Well, rather than go chronologically with this one I figured I should tackle the title first. Jump forward a couple of days in, after meeting up with my Trans-Sib friends (you remember Jonathan and Camille?) we were gonna head to a quiz night and were looking for food. We sat down at a little open place, with no English menu, very little English being spoken, but with some very encouraging people sharing their rice rice with us (this became a staple of Hanoi).
Now, any of you who are familiar with Vietnamese will notice in the background it says “Thịt chó” so this translates as ‘dog meat’. We were unaware of this at the time and when asking what meat it was, it sounded very much like they said ‘duck’. I even gave them my incredibly Daffy Duck impersonation to confirm. Alas, when one of the final dishes came, let’s call it “foot soup”, we realised, these were not ducks feet. Slowly it dawned on us that we had eaten dog. I’m not too fussed as I’ve always said I’ll try it. If it’s raised as livestock I don’t really see the difference between a dog and a cow. As long as I didn’t eat someones actual pet I’m all good. It tasted like the seasoning it was in more than anything in particular. It was a little fatty but overall relatively pleasant.
As you can see I bumped into my Canadian friends again. We later met up with a few others who we had gathered with in Mongolia, a Chilean couple Cristian and Cata. We went out for a massive feast together at the friendliest place in Hanoi. A man, who calls himself William for the foreign tongue, has set up a small little restaurant with the intent of giving children a chance to get off the streets and making something of themselves. He has gone through the same rags to restaurant owner story we see a lot in movies and read in Facebook feeds.
He’s incredibly generous and as with the men the previous night, will attempt to shower you in rice wine, he even tried to not let us pay for our meal. However after describing to him the blatant flaw in his business plan he reluctantly accepted our money. Not only did we have a mini-reunion, we also made some new friends from the tropical sub-continent of India, Anant and his wife Ridhima. Quickly becoming friends we all got to sharing about what we do, where we want to go, the usual backpacker small talk. Yet as always happens, we did drift onto some political/ethical talk and that’s always when it gets more interesting!
Hanoi itself is an interesting place. Lots of hustle and bustle that reminded me a little of Beijing with it’s windy streets and numerous vendors of practically everything. Although it is a central city and obviously attracts a lot of tourism it still maintains it’s charm and doesn’t feel like the city is trying to cater to tourists too enthusiastically. Obviously you’ll have taxi drivers, moto drivers, and any other kind of wheeled vehicle asking to give you a ride. But other than that it has a rustic, grubby charm. I grabbed a quick street-side haircut for the extortionate price of £2, managed to find a dessert I had been looking for, went to a water puppet show (ok this one was REALLY touristy, but the puppets were impressive), made a quick journey to Paris, enjoyed some great people watching and just generally have a very pleasant time.
Hanoi was great, and was a nice rest before heading to the anagram of itself, Hoi An.
Now, I got a bit of flack for being so negative about this place but I couldn’t help it. It feels like an amusement park akin to Epcot. It’s very designed, structured, almost like walking through the set of somewhere. There are lots of ‘traditional’ activities to observe, but like the water puppet show, it seems entirely based on entertaining western ideas of eastern images. There are more tourists than residents. Every corner has someone trying to get you in their bar with a free this or that. The women carrying fruit are not selling the fruit, but photo opportunities. It’s bizarre and very disillusioning. Which is sad because it probably was a very beautiful and peaceful city.
I quickly chose to escape and run away to Da Nang which looked fairly cool with all its lights and glitter, but I’ll tell you about that another day along with Saigon!