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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

2 December 2018

Coffee Hanoi

Typical Hanoi cafe

Typical Hanoi cafe

25 November 2018

The French Quarter forms an interesting counterpoint to the parts of central Hanoi we’ve been exploring so far. The streets are straight, the pavements are wide, and most of the buildings are residential. This makes walking along a much easier and less insane proposition. It also makes the French Quarter very uninteresting. About as attractive and interesting as a run-down area of a medium sized city somewhere near you.

So that’s the point about Hanoi: the aspects of it that fascinate, and have you pulling out your camera every hundred yards saying “look at that!” go hand-in-hand with the frenzy and grime that leave you exhausted and needing a coffee break after a fifteen minute walk. They are the yin and yang of the place.

Feather dusters at the double

Feather dusters at the double

Speaking of coffee, that is one thing that I’ve fallen in love with in Hanoi. There are a myriad of tiny cafes here, along with a whole bunch of handsome larger ones. But I’m most taken with the tiny hole-in-the-wall places. At one of these I tried an egg coffee and totally enjoyed it. The egg is a sweetened foam, so more like a cross between cappuccino froth and meringue, and it’s liberally dusted with cinnamon.

Though to be fair, my favourite is just the classic Vietnamese coffee; strong, dark black coffee with a layer of condensed milk on the bottom that you stir in. Either taken hot, or with a bunch of ice cubes thrown in it suddenly becomes a great cold drink.

She sells flowers

She sells flowers

Going back to the yin/yang of frenzy and fascination, let me see if I can remember some of the things we’ve seen – good, bad or wierd – that have stuck in my mind. Street markets are good for oddities. We’ve seen big baskets full of live soft-shelled turtles with pointy noses. Also dead chickens very fetchingly displayed with a rose sticking out of their upturned beak. Watching women chopping up chicken on a small wooden block just 2 inches off the pavement is very icky.

We’ve seen lots of very specific bicycle vendors too. Some selling flowers, others selling fruit. One guy selling feather dusters. And a woman who seemed to have turned a single shopping trolley into an entire small clothes shop. There are also entire streets dedicated to selling just one thing. One street had perhaps 20 sunglasses shops in a row. Another street had nothing but seats and bodywork for scooters. Another was definitely paint street. And our own hotel was actually on gaudy tat street. I can’t think of a better way to describe the row of shops all selling smiling porcelain buddhas, tinsel-strewn decorative centrepieces and garish multi-coloured glass lamps.

Romantic chicken dinner?

Romantic chicken dinner?

We also saw some very lackadaisical law enforcement. We had stopped at a cafe by the shore of a small lake. There were a row of these cafes, across the road from the lake, and some had put tables and chairs out on the other side of the road to attract folks wanting to sip drinks while looking at the lake.

Well, a pickup containing uniformed men drove up and our cafe owner hurriedly crossed the road and grabbed up his tables and chairs (startling the couple who had sat down there). So did the next door cafe. The pickup stopped and the uniformed men had an altercation with the next door cafe owner. They picked up one of his tables, letting the food and drink slide off it, and threw it in the back of their pickup. Then they drove off, with him running after them screaming his frustration. That’ll teach him.


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