Dragons in the Streets

In the morning a driver in a tall black van arrived and took us to where the bus to Hội An departed from. While we drove by the big river, he told us that he’s Catholic and there are many Catholics like him in Vietnam, along with many Buddhists, but no Muslims at all. We arrived pretty quick to his office, that was a room facing the street, and in the entrance parked many motorcycles and small vehicles. I looked around – there were two small fans on the walls that eased on the heat and a lot of photos with landscapes of the country. The driver went out again and left us with our bags, that took most of the seats in the small office, and came back again a few minutes later with the van, and this time some women with babies – some of them pregnant – got off the car and went into the office, disappearing behind a beaded curtain. We still had fifteen minutes to wait and I wanted to use the bathroom before we go, so I went as well behind the beaded courtain into a big living room where an old couple sat behind a table and drank beer. They kindly smiled at me as I took off my shoes in the entrance and looked for the bathroom around the house.

After a while the driver told us to take our bags and cross the street, where we waited for a few minutes to a big bus with seats with blue decorations and many people from different places. We sat in the back, hoping to catch a breeze once in a while from the window since there was no air conditioning, and after a group of women with long blue clothes got off the bus, we began the ride. It didn’t took long since Đà Nẵng and Hội An are close. A group of Asian tourists kept leaning above us to take photos. We could see through the window the bridge with the dragon, which everybody in the bus was very excited about, then the sea, some resorts places under construction, some shabby neighborhoods. Eventually we stopped at a sunny parking lot in Hội An. As we got off the bus a bunch of bikers approached us and asked if anybody needs a ride, so we joined two of them and they took us to the hotel.

A nice polite woman with a blue dress greeted us at the hotel, and said there is another Israeli couple staying there and the guy’s name is also Roni. A younger woman showed us our spacious room in the third floor, and after a brief shower we went downstairs again. The women in the reception told us about the area and the hotel, and how to get from place to place. I had a hard time concentrating in the conversation because I was tired from the ride and the heat, and my eyes kept wandering to the sweat droplets on the woman’s forehead. They all wore thick and long clothes, and I imagined they must be really hot underneath them. Afterwards we went outside to look for the marketplace. It was about 12 PM and the streets were dozy, but the market was relatively busy. We entered a big building with lots of booths of food and had hot and spicy noodles soup with lemon. After we sweated all our demons out we strolled outside, exploring the city with the little streets and clothing and souvenirs shops, And when it was really hot we came back to the hotel’s swimming pool. Since the beach was a bit far from the city center we chose a hotel with a pool so we could pass the time there in the hot hours, instead of just being stuck in the room.

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The hotel was medium-sized and very cute and the pool was small and surrounded with plants, and pleasant women worked there. We hade coffee and swam in the chill water and later on a woman with a bottle of beer and two children came there too, and also the Israeli couple, who talked Hebrew quietly and I wasn’t sure if they now we are from Israel as well.

Around 5 PM the weather got better, so we washed ourselves in the room and went outside towards the night market. We arrived at a wide river with lots of small colorful boats and crossed the bridge to the other side, where some fat cows stood between the houses and ate grass. As the skies got darker colorful lamps were lit everywhere in the main street where the market was. Women in simple wooden boats cruised along the river and sold candles in different colored paper boats, and people bought them and floated them on the water. There was a festive feeling all around. Once in a while groups of children passed by wearing costumes of dragons when one is the head and the other is the tail, and together with them walked other kids that some of them are dressed as chubby round-faced idols and others play drums. It was a few days before the mid-autumn festival, which has a back story about a dragon attacking the sinners and the god of earth collecting bribe to calm the dragon down. There were many booths of different objects, special lamps, clothes, jewelry, bags. We sat to eat Cao lầu, a dish unique to the city – noodles with fried pork and lots of greens, and spicy sauce on the side. We walked a lot, in both sides of the river, getting lost in the stylish shops and streets. We went inside a book store with some souvenirs and spent there some time since everything was so beautiful, and we saw various art shops, tailors, housewares – everything so special and diverse, like getting into someone’s attic full of goodies. Like in Sapa we saw many Israelis, perhaps because it was the holidays in Israel. we shared some fatty coconut pastry that Roni bought from a woman in the street, and then had tea at a cafe that looked like a museum. We entered a coffee shop that smelled amazing and looked at the bags of coffee beans they sold, and then tried coffee ice-cream that they made.

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We walked back to the hotel, since it was getting late and the market was closing. Roni got into a small groceries store and bought ground coffee beans while I stood outside and watched a big dragons parade that blocked the street, and then we had beer at a small pub next to the hotel. We went back to the room, talked with our families back home, and went to sleep on the huge bed.

Little Sand Houses

We woke up early and went to have coffee by the sea. It was exactly a month into the trip and the days before the flight, and Thailand, and my life with the old job and the apartment, they all seemed to me like ages ago.

