Hanoi Holiday (part 1)

What is it about so much excitement that sometimes trips you up and knocks you down? Sigh…what that our bodies could run on excitement! In the wake of one crazy/fun time in Hanoi, coupled with wacky flight times (i.e. leaving Hanoi at 1am!), I lie here feeling crummy and sniffly with flu-like symptoms. Ah! The price I pay for eking the most out of my weekend!

I am happy to report though, that it was all worth it for me :)

Hanoi was a wild little city, its almost unreal amount of motorbikes zooming past me, making me gulp in fear and excitement. Over the din of horn-honking rose skinny buildings looking distinctly un-Asian, while in the streets decidedly Asian-looking food beckoned at my growling stomach. People chattered, children giggled, everyone stopped for a coffee. Old pagodas crowded shoulder to shoulder against newer buildings. For one brief moment, I seemed to be stuck on the curb (literally and figuratively), scared to take a step lest some rogue motorbike knock me down. And then I realized, in Hanoi, you just have to suck in your gut and take the plunge.

And what a plunge it was! Delicious food and friendly faces (except for the random errant taxi driver...but we all have those, don't we?), a surprise around every corner, old-world French charm and magical Asian energy. We managed to squeeze in quite a lot during our trip – here are my highlights (in no particular order):

My first bowl of pho in Vietnam – Our trip started out in the absolute best way possible: with a bowl of pho and a meeting with a local. We were total strangers, but Q kindly offered to meet us and show us a good bowl of pho…which she certainly did! The place at 49 Bat Dan was filled to overflowing, with a brisk turnover of customers. The pho came fast and furious, steaming and smelling of only good things. You line up, choose among the 3 combinations on offer, take your pho, and find a place to sit. This was the best I’ve had, the broth’s meaty backbone punctuated with the fresh, bright notes of green from the herbs. Pho Bat Dan: 49 Bat Dan, Old Quarter, Hanoi.

A lake in the middle of the city and a pen to write on the sky – Fortified by our pho, Q then showed us around. We walked through the colorful streets if the old quarter, then out onto Hoan Kiem Lake. Taking a leisurely stroll around it (as all strolls around lakes should be leisurely), I secretly wished that I had a nice lake I could walk to in the middle of my city! Especially one with a nice red lacquered bridge :) As we made our way across, hordes of school kids flocked about in neat lines, each one holding the back of the kid in front of them. Q pointed at the obelisk right outside – the Writing Brush Tower – “a pen to write on the blue sky”, she explained. I think we all should have more pen monuments around.

Vietnamese coffee – After our exploring, it was time for further fortification. Q asked us if we preferred the café with a view or one with some local artwork. “The one with the better coffee”, I said with a smile. Coffee is one of the things I cannot live without, and I already like Vietnamese coffee…to have it on its own shores was beyond exciting for me. We filed into the small café where people sat outdoors and motorbikes were parked inside. We settled into a backroom with low stools and tables, with sunlight streaming through the ceiling. Paintings by Vietnamese artist Bui Xuan Phai hung on the walls. I ordered coffee with milk and ice (it was a hot day). I was floored. The coffee came in a small glass with a strip of condensed milk on the bottom. It was dark as sin and almost syrupy in texture. And it was as strong as a blow to the head with a sledgehammer. If you know me and coffee, then you would know that this is a very, very good thing. I didn’t want it to end. Café Lam, Nguyen Huu Huan St., Hanoi.

The Temple of Literature – Just the sound of its name put me in a good place. How could I not like, by default, a temple devoted to learning? A peaceful sanctuary in the middle of the city, it is a complex of five interconnecting courtyards, ending with the National Academy, Vietnam’s first university. I imagined scholars still walking around its paths and ponds, pondering on life’s truths. Temple of Literature: entrance on Quoc Tu Giam St, Hanoi.

And speaking of life’s truths…this girl’s got to get some rest and put a dent in the work that has piled up in her absence! Time for a spot of Berocca! I’ll be back with more as soon as I can :)