Hanoi Day 3

Trip Start Jan 12, 2006
Trip End Feb 13, 2006

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Monday, January 16, 2006

ok ok, mea culpa. I know I said some disparaging words about the street food and feel it is necessary to print an immediate retraction. I quess we hadnt walked down the right street...Last night, mostly out of travel charity we decided to take a rickshaw across town to a dive bar know for its bia hoi or fresh cheap beer. OAbviously I was at the helm of this expedition. If I could only justly describe the traffic in Hanoi you would understand that giving into the constant pressure to take this almost outdated mode of transportation was only in the spirit of spreading some western capital about the most unlucky of millions.

That said, it was a pleasant few minutes as we wheeled through the tangle of scooters and bikes to our destination, the Relax Bar, a famous dive recommended by our friends who had lived in Hanoi for many years. Or so we thought... When we stopped there was no bar or restaurant of that name anywhere near ( the drivers had simply taken us to bar across town far enough away to merit the 2 dollar fare) but... we found ourselves in the middle of a warren of food vendors selling some of the most mouthwatering stirfrys I have ever seen. The aroma was too tempting to pass up the opportunity to sample what everyone has said is the best of Vietnam. After a quick prayer to the pagan god of digestion, we placed our oversized western asses on a couple of teensy plastic stools and ordered up a couple of dollars worth of steaming plate of stirfry beef with cilantro and sesame seeds, a few tasty cold hoi bai for me and 7up for D. Yummmmmm! thanks Robin!

Next, we hiked it back across town to our 'hood for dinner at another recommendation, Cha Ca. As soon as you sit down the waitress hands you a sign stating that "there is only one item on our menu." That understood, the food just arrives. Bowls of fennel, cilantro, onions, fish sauce with a secret ingredient made from an INSECT arrive, then ceremoniously, an individual charcoal barbecue with a sizzling platter of fish. Without uttering a word, the waitress stirs in some of the greens then points to the the other ingredients the rice and fish sauce. At almost 4.50 it was no surprise that the tables were all packed with westerners and Aussies. Despite the company, the food was delicious.

Enough with the food....

Today, we got up at the crack of dawn for a day trip to Perfume Pagoda, about 6o km north of Hanoi. Sucking it up, we signed up for a tour group since it was easier than trying to figure it out for ourselves. Interestingly, the price for the whole day was anywhere from 43 USD to the 9 dollars that we paid for round trip transportation, lunch, and admission.
Perfume Pagoda is actually not a pagoda at all but a large cave at the top of a very steep 1 hour climb up 1000+ year old stone steps. But first there is a 1 hour scenic boat ride through rice paddies complete with water buffalo, cone-hatted workers, bright fuscia lotus flowers and a backdrop of small mist-shrouded mountains stolen from Chinese calligraphic paintings.

Those Buddhist really didnt make getting to services easy... The climb was pretty tough but well worth the soaking for the fantastic views of the valley and the I-just-did-that sense of accomplishment. The Pagoda was...ummmm... a cave with a couple of Buddha, some incense and lanterns.... seen one...

All in all the tour thang was cool. We were lucky enough to be mixed in with some interesting people from all over the world: Malaysia, Singapore, Argentina, and of course, Kiwis and Germans. The ride back to Hanoi was brutal. Try to imagine 3 million motor bikes and scooters swarming into and out of Hanoi at the same time with no traffic lights and only sporadic policemen to help suggest direction and timing. Youll have to see the pictures.

Dead tired, sore and in desperate need of bia hoi so.... more later

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