We went back to the hotel for a moment to change clothes, and then took a cab to the city center and went to the market. It had a covered part with lots of seafood, huge fish and crabs, another part with meat, further in there were booths with housewares and different objects, and at the top floor there were many shops and booths for shoes and clothes stacked on one another. We explored the place slowly, mostly because it was shady and fans were working everywhere, and when we’ve had enough we came back to the heat outside. We strolled the streets under the beating sun and stopped to have iced tea we got for free – many places serve complimentary iced tea, like tap water, so to them it was as if we just stopped by to have some water. The owner was very nice but I’ve felt a bit uncomfortable, so we left a big tip and went to look for food. We sat at one of the small places around that you can find everywhere in this area – places that work kinda like a cafeteria, you just sit and get a plate of whatever they have today. They served plates of rice with two shrimps, fried egg, tofu, two slices of beef, quail egg and some fried pork with the bone. Those places were my favorite, since the food was very comforting and fulling. We kept walking around but everybody began closing for their afternoon break. Sweat was dripping on my back and the heat was tiring, so we took a cab back to the hotel.

The room was already clean and perfumed with a sweet cinnamon scent when we got back. I had a refreshing shower and then we fell asleep for an hour or two, and when we woke up we went to the beach. The weather was much better and there were fewer people than the day before, since it wasn’t the weekend anymore. At first we went to a distant beach and when we saw it was similar to the closer one we came back there. The sea was a bit raging, but cold and nice. After a short dip we sat on the sand between the curious crabs and read books, as the skies got darker and darker. We passed the time between the sea and the books and when the evening came we were very hungry, so we took another shower at the hotel and went back outside to find a good restaurant.

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We stopped at a big restaurant by the beach, one of those that serve fresh sea creatures that they keep in the blue plastic tubs with pipes streaming oxygen into them. They had such a wide variety that we had a hard time choosing, and eventually chose half a kilo of big shrimps and two fat crabs, together with beer and rice. A young gaudy girl struggled to fish them out because they kept jumping from her hands and twisted on the floor so we helped her catch them,and felt as if we were hunting for dinner. She told us to wait for a table while a few sweaty young men cleared tables and set them with maps. Meanwhile a skinny woman with a big burn on her arm served us bowls and chopsticks. When we didn’t get the beer we saw that people just go to the fridge and take their drinks so we did the same, and when the server saw we took beer she gave us two glasses with ice. Since they made everything by order we waited for a while for the food, but we didn’t mind and it was really worth it. We got the crabs fried and cut into quarters, cooked in an orange sauce with something that looked like small prunes, and a little later we got the shrimps, fried in garlic and served on fresh green leaves. Afterwards we got the rice, which we dipped in the sauces. The food was great and well made, the beer was cold and the place was busy and happy, full of families and celebrating people. Street vendors walked around and sold toys for the kids and fruits. At the end of the meal we asked where we can wash our hands and they sent us to a sink in the middle of the kitchen, next to a cage with a grey fat bird that stood on a small swing and napped. Afterwards we went to find a place to have some beer at. We sat at a small half empty place near the hotel, where apart from us sat a bunch of bellied friendly men who laughed with us and toasted, and asked us questions about our country. On the side, at one of the corners, sat the children and family of the owner and watched TV. A young shirtless guy smiled and winked at me when we paid. Afterwards we walked quickly to the hotel since I had to pee thanks to all the beer and all the pubs had only men’s rooms. I went up to the room and meanwhile Roni asked at the reception how to get to our next destination – Hội An, and then we tried to find a hotel through Trip Advisor. It took us a while because we conflicted whether we should book a hotel by the beach, or in the city center. Our hotel in Đà Nẵng was very close to the beach but it was a bit complicated to get to the city center, and we’ve felt as if we are missing something. Eventually we went to bed and decided to decide in the morning.

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At night I dreamt again that I’m going back to my old job, just to help them out through the holidays, I dream I still have once in a while.

We got up early and had meat soup and fried egg at the hotel, while a big Indian family sat next to us, a mother with a cute daughter and two other women with too many children. We came back to the room to book a hotel in Hội An – eventually we chose one in the center, and then went to look at the blue sea that shimmered in the sun, with small fisher boats here and there. Afterwards we went to have a drink at the sunny streets next to the hotel, and when we didn’t find anything we came back to the boardwalk and had coconut juice and watermelon juice. There was a chill wind from the sea and the drinks were cool and refreshing, and calmed the hunger that began to raise, which was good since it helped me avoid snacking. As I wore my swimsuit at the hotel I checked myself in the mirror and saw I’ve put on some weight, so I tried to pay attention to what I’m eating. We went to have a light lunch where we met the two Americans in the first day, and it really was as good as they said – noodles with beef, shrimps, vegetables and hard-boiled egg, with lemon and chili peppers on the side. At one of the tables in the corner sat an old lady who laughed at Roni and pointed at her head, and at first we thought she’s laughing because she’s not used to seeing blond people, but apparently she found it funny that he is not wearing a hat.

