That’s the gang just before the stroke of midnight (left to right): Tu (Vietnam), Frank (Ireland), Linda (England), Ian (England), Sue (Canada!), Kelly (Canada!!) and Peter (Bali). We had all gone to Foodshop 45 for Indian food. Frank had stepped out for a smoke and discovered an Irish bar two doors down. So after dinner we all paraded over for a pint of Guiness, courtesy of Frank. Derry’s Pub is actually owned by a Vietnamese family but an Irish pub’s an Irish pub. The Guiness came out of cans (and was darned expensive) but the feeling was there and we had a jolly time. Shortly before midnight though we all headed out the door.
Sue and I had had an interesting bike ride over to the lake. We passed Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and its neighbouring buildings and park on the way. Everything was lit up and quite a few people were out strolling. We also rode by a stage with three women singing to a small crowd on a corner. So far so surreal. But the ride home was even more so. Hanoi at night is very subdued compared to Hanoi by day. We rode down darkened streets, past the occasional lively bar or nightclub. As we rode into the Old Quarter the traffic picked up a bit with more tourists about. Midnight struck as we pedaled down an atmospheric alley. When we arrived at Hoan Kiem Lake there was still a fair sized crowd on the streets, a small flurry of fireworks and some cheering.
We hung out for a few minutes, enjoying the crowd, but soon a police truck came along and dispersed the crowd. We headed off down the misty streets for home. We didn’t get very far though before we were stopped by a passing train.
New Years Day we rode back into central Hanoi. The streets were relatively quiet and many shops closed. We had an eggs benny brunch in the Old Quarter, stopped for some DVDs and registered for a cooking class the next day. We parked our bikes and walked around the Old Quarter. We passed the block where bamboo is sold…
Then we discovered where everyone was: Hoan Kiem Lake for the Flower Festival. The streets were packed. Traffic was insane so we parked our bikes and went on foot to see what was going on. We skirted the edge of the lake, where I took this photo of the interesting colours of the lake.
Currently a German company is doing a test dredge of a small portion of the lake as it is filling with sludge. Somewhere in this lake is the legendary huge tortoise – rarely seen or photographed. So they have to be very careful not to suck the tortoise into the intake pipe. The project is going well and they’re going to continue cleaning the rest of the lake in the new year. There’s lots of talk about cleaning up Hanoi’s pollution: the lakes, the air and the garbage. May the new year, which is Hanoi’s 1000th anniversary, bring these clean-ups to fruition.
We were underawed by the floral displays and not ready for the crowds so we didn’t spend too long looking at the displays.
Many people were out on the streets, having their photos taken with the floral backdrops but we left the citizens to their pleasures and biked on home. The rest of the day we spent relaxing with DVDs, including a rather hilarously subtitled version of District 9.
The next morning was our cooking class at the Blue Butterfly. The first part of the course was a trip to the market.
We walked down several streets and lanes picking up green papayas, sprouts and other ingredients for our dishes. We found out what some of the produce was that we hadn’t identified before and got a better idea of prices – handy for trips to our local markets. Then we walked back to the Blue Butterfly for our cooking instruction.
There were five of us in the course: a man from the south of France (whose wife videotaped the lesson), a couple from England’s Lake District and ourselves. We started with Green Papaya Salad, then onto Spring Rolls and (for us vegetarians) Grilled Aubergine. Sue and I also learned to make a sweet banana dessert. Finally we all ate what we’d made. Tasty! We’ll be practicing here and perfecting our techniques.
That evening we met Peter at one of our favourite bai hoi’s for dinner. I like this spot because it reminds me of the Polynesian restaurants my parents would take me. There’s some thatched roof, a pond with catfish and groups of people enjoying the good food and cold draft beer.
Peter came back from the washroom and told me if I wanted to see a deer to take a walk over that way. Sure enough, there tethered in a corner was a deer…
A strange, and sad, spectacle.
We had a good time and talked of future plans, including next year’s teaching/travel stint. Some interesting options. We just need to survive the Hanoi traffic… Although the ride to this particular bia hoi is one of my favourites: along the woodworking street with all its small shops, past numerous karaoke bars and small lanes heading off into the dark.
And so ends our holiday season in Hanoi… relaxing, lots of great food and some surreal sights.
All the Best to You for 2010!