Once upon a time in Nam lived a snake and a baby..

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jan 01, 2014

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

...by the end of the day the poor snake was dead and the baby was drunk and the intrepid Nicholas and Shelley witnessed it all, but more on that later...

First let me take you back to Monday evening.  We met with Phil and Leyla for a few drinks in the central backpacker part of Hanoi before they departed leaving us to look for a bar in which to hide out from the military enforced midnight curfew in Hanoi.  Unfortunately the only available options were playing low grade trance music - I threw a childish, slightly alcohol fueled, hissy fit when Shelley said she would rather head back to the room, and an argument ensued, with threats of a Frodo/Samwise style split even banded around.  The net result was that Tuesday morning was spent independently exploring the busting Hanoi.  The few hours apart seemed to have done the job of slightly thawing relations and our respective mornings were fairly predictable.  Whilst I had probably put about 20 kilometers of wear into my already tired flip flops and released a bath full of sweat, pausing only to check out train times for the next leg of the journey which I hoped would continue, Shelley had strolled around the city, periodically stopping for coffees and to watch the world go by.  I took note of this to try and modify my SS tour tendencies in the hope of avoiding future confrontations...

Reunited in the afternoon, we took in the relative bliss of the peaceful Lenin Park, which offers the only sanctuary from the insanity that is every daylight hour in Hanoi.  In the evening we rekindled our love affair with "the cheapest beer in the world" (5,000 Dong (20 US cents) a glass bia hoi) before settling for a mutually agreed pre-curfew early night.

It is also worth providing a brief review of our hotel at this juncture.  Despite numerous helpful recommendations, we naively thought we had found a true gem of a hotel, priced at only 10 US dollars per night.  We booked via hotels.com and the synopsis spoke of a boutique hotel, featuring bathrobes, private balcony, in-room internet, designer toiletries, complimentary tea and coffee and free breakfast.  Like almost everything which sounds too good to be true (except for fat free yoghurt and bia hoi), Mike's "Boutique" Hotel proved to be no exception.  We were initially shown to a room sans balcony, tea and coffee, towels, bathrobes, and to cap things of the bathroom light did not even work.  Shelley naturally went to work and we were moved to a vastly improved room, albeit the tea and coffee/bathrobes were nowhere to be seen.  There was a computer in the room, which was not connected to the Internet and I have no real aspirations to improve my Microsoft Office/solitaire skills during this trip so it remained unused.  The bathroom would have been a fairly good testing ground for penicillin, such was the level of mould on the shower curtain/ walls and ceiling, and it was situated in a half of the hotel which was actively under construction.  However, the improvement was such from the first room that we were relatively pleased with life.  The icing on the cake was provided each morning when at 5am speakers placed directly underneath our balcony blared with the rasping but compelling voice of a woman (talking about who knows what) followed by an old man singing loudly.  This went on for around two hours, by which time the construction workers had already started working noisily in the rooms above and below us.  The net result was me slipping in and out of slumber and having incredible dreams about our producing a hugely abject theatrical show in Hanoi...

Yesterday was the day to which my fairytale heading to this blog relates.  After booking train tickets for the night train to Sapa, we took two motorbike taxis for the 8 or so kilometre journey to the village of Le Mat, across the Red River from central Hanoi.  Having been bartered down on price, both our respective riders seemed to be on a speed mission and the result was a break neck journey through the busy streets with red lights being treated as a reason only to stop accelerating, never to stop entirely.  On a few occasions I was convinced it was game over, such were the manoeuvres being performed, but a gap would always miraculously appear.  Our destination was one of the many places in Le Mat which catches and rears snakes for sale to the high end Hanoi restaurants.  After posing with snakes, we selected snake burgers and snake rolls for lunch and it has to be said that both dishes were perfectly palatable (there was no particularly discernible flavour in either).  It was after this satisfactory, if not filling, lunch that the tantalizing offer of snake blood was made, for an additional five dollars.  Shelley was against it, but I thought it was an experience we should witness and so it was that a three foot or so long snake was brought from its cage to our table.  I had a slight bite of conscience when the poor blighter wriggled as if he knew what was coming but it was too late as he was skillfully sliced open and his blood drained into one glass with rice wine, whilst his heart (still beating) and stomach bile (dark green) went into two others.  If I had paused at this point I suspect I would not have gone through with it, but instead within a minute I had downed the contents of all three glasses (the heart - still beating at the time - only at the second attempt as it initially stuck to the glass).  I can't say any of it tasted good, but I was assured that I had just done immeasurable benefit to my head and heart.  If my life were a Hollywood B movie, by now I would have started my transition to snake as a result of my lunch, but instead this is real life and I just had a fairly miserable hour on the toilet this morning passing various snake parts...

We shared a much more sedately ridden bike back into central Hanoi and decided to pass the remaining hours before the train sipping our new favourite tipple, bia hoi in an outdoor bar.  Shortly after we arrived a youngish couple with a small baby of maybe 1 and a half turned up.  The couple ordered two bia hois and were soon pouring it down junior's neck (at 20 cents a glass, a whole load cheaper than baby milk I guess).  At first we were amused, assuming it was a one off, but they continued to pour it down his little neck and he was visibly wobbly when they sought to take him on a short escorted walk.  More worryingly was the fact that once back at the table, his chubby little hands reached for the beer and he screamed when he was told no, until eventually getting his way.  We may therefore have witnessed the creation of the world's youngest alcholic...

As for us, by the time we had made our way the two kilometres or so to the station with our luggage in the still oven-like heat, we had both had around the perfect amount of booze to tackle an overnight train in Nam...        
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