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We went back to the room that was already cleaned and perfumed with that cinnamon scent, had tea and napped for a while, but I put an alarm clock because I didn’t want to sleep all day. We got up at two and went to have iced coffee at a nice lady who also served us iced tea. A young shirtless guy, probably her son, appeared from behind a beaded curtain that led to another room, looking as if he just woke up from his nap. We went to a small groceries store and bought some small boxes for the teabags we bought earlier, and got back to the room to change to swimsuits. We arrived at the beach relatively early, when there weren’t many people yet and the sun was beating, so we sat in the shadow of the lifeguard’s hut. In Đà Nẵng’s beach there is always soft music playing from speakers all around the area, and once in a while the music stops for a recorded message of list of safety rules recited by a woman with a sweet voice. I used the sun to try to get an even tan, because I’ve always had funny tan marks on my shoulders from different clothes I wore, and as I did that I realized that the Vietnamese people try to avoid tanning by wearing long clothes that protect their skin even when it’s very hot. Later on we went swimming and walked along the shore. People began arriving little by little, mostly those who exercised on the sand. When we got a bit hungry we had another coconut juice at one of the shacks on the beach. We sat on the sand and read or tried to learn some more Vietnamese with the guide-book we got at Hanoi, and looked at the crabs as they built their little houses. When it got dark we went back to take a shower and went outside again to look for dinner.

It took us a while to find a place since we didn’t feel like having seafood like the day before and that was what most places offered, and we didn’t want to take a cab to the center. We gave up and began walking towards the hotel to find something in the area, and right before we arrived we found a small place that served phở bò so we sat there. Next to us sat five local women who ate a lot of crabs and had a lot of beer. After dinner we went to have beer by the beach. There were two kids on double bicycles that shone with many lights and played strident music, and when they fell of it made the people sitting at the table next to us laugh. Afterwards the girl walked angrily with the bicycles and the boy walked behind her and tried to tell her something, which made them laugh even more.

We went back to the last night in the hotel and snacked peanuts in front of the TV. They had in Vietnam a few channels with movies in English with Vietnamese subtitles, so once in a while we managed to catch a nice movie. That night we watched Tammy, a funny movie from 2014 with  Melissa Mccarthy and Susan Sarandon, and afterwards Back to the Future 2 was featured. We fell asleep slowly with the TV.

 

A Big City with a Yellow Dragon

We really liked Huế but it was time to move on. We decided that the next destination will be Đà Nẵng, a big city with a beach. After breakfast we came back to the room to book the next hotel, and then went out again towards the river. We had coffee and sat on the lawn with books. A young woman approached us and wanted to chat to practice on her English, which was nice at first and got awkward after a while. She told us she was 23 and graduates from university soon and lives with her parents, and that some people in Vietnam (or in Huế at least) live with their parents until they get married. She also said she has a boyfriend but her parents don’t allow them to sleep in the same bed because they want her to stay a virgin until the wedding. We wanted to move on so we said goodbye after she added me on Facebook, and then we went to look for an ATM and then to the market. It was very hot and sunny and after a short while we sat down to have Bún bò. We got back to the hotel to pay for the room and book a trip to Đà Nẵng for the next day, and then I went to pack our bags and Roni went outside to look for an ATM that works with American Express. It took him a while and I started to worry, and when he came back he told me that he met the Australian man again. We took a brief nap and when we were hungry we came back to the Bánh mì restaurant, and had rice with chicken and noodles with beef. We strolled in the city, exploring its streets and daily routine, getting to the more wretched areas. We had iced coffee at a stylish cafe where a woman with piercings and short hair worked, and walked slowly towards the hotel.

By the evening Quan took us to a big restaurant under the skies in which every table had a small grill, and you order skewers and meat and fry it yourself. Many groups of young teens parked their motorcycles in the side and sat there, and some tables had crates with beer next to them. It’s a system we saw many times – when a big group of people comes in they just put a beer crate next to them, and when they want to pay the server count how many cans they took. It saves some time for the waiters and probably encourages the costumer to drink more, when the beer is more available for them. Quan ordered a skewer of okra, together with pork, shrimps and frog’s legs, and everything was fresh and crunchy and very good. He showed us how to roll the frog in a big leaf and dip it in salt and lemon, but it was hard for me to eat like this since it was full of small bones. He said to just spit them out, but the whole sorting process in the mouth takes too much skill. It was the first time I ever tried frog and it surprised me how gentle the flavour was, somewhere between chicken and crab. Quan’s friend from high school joined us and said her name was Hang, which means Moon. She was very pretty, with moon-like round and white face and full lips, and dimples on her cheeks. She was a bit shy but it went well because Quan was very chatty, and led the conversation. He told us that he ate a dog several times and described the meat, which is similar to beef but harder and more fibrous. We asked him if he ever ate a cat and he was shaken, how can you even think of eating a cat?

