Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hip, Hip, Hue!

Hanoi – We were not looking forward to spending another night/day in Hanoi after the peace and quiet of Halong Bay but unfortunately our sleeper train south did not leave until the following night. We returned to our same hotel in Hanoi and received the same room that we had during our first visit so there was some comfort in that.

We decided to head out to Cha Ca La Vong for dinner. Cha Ca La Vong is a Hanoi institution. It is a restaurant that has been around for 200 years (apparently) and only serves one dish, fried fish! We headed out into the Hanoi night and found the restaurant without too much trouble. The restaurant looked like it probably hadn't changed in 200 years. Up a steep stair case we climbed and into the dining room where we were promptly seated. A few minutes later the waitress brought out a tray of “condiments” that included herbs, bean sprouts, some leafy greens, peanuts and some fish sauce with chiles in it. We were also given bowls of cold rice noodles.

A few minutes later a charcoal brazier was put in the middle of the table and on top of that was a fry pan full of cubes of fish sizzling away in oil. The fish appeared to be seasoned with tumeric mainly. We were a little perplexed as to what we were supposed to do next but the waitress reappeared and started throwing greens, herbs and sprouts into the pot and stir frying it with the fish until the greens were wilted. We waited a few minutes and then scooped the fish mixture onto the noodles, sprinkled some peanuts and chile-fish sauce over the top and went at it. The meal coupled with a couple of large Hanoi beers set us back about 12USD, expensive by Vietnam standards but well worth it!

The next day we hung out at the hotel until our noon check out, doing some Internet stuff and watching TV. The weather was rainy and we had a long train ride ahead of us so had little inclination to get moving. We finally got packed up and checked out and since it was still raining went to the cafe next door and had a coffee and lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the park and buying some provisions for our train trip (baguettes, pain de chocolat, mini-pizzas).

We finally headed to the train station about 5pm, 2hours before our scheduled train. We had decided to book the private tourist train as 1. the regular 1st class train was full and 2. the private train was only $5 more and looked much nicer.

Needless to say the company brochures and the reality of the train were quite different! We were in a four berth compartment and moments after entering the compartment Betsy spotted a cockroach crawling up the wall of the opposite bunk! I thought she was going to hop on the next flight home at that point but she toughed it out.

We were lucky enough to have the whole compartment to ourselves and spent the next couple of hours playing cards. When we decided to goto sleep Betsy wrapped herself in her sleeping bag liner such that she looked like a mummy with even her face and head covered. She also refused to turn the light off and slept the whole night with the light on. I was on the upper bunk so was not to bothered by her light but I did think it was funny. It was a long night as the Vietnamese trains are not quite as smooth as the Swiss ones we were used to. In fact it was like being on roller coaster for 13 hours and neither of us got much sleep.

Thankfully our hotel in Hue (pronounced HooWay, see the post title) provided us with a great welcome and allowed us to check in soon after we arrived that morning. The train trip was definitely an experience but I think that is one trip where it is worth the extra cost to fly!

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