. The pepper and mustard (I think) sauce thing is amazing.

Tonight I'm moving on again – this time to Da Lat, up in the central highlands. If the weather is reasonable, I'll try and do some tours of the area, and there's a national park I want to see.
On the back of my complaint about my boots, I managed to leave them on the train at Da Nang, so I won't be having the same problem as in Sa Pa – minimalist trail shoes it will be. I can test my theory at least. I did it FOR SCIENCE! (Honest.)

I possibly shouldn't be let out alone. Travelling the world by myself... what (else) could possibly go wrong? You'll have to wait for the next exciting instalment!  

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