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After lots of food and beer we came back to the hotel by foot. We woke up the next morning with a slight headache and after breakfast we went downstairs with our bags and left them at the lobby, and went to have iced tea at the woman by the hotel. We met there one of the hotel’s employees, a woman with a cute smile who blinks a lot, and she saw I had a lot of mosquitoes bites on my legs and recommended I put mint-oil on it. They arranged for us at the hotel a trip to Đà Nẵng through mountains and beaches in the area. The driver came with his long hair and a bit rowdy face, and Quan helped us take the bags to the car. We said goodbye and added each other on Facebook, and began the ride. Before we left the city the driver stopped and got out of the car, and came back after a few minutes with a small green bottle of the mint-oil – apparently the woman from the hotel asked him to buy it for me. We thanked him and paid him back. The oil has a strong smell of, well, mint, and it is used as a magic medicine for everything, from migraines to tendonitis. It stinged for a second when I put it on the itchy bites, and then chilled the skin.

It was very hot and I couldn’t help but falling asleep, and after about two hours Roni woke me up to see the view. A white beach with blue water was spread in front of us, an infinite horizon with green mountains at the distance and some simple fisher boats in the sea. We made a stop there by a hut where they served seafood, and went to dip our feet in the water and take a walk across the shore. When it got too hot we came back to the hut, where there were some big aquariums with big fish and shrimps and some tubs with seafood. We ordered some fried shrimps and iced tea, and moved on.

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The car parked in the sun and was very hot, and it took a while to cool again. The driver stopped again at an amazing viewpoint above the sea, where a man with a wide hat approached us and tried to sell us maps and showed us his foreign bills collection. After we took in the picturesque view we came back to the car and continued, shaking on half-built roads between the mountains until we reached the top of a high mountain and stopped again. It wasn’t as hot over there thanks to a cool wind that blew once in a while and there were some plants and trees that gave shade. There were some people with booths that tried to sell us souvenirs or drinks but we refused. We explored the place by foot together with a curious dog that followed us everywhere, and after the driver finished drinking his iced tea we continued.

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We drove for another half an hour, during which we stopped at another viewpoint where we could see the whole huge Đà Nẵng from above, and began going downhill into the city. We drove between the small houses in the outskirts of the city and through huge houses in the center, above big bridges towards the beach, until we arrived at the hotel. An employee from the hotel with fancy uniform greeted us and took the bags inside. We said goodbye to the driver and paid and tipped him, and entered a clean big lobby. A silver statue of many fish swimming upward towards the ceiling stood by the wall to our right. A polite and nice woman behind the counter gave us the key, and a young man came with us to the seventh floor and showed us the big designed room with the view to the sea. Apparently we booked a fancier hotel than we planed, and even though we usually prefer the smaller homely places it’s still nice to indulge once in a while.

We showered and changed clothes, and went downstairs hungry. We made a short walk in the area but it was the hot afternoon hour and everybody closed for a break. Eventually we sat at a small place that was still open together with two tall American women who recommended on the food. They told us that they arrived a week ago to a ten months trip in Vietnam, during which they are going to teach English to make a living. They asked us if we are going at the evening to the big bridge at the city center which has a yellow statue of a huge dragon all along, and said that each Sunday the dragon spits fire. We tried to order food from the woman who worked there but she was closing as well and said she’s out of everything, so we kept looking. We arrived at a seafood restaurant with blue plastic tubs on the floor full of different fish and sea creatures, and ordered fresh shrimps with rice. After the delicious meal we came back to the hotel and waited for the hot hour to pass, and went to the beach at five.

Unlike in Israel, where the sun sets into the sea, in Vietnam it sets on the other side so the beach was shady and chill. There was a lovely vibe and many people swam or sat on the shore, and two lifeguards were strolling around – one on the shoreline and another one on a small boat in the distance. The water itself was wonderful and clear and the wind was cool. After we with footprints by tiny crabs. We stopped under a small shack where two elderly hippies offered us beer via a funny pantomime of a drunk man, so we stopped by to have fresh coconut juice. When the evening came we got back to have another brief shower, and then went to the city.

We walked by foot on the slightly empty streets that were filling as we went. We arrived at the bridge with the yellow dragon and crossed it towards the other bank, where dozens of people did aerobics in groups at a square with lots of statues and lights, and children skated on roller blades and played with dogs. We walked into the city itself, trying to avoid the tourists traps, and had some soup with dumplings in a small restaurant on the street. Afterwards we came back to the bridge, that was now blocked by cops for the fire show. At nine thirty there really was some fire – on the other side of the bridge, where we came from, and it ended quite fast. Anyway thousands of people crowded to look at it, and the whole area had a festive feeling.

We walked back on the bridge, that slowly opened again, and sat to drink some coconut juice and sugar cane juice. We’ve met the two Americans again, who said the show was kind of funny. People began folding back the plastic chairs that they spread around to look at the dragon, and we came back to the room and went to bed.

