Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 9 July 2013 • Abroad
As we’ve mentioned before, we’re going to share some notes from some of our experience traveling abroad. Just in case you don’t remember why we’re sharing this information, you can check our past post here. This time, let’s travel Vietnam!
I walk and keep pace. My heart patters, my fists tight to my chest holding in my fear and excitement. I look to my right before realizing (again!) that I was supposed to look left as I would in Indonesia. I saw the swarming mob of mopeds coming towards me and swirls around, drivers without expression. Is this how the chicken felt crossing the road? Where is the joke in this?! But this is what anyone would feel crossing any road, when traveling Vietnam, especially in Hanoi. The crazy traffic is one of the many things this country is known for, but it’s just part of why I love to travel Vietnam, especially Hanoi.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam and located on the northern part of the slim country. Both of my visits to Hanoi, and both with Vira, mostly ventured the Old Quarter area. The small roads, narrow stacked building with remains of French designs, people lazing on kiddy chairs on the pavement, and various smells of broth from street vendors keeps me coming back for more. This particular part of town is so different to Indonesia. It’s so old, yet so alive. With so many things to see in less time, urges to see other parts of the city can wait for the next trip.
The people might look pretty tough. In a glimpse, they seem rude and lack the famous ‘Asian hospitality’. I would be too if I lived in a communist country, had survived a war, and was colonized by the French. Smiling could lead to getting suspicion, in jail, or shot. Add to that, most of them don’t spreken Engelesh, getting the message across feels like such an achievement. But, as shown in Louis Armstrong’s video clip What a Wonderful World, underneath their frowny faces and grumpy facade, they’re really nice people. They just have a different way of showing it. They have a wall and people just have to look beyond it. Like any part of the world, most Vietnamese are nice once you are willing to show good intentions and a smile first.
I very much enjoy my travels to Vietnam. Interestingly, although the currency isn’t as strong as our money (which is shocking since I thought the Indonesian Rupiah is really bad), the country is a lot more orderly and cleaner than Indonesia, which was opposite to my initial expectations. I can only guess that it rubs off from the communism that they apply with strict government rules and regulations. On the tourism side, information is a lot better with accessible free maps and a good deal of stuff on the internet to look up considering English isn’t widely understood. On both visits, Vietnam got me thinking, why aren’t we there yet?
Although I’ve pretty much described just the old quarters, I really do mean it when I say I love Hanoi, well the parts that I’ve seen. In the ‘so-called’ popular comparison between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), I prefer Hanoi for the stronger Vietnam feel of it while HCMC seems more capitalist. I love it! There’s just too much to say, which is better over coffee anyways. However, to help you love Hanoi as much as I do, here are some recommendations for your visit.
Oh, and if you’re in need of more practical information, you know where to find us 😉
Pho is one of Vietnam’s most popular dish. It’s a soup that consists of rice noodles, strips of meat, bit of greens, and rich broth. The meat can be beef (pho bo), chicken (pho ga), or pork (pho ba). It can also be served for vegetarians by excluding the meat because the broth is rich enough to keep the taste buds happy. I’ve had a few good ones, even the ones on the street, but my favorite venue has to be the Pho 10 on Ly Quoc Su Street. Your first smell of the venue might turn you off, but the taste of the pho is a big ‘on’! My recommendation would be the pho with medium rare meat strips that are succulent. A portion is about VND 35,000. I want one now!
This was a recommendation from Mien, our Vietnamese friend from the MITBCA. This is a 4-torey family house with traditional interior and a rooftop turned into a cafe overlooking the famous Hoan Kiem Lake. The view is awesome at night. The coffee is as good as any good Vietnamese coffee should be. The entrance is pretty odd. It’s located on the Hang Ga Street, near the intersection with Hang Dao Street. You enter a small sketchy alley behind the KFC building to meet with somebody’s old Vietnamese house, and will be greeted by… the home owner, I guess.
From the top: the night view; parts of the house, exiting through the sketchy alley.
Not only does it serve a collection of tons of local food, it’s also a really nice place to eat. From local starters, spring rolls, grilled meat, pho, coffee, desserts, snacks, to Bahn Xeo, which is the traditional food around Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Everything is present in this festive food court. It’s located on 18 Phan Boi Chau Street. Although touristy, you’ll still feel like you’ve traveled far once you try to get the message through to the local waiters. Love it!
Street food! If there’s anything that I would suggest at any travel destination is to try street food. So I was all excited when Mien offered to eat at some random venue on the sidewalk at the Old Quarter area. Raw marinated meat and veggies are served on a hot plate on a stove. You grill your own food. It’s a great dish to have with your friends over a warm chat as we did when catching up with Mien. Food and friends are a great match. Slurp!
I love night markets! So, it was all smiles when I walked this night market on Hang Dao Street. It was so long that we were pretty exhausted just going through one side of it. Most of the items are similar and not extremely unique, but there are pretty interesting things amongst them. The best thing is you’ll feel like you’re blending in.
The alley is so long, it’s cut by about 6 intersections and ending at the main Dong Xuan Market.
I’d recommend this because it’s just awful. Bleh! Dao fo is tofu and rice noodles, dipped in sauce. We had 2 types of sauce served for us out of lost in translation. One sauce was quite nice, with a sour salty taste to it. The other? OMG! Awful! As Vira precisely describes, it smelled and tasted like the sewer. There was a slight taste of fish which I can only guess was fish sauce, but why?? Well, it was an unforgettable experience for my taste buds. For more on it, you can visit here.