Day 1: Cheap Beer, Frog Hot Pot and a very high Twinkly Tree House. Welcome to Hanoi
I probably should call this blog, Evening 1 as by the time we arrived at Hanoi's Noi Bai airport, it was already dark, sunset being around 5.30pm. To be on the safe side, as we had read that our accommodation wasn't the easiest place to find, I had booked a pick up at the airport by a company called Hanoi Transfer Servise (HTS). Having had great reviews on Trip Advisor, the beauty of paying up front and giving your destination address in advance, saves a lot of uncertainty when you first arrive, as many of the taxi drivers in Vietnam are not that great at English and the currency takes a bit of getting used to. 100,000 dong for example is about £4. One tip when it comes to getting taxis not called by your Homestay or hotel, is to have your destination in your phone so that the driver can read it. Saves a lot of confusion. The cost of the transfer was about £16 which for a 25 mile trip was acceptable.
Well I'm glad we did book the transfer, as our accommodation, being about 6km from the city centre would have been tricky to find had we been trying to explain to a non-English speaking driver and as we drove around in the suburb,s I have to admit that I was getting a little nervous as there didn't seem to be many tourists around . To be honest, I had no idea what to expect but as we stopped at the end of a dark lane, we were both very quiet. Looking a little uncertain himself, the taxi driver stopped at the top of the lane and getting out of the taxi we bravely followed him into the unknown. Thankfully my heart was lifted slightly by the presence of numerous pretty lanterns lighting our way, which just about compensated for the killer dog barking at us through the gates of one of the empty properties en route.. But we shouldn't have worried, for alerted by the dogs barking our host was soon at the gate, serenely welcoming us to his unique and very quirky Homestay.
Dao Anh Khanh is a Vietnamese painter and performance artist and his Homestay offers visitors a magical experience, probably as close to living in fairy land as your're ever going to get. Welcoming us into his studio with green tea and warm introductions we immediately felt relaxed and safe in this little haven of greenery and sparkly lights, oblivious to what lay outside its perimeter. To check out a video click here.
Now all my life I'e always wanted to sleep in a tree house and this one did not disappoint. Not for the less-abled, however, it certainly justifies its name of The Sky Tree House for there are some serious wooden steps to climb before you make it to your little Hobbit house in the branches. But it was worth it, as lit up with an array of coloured lights, a beautiful double bed, a sound system, an outside shower and toilet, it was quite lovely and everything I had hoped for. And as I lay on the bed staring at the sparkly lights and desperately trying to fight the jet lag as it was only 8pm, I knew I would sleep soundly.
Unfortunately, despite the tiredness, hunger was setting in and not realising when we booked that we were not in a bustling tourist district, we hadn't thought to book food with the Homestay. Fortunately we were not too late to make the restaurant at the end of the road, according to our host, and following instructions we set off into the unknown. Now, despite Vietnam's reputation for awesome food we had agreed to be sensible as to our choice of eateries, as with so many fellow oldies bombarding us with " be careful, as you will definitely get sick, stay away from the street restaurants, the hygiene you know....cant be sure what you're eating, etc etc" before we left, it was difficult not to feel a little cautious. So picture our faces, when the only hostelry available, with no one speaking English and a large group of happy but plastered Vietnamese, offers us tiny plastic chairs and a menu which can only be described as challenging to a soft westerner. Trying not to grimace as our charming host waited expectantly for an order we managed to ask for 5 minutes breathing space to discuss our options over a delightfully cheap beer. Let me take you through it.
It started off quite normally
Fried Pork Tendons with salt
Stir Fried Intestines with laksas leaves
Stir Fried frog with bamboo shoot
Grilled dog meat
Stir Fried dog meat
Steamed dog meat
Dog Hot Pot
As you can see, slightly challenging for a first meal but we soon learned not to judge what is simply a different culture to our own, a culture that has endured throughout many horrors and whose people are really something special. We, not being quite ready for too much of a blast on our senses, opted for pork and beef, I saved the frog for another time. It was cheap, tasty and we didn't get sick. Everyone was friendly, the atmosphere was fun despite not understanding anyone, although drinking games are universal it seems and it wasn't far to wander home. With full belly's and tired body's we managed to climb the vertical steps up into our cosy little tree house haven and with the night sounds of Hanoi as our lullaby we finally closed our eyes and drifted off to sleep.