Big Earlobes Bring Luck

We got up early and went down to the hotel’s loby by eight, where a note from Quan waited for us, written in a neat handwriting, saying that his friend will meet us there at four thirty. We went to eat Bún bò Huế, a soup similar to Phở but with different seasoning and thicker Bún noodles, and it’s served mainly at Huế or Souther. Afterwards we had iced coffee at a woman who stood behind a wagon in the entrance to the alley where our hotel was, and her coffee was among the best ones we’ve ever had in Vietnam, or generaly. She would make big amounts of black coffee in plastic bottles in advance and then pour them by order into big glasses with crushed ice and condenced milk, and together with the scorching heat of the city, this coffee was perfect every time.

We went again to the market and I bought ten simple hair bends and the two vendor rolled in laughter after I paid – probably they charged me a higher price, but those things didn’t bother me anyway. We bought soap and then found out that there is another floor to the market’s building, where they sold mostly clothes so we bought a little. We crossed the river again, which was surrounded with a neat lawn with some small paths and white sculptures, and had another cup of iced coffee. When we were hungry we got back to the hotel’s area and ate at a Bánh mì resturant ran by a mother and a daughter. Bánh mì is one of the biggest remnants of the French rule that was ther before, together with the coffee fields and the latin letters. It’s a baguette filled with some goodies, meat or sausages, green leaves, something crunchy like pickled carrot or cucumber, and the strict ones also add liver pate. Every place makes it different, and you can ask to add or remove things. We ate there and I tried to write in my journal when a fat German man who migrated to Australia came in and told us that he’s been traveling to Vietnam once a year for eight years, for a mounth each time. When he heard we are Israelis he mentioned that he’s a jew too and then opened with a long monolog, during which he apologized several times for talking too much, but went on. He began the story by him having cancer before but he has healed thanks to the lemon he’s eating and the tea he’s drinking. After that he said that his wife is also sick, so he takes care of her for eleven mounths but when he’s in Vietnam he doesn’t. He said he calls our generation “The Zombies Generation” since we are always with our heads inside the smartphones, and the said he once petted an elephant and it had a tear and now he gets the chills whenever he thinks about that – he showed us his hand so we can see the goosebumps. He finished with a strange story about the local women – a young lady who worked in a hotel where he stayed had a crush on him because of his huge earlobes, and after one night with him she got pregnant with her husband after they tried unsuccessfully for ten years.

Before four thirty we came back to the woman with the coffee near our hotel and had iced tea. A little girl played with my phone and maybe somehow sent text messages to random people. Quan’s friend arrived with a motorcycle – Ann, a girl with black short hair and red glasses, and after a few minutes her friend arrived – Ducky, with a ponytail and round face. I guess the word “Awkward” was invented for those kinds of situations. They both seemd very young, around 12 or so, but they were 18. I’ve felt as if they didn’t got our humor and when we talked about our country they just looked at us silently, which made us talk some more. They told us that they are going to study together economics in the university, a four years course, and afterwards they plan to move into one of the big cities and work for a big company. They know Quan since they used to work in an Italian resturant right next to the hotel. Generally, it seemd like they do everything together. They tried to teach us some Vietnamese, and mostly worked with us about the pronunciation of some of the syllables. There is one that I still can’s pronounce, that sounds somewhere between N and G and comes from inside the throat. They also taught us how to order coffee and food, which was very usefull during the trip. We spent about two hours together, and said we will meet the next day same time and same place and they will take us to have some local food.

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At the evening we went to the BBQ resturant where we ate on the first day, and then I bought a blue coat I saw earlier in a small shop and fell in love with. It was a bit strange to buy a coat in this hot weather, but I didn’t want to miss it. The woman who worked there said she runs the shop with her brother and they make all the clothes, she workes in the evening and her brother in the mornings.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the other market, on the other side of the city. It was smaller and mostly food, fruits, meat and live stock was sold there. On the way there we met the Australian with the big earlobes again and somehow he managed to find enough things to talk about for 15 minutes. It was very hot so we got inside a mall at the main street. It has a big supermarket with two floors, the first one is some kind of a general store and the second one has mostly groceries. I bought some simple shirts since I took too few with me and I got tired from sending clothes to laundry all the time, and some nail hardener. Traditional music was played everywhere and it was stuck in my head for the next hours. It was getting too hot to walk around so we took a cab back to the hotel, with a confused driver who kept asking people for directions. They were cleaning our room so we went outside to have another Bánh mì. Each afternoon in the hot cities everybody takes a break for napping – at the stores and cafes they put a mattress on the floor behind the counter, fall asleep on the lawn by the river, or even tie a hammock between two trees in the street and sleep in it. Sometimes it’s hard to find something open at these hours, but the Bánh mì resturant was still open so we went there. After they done cleaning we came back for a shower and a nap, and around four I woke Roni up and we went downstairs to meet Ann and Ducky again.

