Tuesday 19th December
It was still quite cold when I left the hotel. I received a few texts from my "tour guide" telling me to ensure I was hungry for the trip, as they had lots of food experiences planned.
Given how hectic and chaotic the traffic is, with few rules whatsoever apart from the occasional traffic light - the locals actually drive around whilst using their phones. Some are just glancing at a map, but yesterday I actually saw a guy on a motorbike watching a show. I don’t think it was a full film, but neither was it YouTube. I’m pretty sure he’d downloaded something to watch on his bike! Others, because it’s cold, drive with their left hand in their pockets. Having said all of that, I didn’t see a near miss, let alone an accident. It’s like watching fish swim in a busy tank, gliding by, but somehow managing to avoid one another.
Incidentally, as I mentioned earlier, the Grab bike drivers all have a spare crash helmet. They remind you they need it back, because twice I’ve handed over cash and then gone to walk away with their crash helmet still on my head.
There is so much going on in these streets, so many shops, I swear you could walk down one a hundred times and still see something new each time. Some of the wares - I’m not even sure if they were fruits or vegetables - could have been straight out of Star Wars!
We were issued with breakfast, which was an assortment of Vietnamese dishes to try including noodles, a bread roll that I later understood to be called bánh mì, and spring rolls. We were then asked if we would like to try egg coffee! Originally this was created because a waiter had once seen or heard of cappuccino, but he had no fresh milk. So he tried egg white, lots of sugar, and "happy water" (rice wine). It tastes a million times better than it sounds. You give it a good stir, and it's a bit like a tiramisu.
Other exciting events on the bike tour included:
- A quick stop to see Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. Our guide explained how "Uncle Ho" was a national hero. His picture appears on all of their bank notes, and of course he had Saigon renamed after him in 1975. We were told that the traffic police (who dress in yellow, and are referred to as Pikachu) have to be given a picture of Uncle Ho if you are stopped... i.e. they want money!
- A stop at Train Street. This is timed so that everyone can grab a quick drink in a café and be seated for when the train comes past. It comes ridiculously close. Centimeters. The staff all go round telling everyone to tuck their feet in. The tracks are a long way away, but the train is so, so much wider than the track. The mural of Train Street turned out to be very accurate indeet
Click to view video
Click to view video
After a final stop outside the Opera house for a quick photo, the tour was over and we all said goodbye before going our own way. It was still cold, and there was no prospect of it getting any warmer for my final day in Hanoi. I had planned to get a new tattoo in Saigon (the locals still prefer this name), but it was due to be lovely weather down south, and it seemed a shame to spend a day in the tattooist when I could be in the sun. When it was cold up north however....
As with many of the shops (like the buttons), many of the tattooists seemed to be grouped together. I only had one full day left, and it was currently evening time. I needed to find somewhere who had a vacancy for the next day, and could get finished what I wanted done. (Incidentally, tattoos are like climbing mountains, apparently: If you have to ask someone why they do it, you will not understand the answer. If you can understand the answer, you would have no need of asking the question).
The first place I tried did not have any artists available at such short notice. I was not surprised, but I thought I may as well ask at a few other studios. But the staff in the second place were fantastic, and after quite a lengthy consultation I booked an appointment for the next morning.