They took us by foot to a small resturant where we ate some yummy rice cookies – rice leaves rolled with different things, mostly shrimps and vegetables or crispy pork skin. Afterwards they ordered for us a sweet soup with noodles and crabs, which I didn’t really like because it’s texture was too gooey for me. From there we went to have coffee. It was still a bit awkward and Roni tried to brick the ice and asked them to teach us some bad language, which made them giggle and blush. We sat at an open cafe that was spread over a big avenue, and Ann taught me how to approach waiters and people from different ages. It’s a bit complicated since you need a lot of tact when approaching a middle-aged woman, because she might get offended and think she looks older than she really is. We told them that Roni and I studied animation together, and Ann showed me a small cartoon she made on a notebook and gave it to somebody she had a crush on. They said that the universities have some clubs and they are in the music club and they are supposed to go there the next day and sing a song by Adele, but they are nervous because Ann has a sore throat. Later on Quan finished his shift at the hotel and joined us, which eased on the vibe. He also had coffee and then we paid and went to have beer at a place that seemed from outside like a kiosk, but there were some low stools inside and we sat there between the shelves. Bags with dried meat were hanging from above and Quan took one so we could try it, and we even got plates for that. It was tasty, but too much of it caused a heartburn. Afterwards he ordered for us banana leaves rolled with pork and hot pepper, which I really liked. I had to pee because of all the beer but there was only a men’s room there with no door, so Quan drove me to the hotel with his heavy bike and brought me back. After another beer or two we came back to the hotel, took each other’s Facebook names and said goodbye. I felt kind of relieved because this whole situation was awkward and I was afraid to say the wrong thing all the time, but I was very happy we did it, because we would never have reached those places without them.

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A Night Train to Huế

It was strange to get back to Hanoi after we thought we said goodbye from it for good. After a brief shower at the hotel we went outside to eat at a place ran by a couple where we used to eat sometimes, who sold fried meat in a baguette in the middle of the street. The woman would sit in front of a small grill and wave at it with a piece of plastic, and the man would serve the food and pour beer out of a big barrel. After we ate and recovered from the long ride we strolled once again in the familiar streets with a deep sense of nostalgia, like coming back to an ex. We drank cold watermelon juice at a busy cafe and looked at teens who walked around with a huge speaker while one of them performed with playback music, and afterwards we had craft ice-cream at a hipster place. It was already late but we didn’t want to finish the night so we went to have some beer where we sat before with the couple from Ecuador. When we got back to the hotel it was already dark and the doorman, who slept in the lobby on a mattress, woke up to unlock the door. He was wearing casual clothes and another man slept with him, and the whole situation was a bit awkward.

The next morning we got up early and booked a night train to Huế through Belle at the reception. We ate meat soup and had coffee where we sat on our first day, when we only arrived at Hanoi, a day that seemed so long ago. We kept walking around, saying goodbye to the city for the second time, and around 12 we got back to pack our bags and check out. We had to clear the room for the next guests but our train was leaving only in the evening, so they let us keep our bags in the hotel while we went out again and came back to our favorite places in the city, trying to soak them in as much as possible. We ate Bun-Cha at the loud woman and when it started raining we went to have strong and bitter tea until it cleared, and then had another coffee in front of a busy junction. After we traveled in the lake area we came back to the hotel but it was still early, so we had an early dinner at the couple with the grill in the street. We got some beers and snacks at a minimarket and at six thirty the taxi arrived. At seven we were already on the train.

We shared a booth with a middle-aged Vietnamese couple who talked a lot, but it didn’t bother us. It was an old and small booth with two bunk beds and an end table between them, and Roni and I were in the top beds so we could talk. Our two partners wore matching blue shirts and seemed like they were used to such traveling – they took out plastic boxes with hot meals and made a whole dinner on the small table, while Roni and I sat together on one bed and snacked cookies. I passed the time with my book – The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, a book about traveling in trains at different countries. Towards ten o’clock I put the book down and looked out the window, nudging with the train’s movements, and fell asleep without intending to. I woke up again at 2 AM, surprised that I managed to get some sleep, and couldn’t fall back asleep because I had to pee and didn’t feel like making the whole journey down the bunk bed and quietly out of the room and then to the toilet booth, that kinda looked like the toilets in an airplane. Eventually I gave up. When I got back to bed I lied on my back and listened to the rain that was falling all night. My thoughts went to foods I missed – olive oil, olives. Fresh crisp vegetable salad with salt and lemon. I even thought of a slightly salty local Israeli cheese, with some olive oil and herbs. Slowly I fell asleep again, and when I woke up it was already daylight and everybody in the booth were waking up as well. I went to brush my teeth in the shaking toilet booth and just didn’t feel clean enough, and went back to our booth to read some more. We tried to ask the Vietnamese couple where we are supposed to get off but they didn’t speak English, and only gave us spicy ginger candies. The man nonchalantly took Roni’s shoes when he went to brush his teeth, and when he came back he tried to teach us Vietnamese via a small guide-book we bought the day before from a man who sold used books. Around quarter to nine the train slowed down and the stewards called in the halls “Huế! Huế!” so we said goodbye and got off.

We went outside to the station that smelled of fresh rain, and some nice people helped us find the direction and catch a taxi with a decent looking driver. He drove us through a big organized street with plants and statues by a big river and stylish buildings, everything clean and fresh. We arrived at the hotel that was inside an alley with some more hotels. A nice lady approached us, and after we checked-in she invited us the have breakfast until the room is ready. Finlay, coffee! We had meat soup and some tasty fruits, and after the receptionist told us a little bit about the city she gave us the room key and I enjoyed a pampering shower, after that strange night.

We went towards the market. First we walked around in the alleys with some clothing stores and had lunch at a BBQ restaurant, and then approached the main street by the river and crossed a big bridge. There was nice air and soft wind, and even though we were warned before about a typhoon in the area that might reach there, there wasn’t any cloud in the sky. The market was loaded with goods, everything colorful and inviting, especially where they sold special and bright-colored fruits and vegetables. On the outside they sold different spices, meat, fish and chickens in cages, and on the covered area on the inside there were dark pathways busy with shoes, clothes, different kitchenware etc. We went to have iced coffee at a place that looked like a sleazy central bus station, and I paid 2,500 Dong to use the public toilets that were just a hole in the floor. We came back to the room and took a nap, and then went again to the other direction. On our way down we met Quan, a young friendly guy who helped us carry our bags to the room in the morning, and asked him if he could, or know somebody that could, teach us some basic Vietnamese. He said he’s got a friend who likes to meet people from different countries since she wants to practice English herself, so he will bring us together. It’s another thing we saw many times in Vietnam – many young people want to practice their English, and sometimes students would just approach us on the street to have a small talk. After we left the hotel we reach some sort of a down town, with many shops and businesses and mostly big roads busy with motorcycles. We traveled there and when we got hungry we had pork chops and noodles soup at a resturant in the street.

It was getting late and we were tired from the weird night in the train so we came back to the room and showered again, and then got into the big white bed and ate some of the fruits we bought at the market, falling asleep in front of a silly movie on the TV.

Happy Roshoshana

We got up at seven AM and right away I went outside to the porch, that viewed the town and mountains around, and roosters calls could be heard from the distance. We went downstairs to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, that was one of the only restaurants in the area, and an Israeli family with tired parents and two little kids sat next to us – it was Rosh Hashana, the new year’s evening, and I guess that many families went on vacations since we saw many Israelis that day.

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It was Sunday, and Bắc Hà had a big market that gathered people from neighboring villages. The market is also an attraction for tourists that went there by buses for day trips, and we saw them swarming there from the porch. It was still relatively empty in the morning and most of the activity took place in the more touristic area, where they sold souvenirs and clothes. The other parts of the market opened slowly – fruits and vegetables, kitchenware, strange objects, meat and seafood, live goose and chickens, vehicles parts. Women with colorful tribal clothing walked around – similar to the women from Sapa, but with slightly different colors on their clothes. There was a place for restaurants and we sat in one of them on a long bench and ate soft rice leaves rolled with many salty spices. Afterwards we went back to the market’s center and Roni bought a kitchen knife from a man who stood in front of dozens of different sized knives on a table, and a small dog napped beneath it. Then we had some coffee and a strange old lady sat with us and tried to chat, but gave up when we couldn’t understand her and went to order for herself some funky beans-drink from a little child that worked there. We looked at the people – an old man with a donkey, two Americans asked the waitress to take their photo, an Israeli woman sat on the stairs with a bag of popcorn and took photos of the tribal women.

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We went outside the market and took a walk in the town, but outside the center there wasn’t much to see beside the dozy streets. By the afternoon we came back, when booths began to shut and people lead their stock on buffaloes and small horses they led with leashes. We had coffee at a woman who was suspiciously nice who later on took a way-too-hight price, something we’ve met a lot – sometimes we were charged with higher price since we were tourists and we usually went with it, because the difference was just a few Shekels for us. It seemed silly to waste time arguing on something so small, especially if it’s a big difference for the vendor. We went back to the hotel, and as we took the key at the reception the hotel’s manager blessed us with “Happy Roshoshana” with a fake American accent he used when he talked with tourists. He told us that he met many Israelis who explained him that it was a holiday for us. There was something a bit depressing in it that I can’t explain, like waking up from a dream. We didn’t have a festive feeling since we were on the other side of the world, and just didn’t think about it. When the evening came we went to look for something outside but everything was so desolate, so we gave up and went back to the hotel’s restaurant, that was the most lively thing around. Since all the tables were full we sat together with a French couple that looked like they got straight out of a Hallmark’s movie and ate spaghetti Bolognese, and after it emptied a little we moved outside because Roni wanted to smoke. We talked with a chubby man who worked at the hotel about smoking and he told us that his wife and son keep asking him to quit, but he can’t. Even though the cigarette boxes in Vietnam have horror pictures on them of the results of smoking, they are still very cheap and available. They are also relatively good – I don’t usually smoke, but I’ve found myself having one here and there during the trip.

The next day we woke early and went downstairs to have meat soup for breakfast. The French couple from the day before also sat there with tip-top sporty clothes and ate pancakes, and we joked among ourselves that they do everything perfectly. Roni said he didn’t recognized them without the pasta. A man with blond-orange hair who looked European came inside and spoked fluent Vietnamese with the locals as he ordered coffee, and after a few moments another man joined him and they spoke French. I tried to guess what’s up with him – we said that he probably lives and works in Vietnam as a photographer, maybe a journalist or a National Geographic photographer, and indeed he took out a tripod out of his backpack at a certain point.

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After breakfast we strolled around in the quiet city, and towards 11 and a half we went back to pack our things and went downstairs. The hotel’s manager with his fake American accent took us one by one on his motorcycle to the bus station, first me, then Roni and eventually the French photographer, and afterwards said goodbye and drove away. We had half an hour to spend there until the ride back to the center left, so the Frenchman invited us to eat with him at a small place nearby. He told us that his name was Etienne and he’s been living for eight years in Vietnam’s center and working as a freelance photographer, and teaches tourists that want to learn photography in his spare time. Now he took a vacation to travel. A little kitten played under the table when we ate, and the way Etienne spoke so casually with the locals made us want to learn Vietnamese. I tried to learn it a little bit before the trip via some applications, but it’s very hard to learn this language without speaking it with people since the pronunciation of the words changes their meaning.

The bus was already there when we came back to the station. a man with a moustache asked me how old I am, and Etienne said that it’s casual to ask strangers for their age since in Vietnamese there are different ways to approach to different ages. We went on the bus, that appeared as a sleeping bus – three rows with two passageways between them, two floors of bunk beds. It is something common there for long rides. You need to take your shoes off and get a nylon bag from the driver for the shoes, and then hang it on a small hook on the side of the bed. The seat is adjustable and you can raise or lower it. There is a carpet on the floor, curtains on the windows and a pillow and a blanket for each passenger. It’s best to choose a bed on the top floor, so you won’t have to look at passing people’s bare lags throughout the whole ride. The real crazy thing is that the back seat is five beds combined, and Etienne said it’s better not to sit there because then you’ll have to share one big bed with strangers.

The bus began the journey towards Hanoi, where we had to go in order to take the train to the next destination. There were speakers on the ceiling that sounded strident Vietnamese music through two TV sets in the center of the bus, one for each floor, that showed video clips of the beauty of the country with the music in the background. There was a small perfumed tree hanging on the screen, with the pattern of the American flag. At the beginning of the ride there were many shakings and sharp curves as the bus crossed the rice fields. In the bed ahead of me slept a young military officer in a fetal position with his head on the folded blanket, hugging his pillow like you’d hug a teddy bear, and to my left sat a small man who listen to annoying music with his phone and only sometimes used his earphones. Once in a while we stopped to collect more passengers, and one time there was a longer stop when the driver wanted to have a smoke. There was a big box with colorful plastic flip-flops that you could walk outside with, since everybody’s shoes were hanging in bags on the beds. Many people got off the bus and some men stood outside and peed in an arranged row just a few meters from us, and I followed the women because I thought there might be toilets somewhere in the area. Apparently not – we were all just crouching together behind a big bush, and this was another situation that I’ve never thought I’ll find myself in. The long ride continued. I read, listened to music, napped. Roni was in a bed behind me so we couldn’t really talk. People came and went – a fat man with a red shirt fell asleep and snored in the bed next to me, an old military man argued about something with the driver and that sat on one of the lower beds and stared at the TV. They finally changed the channel and the TV now showed dubbed nature films. By the sunset we arrived at another stop, where we ate steamed dumplings with meat and quail eggs. It got darker and when we continued they turned off the TV but also the lights, and when it got too dark to read I tried to get some sleep.

We arrived at Hanoi at seven PM and got off the bus together with Etienne, who put together his motorcycle that waited for him in the bus’ storage. He asked for directions from a local man and then showed us which direction to go in order to catch a bus to the city center, said goodbye and drove away. We began walking with our backpacks in that direction until we reached at a bus station, where a man told us to catch bus number 14. We paid the young ticket seller when we went on the bus but he didn’t speak English and couldn’t help us much, so somebody else said he will tell us when we reach our station. The ride took about half an hour during which we began recognizing familiar places, the big lake in the West, the park with the sculptures, a highway and eventually the stone gate in the entrance of the Hoan Kiem district and our hotel’s street. We thanked the man who helped us and went down to the hot humid air of the city, tired and in need of a shower, and mostly happy to be there for one last time.